Reptile Rations

When considering different packaged foods, reptile owners make their selections based on similar criteria as other pet owners. They want the foods to be healthy and, ideally, natural.

“Reptile keepers’ number one concern is whether the food is providing their animal with the proper nutrients required to keep them healthy,” said Trevor MacLean, national director of sales and support at Seachem Labs/JurassiPet Reptile Products.

“As with food in general, pet owners are looking for more natural foods,” said Ryan McVeigh, brand manager of Central Garden & Pet, makers of the Zilla brand of reptile products. “Zilla focused on that with the Reptile Munchies by formulating these diets using dehydrated whole pieces of vegetables, fruits, and insects.”

The Reptile Munchies line consists of four varieties of complete dehydrated diets, Fruit Mix, Omnivore Mix, Vegetable Mix and Vegetable & Fruit Mix.

Why Feed Packaged Foods?
There are many reasons reptile keepers choose packaged foods over live or fresh foods. For one, some keepers do not like to deal with live food.

“Packaged foods offer a more convenient and less messy way to feed your animals,” MacLean said. “Many people are discouraged in having to feed live insects because they are noisy, they smell, and you have to house and feed them as well if you plan to keep more than one serving at a time. Packaged diets encourage those turned off by having to feed live prey that keeping reptiles and amphibians is not so creepy after all!”

Some are looking for convenience and reliable availability.

“When it comes to reptile foods, there are times where something may not be available,” McVeigh said. “In the upper portion of the United States, finding fresh crisp greens is difficult in the winter. [Packaged] foods provide a nutritional and balanced diet any time a food source isn’t available. They also are a quick and easy way to provide a varied diet without having to buy a bunch of different veggies and insects and mix them yourself.”

Some owners like packaged diets for their nutritional benefits.

“They provide a full and nutritional diet so you don’t have to worry about missing any essential vitamins or minerals your animal needs,” McVeigh said.

Get Specific
Diets tailored to the needs of specific species or groups of species are popular with reptile and amphibian keepers.

Pangea Reptile Foods offers complete diets for geckos in a range of fruit flavors. According to the Pangea website, the diets are appropriate for crested geckos and their relatives as well as for day geckos. They contain a mix of fruits, egg white, spirulina, bee pollen, whey protein and probiotics to make them a complete healthy diet for these lizards.

The JurassiPet line of JurassiDiets from SeaChem offers complete diets for bearded dragons, aquatic turtles, newts and frogs, and hermit crabs.

“With the JurassiPet diets, you can rest assured you are getting all of the essential nutrients needed for your pet reptile or amphibian,” MacLean said. “Not only that, but we ensure that all of the nutrients are in the correct ratio for proper absorption. For example: The Ca:P [calcium to phosphorus] ratio should be no less than 1.2:1, and is ideally maintained from 2:1 up to 8:1 depending on the species. JurassiDiet distinguishes itself from the competitors by employing a calcium-rich base, alfalfa. Alfalfa has a Ca:P ratio of 6:1.”

JurassiPet also offers a range of canned invertebrates, the EasiDiet line. Varieties include EasiPillar (caterpillars), EasiShrimp (river shrimp), EasiHopper (grasshoppers), and EasiDragon (dragonfly larvae).

Zilla offers Fortified diets for specific types of reptiles, including iguanas, bearded dragons, land turtles and tortoises, and aquatic turtles. They offer complete nutrition for these species.

For aquatic turtles, Zilla offers two types of treats, Turtle Chasers Floating Treats with Real Shrimp and Turtle Chasers Floating Treats with Real Clam. According to the website, the treats float and bob on the water, encouraging turtles to chase them around the habitat.

Zoo Med’s new Gourmet reptile diets are available in five varieites. Each variety contains healthy pellets; dried fruits, including blueberries, cranberries and strawberries, dried vegetables and dried insects (depending on the diet).

Smart Sells
When it comes to selling packaged reptile foods, education is key.

“Knowing the differences between the options and understanding what makes them beneficial will help retailers to sell the packaged foods,” MacLean said. “Being able to explain to them that live prey is not their only option will encourage more customers to become interested in either keeping a reptile or amphibian for themselves or purchasing one for their children. Many parents shy away from allowing their kids to keep reptiles because they don’t know enough about it and instantly think that it will be too much of a hassle. However, if they are well educated about all of the different options in the hobby, it becomes much less daunting to them.”

All in the Name: Pet Age’s Distributor of the Year 2016, Pet Food Experts

Editor’s Note

Everyone at Pet Age is pleased to feature the third recipient of our annual Distributor of the Year Award, Pet Food Experts. Pet Food Experts was chosen by a panel of independent judges, and the company exemplifies the qualities of an outstanding distributor. Pet Age created this award to honor distributors; these are the companies that allow retailers to fill their shelves with the products pet owners need and want.

In the following pages, you will learn how this fourth generation family owned business rose from humble beginnings as a basement pet store to being a premium pet food distributor for 3,400 retail stores across 29 states. Through this phenomenal growth, the Pet Food Experts team continues to practice a familial style of business that builds strong relationships with its vendors and customers.

We hope you enjoy this close look at Pet Food Experts. We bring you a look at the history of the company, what it is doing now to serve its customers and some thoughts on its future.

For the third year in a row, the entire Pet Age team is proud to honor the industry’s top distributors. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

Tom Mazorlig

All in the Name

What’s in a name?

Quite a lot when your company takes on the name Pet Food Experts. According to owner Michael Baker, the name Pet Food Experts lets customers know the company wants to be their go-to source for quality pet food and treats.

“Pet Food Experts is a simple name that allows us to really focus on pet food and treats, with some ancillary items,” Baker said. “Whereas some of our competition choose to have a much wider array of products, we’ve chosen to be extremely focused on just food and treats—on high-end or luxury pet food and treats, for lack of a better description.”

It’s not a name that Baker takes lightly. He wants everyone in the company to live up to it in every interaction with their retail customers.

“I think the ‘experts’ part of the name puts pressure on my team and myself to keep up with the latest trends to make sure that we practice what we preach, meaning we can talk the talk with our ever-growing crowd of independent retailers who absolutely know what they’re talking about and expect us to be able to do the same,” he said.

Starting Out
Pet Food Experts didn’t start out with that name, or even with the emphasis on pet foods. The humble beginnings of the company were in the basement of the home of Herbert “Salty” Baker, Michael Baker’s great-grandfather. The original name was Rumford Aquarium, so the original focus was clearly not on premium pet foods. That business started in 1936, and in 1959 it moved to a location in East Providence, where Rumford Pet Center still operates.

The move into pet food distribution came in the 1970s, under the leadership of Michael’s father, GeorgeIMG_20160707_100920598-smaller Baker, Jr. This coincided with the growing consumer interest in higher quality pet foods.

“Our interest in the pet food industry was born in the early 1970s,” Baker said. “Because of our prowess in distribution and relationships with the independents in southeastern New England, we attracted the attention of one large pet food company at the time. I would say that my grandfather and his team reluctantly got into distributing pet food. But it turned into a great opportunity for my father, who focused solely on pet food with his career.”

In 1989, the company incorporated under the name Pet Food Express. That name changed to Pet Food Experts in the early 1990s because Pet Food Express was already the name of a West Coast retailer.

As pet owners started seeking better quality and more specialized pet food—organic, grain-free, all-natural—Pet Food Experts moved to offer those types of foods to retailers.

“With the humanization of pets movement, natural and organic have become all the rage and the emphasis of our customers, the independent retailers we serve,” Baker said. “It’s been very simple to follow their lead. Whatever they need to succeed and compete against the various folks that all want a piece of the action in the pet industry, we’ve changed with the times as quickly as we can to accommodate that shift. Our emphasis now is on a wide variety of brands. But it’s been a natural fit to do what our customers need.”

“Our evolution under my leadership has had a real emphasis on diversity for our sake and for my sake, so I sleep better at night not having all our eggs in one basket,” he said. “And also for the sake of our independents. They expect and really demand having diversity in their store, having whatever the most innovative products are. They bring those products to our attention many times. The hottest brands we’ve got have been brought to our attention by our independent retailers. From there, it’s my job to attract those brands into our portfolio and keep them happy.”

Much like the company itself, owner Michael Baker’s start in the pet industry was anything but glorious.


Michael Baker, owner of Pet Food Experts

“My first job was bagging birdseed in the back of the original pet store,” he said. “The birdseed was the easy part. It was the charcoal for the aquarium filters that was bad; I’d come home looking like a miner at the end of the day. But it was a great way to learn the business from the ground up and to establish credibility with the nonfamily members in the business.”

Despite being the son of the son of the son of a pet businessman, Baker felt little to no pressure from his family to join the business. However, he felt that pressure coming from himself.

“My family is fourth generation in the pet industry,” he said. “It’s not common to be born into an industry or grow up in an industry from the crib, which is how I describe it. Without pressure from the family I always assumed, as the oldest of 11 grandkids, that it was going to be my duty to take over the business. It was interesting when it was just a pet store when I was a boy. It was very easy to be interested in going to work with Dad or Grandpa when you could be around live animals all day, every day.”

Maintaining Retail Roots
The Baker family still owns four independent pet stores in the Providence area. Baker believes that operating these stores keeps Pet Food Experts and him in touch with the challenges of being an independent pet retailer, providing a leg up on the competition.

“It’s great from a competitive advantage standpoint to do business with our competitors every day,” Baker said. “Getting deliveries from the local distributors here in the Northeast and understanding how difficult it is to run an independent pet store, there’s competition from all different angles today. Having our own stores and those pressures to survive and try to thrive gives us great insight into what our independent pet retailers across the country face every day.”

With these roots so firmly in the pet retail world, it isn’t surprising that Baker highly values the relationships Pet Food Experts has with its customers.

“The relationship with our retailers is everything to the company,” he said. “Our motto is ‘when you win,IMG_20160707_122819531_HDR-smaller we win.’ It’s been that motto since I took over the business. It’s meant to be simple so we understand it and never forget what it means and also so our customers and vendors understand it. I think they feel it when they do business with us as opposed to it just being something that is written on paper or something that we repeat and memorize.”

“There’s something about the feedback I get on a very consistent basis from our customers,” Baker said. “It is just the way they feel when they do business with us. We’re easy to do business with, we have fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which I think is different from a lot of bigger businesses these days. I see that continuing to give us the opportunity to take care of our retailers for many years to come.”

Perhaps because of his strong background in pet retail, Baker understands how critical it can be for the pet owner to trust their local pet store, especially when it comes to the food those owners give their pets.

“We understand the importance of dealing with the pet parents,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure when you are recommending food for somebody’s pets and our independent pet stores have that pressure every day. Anything we can do to help them make that easier, either by choosing the right brand or making it easier to do business with us, allows them to focus on what’s important, which is the frontline interaction between them and the pet parents.”

This understanding of the pet food category combined with the strong relationship with their retailers has led Pet Food Experts to explosive growth in the last half decade. In that time, the company has expanded its reach far beyond its New England origins. Pet Food Experts now serves 3,400 independent pet stores in 29 states.

“The last five years have been fantastic for us,” Baker said. “We’ve had great organic growth here in the Northeast. Then we expanded down into the New York Metro market. In the last two years, we’ve expanded both to the Midwest and most recently to the Pacific Northwest. We’ve been greeted with open arms by the independent retailers. Our familial style of business with a real emphasis on relationships has worked really well across the country. Regardless of what peoples’ accents are or what sports teams they root for, we’ve really proven to ourselves that good business and good service can travel.”

Baker feels that one of the biggest challenges with such a rapid expansion is staying true to their original style of business.

“The biggest challenge for me is trying to take that same style of business and continue to scale it,” he said. “I’m not sure where we’ll end up, if we will ever be in all 50 states—certainly it would be nice to do business with independents across the country. What’s most important is that whoever we do business with, whether it’s a new customer or somebody who’s done business with us for generations, they have that same connection with us that’s really hard to describe.”



A Change Will Do You Good

This is a milestone issue you hold in your hands. On top of our normal coverage of all that is new and noteworthy in the pet industry, we’ve got other really big things going on in this issue.

The first thing you are likely to notice is our redesign. The Pet Age team has been working hard the past several months to change our look to offer our readers a fresh, compelling, readable publication. We’ve rearranged the order to better stress important content. We’ve added more visual elements to keep your mind interested and your eyes engaged. Our website has been completely overhauled as well, so I invite you check that out.

I’m thrilled with how our content looks on the print and digital platforms and am proud to be working with such a talented design team. They took the ideas of the publisher and editorial team and really brought them to life. My hat is off to our print design team, Damon Cassaro and Chris DeCellio, and our web developer, Joe Barry. Thanks to them for making the words we work on look so good. I send additional thanks to the editorial and sales teams for all of their valuable input.

The other major item is our third annual Distributor of the Year Award. The entire Pet Age team is pleased to honor Pet Food Experts as our 2016 Distributor of the Year. When I went out to visit the Pet Food Experts facilities, I was impressed with their facilities but even more so with their people and philosophy. It also was fun getting to know owner Michael Baker and some of his team. I hope you enjoy reading about the company.

We’re also bringing you our SuperZoo product showcase, featuring a sampling of the cornucopia of new products that will launch at the show. I’m looking forward to seeing all the new, innovative, useful and fun items in person as I walk the show floor.

And let’s not forget that the new P3 show is happening in Chicago at the end of the month. We’ll be talking more about that in our next issue. Speaking of the next issue, that will be Pet Age’s forty-fifth anniversary and we will celebrate with a long look back at our—and the pet industry’s—history. I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am.

Tom Mazorlig

Getting My Feet Wet

As I mentioned in my last letter, I’m in the planning stages of setting up my first saltwater tank. My eventual goal is to have a mini reef tank with corals, clams, fish and other interesting and beautiful organisms.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and talking to marine tank keepers so I will know what I’m doing before I take the plunge. It’s interesting to me to be in the role of beginning pet keeper because it’s been a long time since I’ve had that experience. I’m really grateful to the folks who have been sharing their knowledge with me. I’m especially happy I found the Reef2Reef community. Their forum and Facebook feed is full of knowledgeable, friendly and helpful people who always have time to help beginners.

As you can imagine, I was excited about Joe Olenick’s article on reef livestock this month. He gives a good primer on the common, hardy and interesting animals that are in-demand by reef keepers. If your store is new to the reef scene, you’re sure to get a lot out of it. Even if you are a diehard reef shop, Joe’s piece is worth your time.

On a more somber note, I’ve found the recent reports of widespread bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef distressing. Bleaching occurs when water temperatures rise and corals lose the algae that gives them their dazzling colors. The corals turn white, hence the name. The problem is that the corals depend on those algae for food. Bleached corals are usually dead corals. As global temperatures rise, these terrible events will grow more frequent, endangering the survival of reefs.

Can the pet industry help out? I think it can.

The trade in marine life is often thought of as harmful to the environment, but it doesn’t have to be. Demand for marine animals provides local income from the natural reef, which is incentive to preserve it. Several aquatic products companies – including (but not limited to) Boyd Enterprises, Ecotech Marine, Cobalt Aquatics, and Piscine Energetics – have helped sponsor the Coral Restoration Foundation, which plants corals on reefs in the Florida Keys. A new company, Biota Aquariums, will soon be launching a sustainable saltwater tank kit suitable for beginners. Now that so many coral keepers are fragging their corals, there’s even the possibility that home aquarists could provide corals to conservation programs.

I’d love to see more partnerships between pet companies and conservation organizations. We can all work together to help the animals we love.

Tom Mazorlig

Get Crabby

Hermit crabs are perennial favorites in the pet industry. Their cute appearance, ease of care and interesting behaviors make them popular pets, especially for families with young children.

Despite these attributes, the popularity of hermit crabs does not appear to be growing, according to Paul Manger, manager at Florida Marine Research, one of the largest suppliers of hermit crabs and hermit crab products.

“The popularity of hermit crabs has been in equilibrium for the past three years,” Manger said.

As for possible reasons for this stasis, Manger cites “the cautious attitude of the consumer and the lack of child bearing within the millennial generation.”

Crab Central
While the demand for hermit crabs may not be growing, there are still plenty of crab enthusiasts out there, which makes having a hermit crab section worthwhile.

“This is a very niche market; however, there is a large consumer base, so I recommend that all pet retailers dedicate a space to hermit crabs,” said Josh Panos, national sales assistant manager for Zoo Med. “Hermit crabs are very affordable and easy to maintain, making one the perfect pet for a beginner hobbyist.”

“It is a fun and affordable hobby that the whole family can enjoy,” Panos said. “Zoo Med offers a wide variety of shells, from glow-in-the-dark to decorative in all different shapes and sizes, which adds to the excitement by giving consumers options and customizable features.”

Manger recommends creating a hermit crab end cap.

“An effective way to merchandise our crabs would be utilizing an end cap,” Manger said. “The objective is to have all the products in one area in order for the customer to see the complete unit, which can be taken home and all of the products available for the crab’s comfort. Hermit crabs in numbers large enough to create a perception of activity will create great sales for the livestock.”

Crabby Comforts
Along with the crabs themselves, Florida Marine Research offers a complete range of products for their care. These include additional shells in their natural form, as well as shells painted with a variety of designs. The company also sells the crabs in natural shells and painted shells. Some varieties available include shells that look like clowns, hats, football helmets, fish, fruit, turtles and more.

One aspect of crab care that can be overlooked is their need for heat.

“The critical element for a crab’s longevity is heat,” Manger said. “Temperatures of 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit are an acceptable range.”

Because of the crabs’ temperature needs, include thermometers – such as those offered by Florida Marine Research or Zoo Med – in the hermit crab section. Retailers should also stock a few products for keeping the crabs warm. One example is Zoo Med’s Hermit Crab Heater. This self-adhesive heating pad sticks under the enclosure. It is safe for plastic crab habitats.

Although crabs enjoy warm temperatures, they can become overheated, too. Manger has a suggestion for helping with this problem.

“As the temperature rises in the crab home, air flow is needed,” he said. “Without this airflow, a respiratory problem will develop. The remedy for the heat problem is to place the home in a cooler area or place an air pump into the crab habitat. Plugging the hose [end] and creating a small hole in the hose will force air into the crab home.”

Zoo Med is bringing a whole new look to hermit crabs and their accessories with glow-in-the-dark products.

“We recently introduced a whole new hermit crab product line that glows in the dark,” Panos said. “We now offer a Glow in the Dark Hermit Crab Kit, water bowls, cage furniture, cleaning accessories and even Hermit Crab Glow in the Dark shells. It now makes night time viewing of these little critters very enjoyable and fun for the whole family.”

Zoo Med and Florida Marine Research also offer non-glowing complete hermit crab kits for customers who prefer a more traditional habitat appearance.

Food and Drink
Hermit crabs have a reputation for eating just about anything, but they still need a complete and nutritious diet.

Florida Marine Research offers Land Hermit Crab Food in two sizes to provide crabs with proper nutrition. The company also has a Land Hermit Crab Treat. Zoo Med offers hermit crab foods in both dry and canned formulas.

Hermit crabs require both fresh water and salt water to drink. Retailers must inform crab owners of this, as well as telling them that adding table salt to water does not create suitable salt water for the crabs. To create appropriate salt water for hermit crabs, owners can use Zoo Med’s Hermit Crab Salt Conditioner. It adds salt and calcium to the water to ensure the health of hermit crabs. It also removes harmful chlorine from tap water.

While hermit crabs are long lived and easy to care for, their needs for additional shells, appropriate food, salt water and other specific habitat requirements provide the retailer with significant sales opportunities.

Road Dogs

Summer is getting underway and that means a lot of people are setting off on summer vacations. These days, more and more vacationers are taking their pets with them. As part of the pet humanization trend, Fido gets to take a vacation, too.

To go along with an uptick in the number of people who travel with their pets—for vacation or other outings—pet companies are producing more products to make traveling with pets a better experience for both pet and owner.

Our cover story has the details on these products, as well as some other information on the people and pets that take to the road.

Aside from the travel-related products that your store can stock, how does the traveling pet trend affect your store? I have some ideas, but I’d also like to hear it from your perspective. How do you help your customers who are traveling with their pets? Send us an email or drop us a note via social media if you’ve got some good ideas.

Traveling with pets almost always actually means “traveling with dogs.” Other pets tend to stay home when their families get out and about. There definitely are people who travel with cats and birds (not so much small mammals, reptiles or fish, for obvious reasons), but they are more the exception than the rule. Does your store offer pet sitting or pet boarding to those owners? Or have you partnered with such a service so you can provide a referral to your customers?

What am I doing this summer?

I’m glad you asked. Aside from SuperZoo and P3—you’re going to those right?—I’m going to be starting with a whole new pet project. By the end of the summer or maybe early fall, I’ll be setting up a saltwater tank for the first time. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried keeping pets I know so little about. There’s a lot to learn before acquiring any pet, and marine organisms require more research than most. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on fish and corals and the equipment they need.

I feel lucky that the marine hobby show Reef-a-Palooza is happening relatively close to the Pet Age office at the end of June. I’m looking forward to attending, learning a lot and seeing all the cool animals. I’m excited to meet other marine hobbyists and get ideas for my own tank. Maybe I’ll see you there, too.

Save travels!

Tom Mazorlig

Beyond the Bowl

Food and water bowls for reptiles would seem to be a static category. They just need to provide a place for the pet to obtain nourishment and hydration. However, more companies are rethinking the tried-and-true bowls to offer keepers and their pets more interesting options.

Hobbyists vary on what they want in food and water bowls.

“Bowls are basic items that every pet owner needs,” said Terry Shaw, manager at Fish-N-Pets Unlimited in Houston. “You always need to have enough of them in stock and have a variety. A lot of keepers go with the cheapest ones, but plenty of others want the bowls to fit the look of the setup.”

Back to Nature

“Many hobbyists want their pets’ food and water bowls to blend in with the other items in cage,” Shaw said. “Ones that look like they’re made of rock or wood sell pretty well.”
Manufacturers offer a wide range of bowls to fulfill this desire for a natural look.

The Zilla Terrarium Dish line from Central Garden and Pet fits perfectly into various herp habitats. The bowls have a shallow rim for the pet’s easy access. The ceramic finish makes them easier to clean than natural surfaces.

The Zilla Terraced Dish combines a natural look with small steps allowing pets to climb in and out easily to access food or water. According to the company’s website, it is particularly useful for turtles and tortoises. The finish is easy to clean and is bacteria resistant. The wide base prevents tipping.

Repta Bowls from Fluker’s provide a rock-like look and are available in five sizes and several colors.

The Castle Crib, also from Fluker’s, provides for three of a reptile’s needs in one compact item. It has a bowl, a hiding place and a basking platform. It is available in two sizes and has a rocklike appearance that will suit most terrarium décor.

When it comes to feeding, there are options other than bowls. Some items provide food for reptiles that better match the way they obtain food in nature.

Zoo Med Arboreal Food Clips provide owners a way to feed leafy greens to tree-dwelling lizards, such as iguanas, veiled chameleons and bearded dragons. They can also be used to elevate food to provide a change of foraging for ground-dwelling leaf eaters, including tortoises and uromastyx lizards.

The Zoo Med Mealworm Feeder is an elevated container with small holes in the bottom, allowing mealworms to fall out slowly. This gives insect-eating pets an opportunity to hunt individual insects. Many pets will learn that the Feeder provides delicious bugs and eagerly wait for them.

For insect-eating herps that live up in branches or rock walls, Hagen offers the Exo Terra Canopy Worm Dish. An adhesive clip fastens this bowl to the terrarium glass. The escape-proof bowl holds mealworms or similar feeder insects above the enclosure floor, providing the pet with a more natural feeding experience.

Running Water

Reptile hobbyists can also meet their pets’ water needs in a more natural fashion with some the products now available.

According to the company’s website, “Zoo Med’s Drippers simulate natural rainfall and provide humidity for captive reptiles. The Dripper has a folding handle lid that allows you to suspend it above the enclosure. Especially helpful for animals that do not readily drink standing water and instead drink “dew” from leaves (i.e. Old World Chameleons).” The Drippers are available in two sizes.

For hobbyists that keep reptiles that need dripping water to drink and want something that looks nice in the enclosure, the Exo Terra Dripper Plant fits the bill. The included pump circulates water from the reservoir up to the top of the realistic plant so it drips down the leaves. The moving water stimulates arboreal reptiles to drink.

Another option for reptiles that prefer to drink moving water is the new Exo Terra Reptile Fountain. Water cascades from the top down the faux stone structure enticing reptiles to drink.

According to Hagen’s website, “the Exo Terra Reptile Fountain is easy-to-maintain, as it consists of only two pieces that can easily be dismantled for cleaning purposes. An Exo Terra Repti Flo pump is included to provide water circulation.”

Other Options

Not every hobbyist wants realistic water and food bowls. Some prefer them to stand out from the décor of the cage or to match a theme of unrealistic looking décor.

For those hobbyists, Zoo Med’s Glo-Bowls might be just what they are looking for–they glow in the dark. Glo-Bowls are combo food and water bowls that nest together for convenience. They have a low profile for easy access by the pet and a smooth, easily cleaned surface.

It’s no secret that reptiles can make a mess in their water bowls. Keeping the water safe and hygienic for the pet can be a chore.

K-Rex Kleanbowl from Kinn, Inc., addresses this issue. The bowl holds an eco-friendly, biodegradable inner bowl. When the bowl gets soiled, the inner bowl can be thrown away and replaced with a fresh one. The package contains three inner bowls and refill packs are available.

Zen and the Art of Pet Products

Pet Age’s Tom Mazorlig spoke with Chad Gibson, co-founder of Zen Pet, about the company’s beginnings, its quality standards and the working relationship with his sister, Zen Pet co-founder Jen Barelli.

Tom Mazorlig: Can you tell me about how you started Zen Pet?

Chad Gibson: In college, in 2000 roughly, we created a company called G & B Marketing. We had one particular product called the IV Stabilizer. It’s a splint for IV treatment for veterinary use. We created that—and we still do—and that’s what got my foot in the door on distribution on the vet side. We tried adding some new products every couple of years along the way. The product that put us on the map was the Pro Collar. That was picked up by Petco and PetSmart over 10 years ago.

Five years ago, we were approached by a Canadian company called Contech Enterprises. They were an acquisition-based company that would buy smaller guys like us, and we sold to them. My sister and I worked for this company for four years and doubled the business in four years. However, they added a bad acquisition in lawn and garden, closed up shop and went bankrupt. We were in a mad-dash scramble to capture all of our accounts. In doing so, we got our IPs back at pennies on the dollar and opened our doors back up under Zen Pet.

Zen Pet brand has been in the market for close to three years now. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the last five years.

Tom: What is your process for ensuring high standards of product quality?

Chad: Part of our strategy is to work very closely with our manufacturer. Our manufacturer is actually one of our best friends; he’s in Tijuana, Mexico. We are able to strictly monitor our quality control standards because it’s so close. The factory is only an hour away from us. Quality control and proximity to our manufacturing is huge in the sense that if we see any types of problems in materials or in feedback from our customers, we are able to adjust our product in general or the quality of the materials. We don’t have to wait for a very long lead time like others do when they source in China.

Tom: Zen Pet creates products for both the veterinary and pet space. What are the challenges you face producing items for both of those markets? How does that work for Zen Pet as a company?

Chad: One of the most important aspects of being in the veterinary channel is that you gain recognition and recommendations by the veterinarians themselves. That is huge for us because we can go to the retail accounts and multi-chain accounts and say we have all this distribution and recommendation from the vet side. However, not all veterinarians like to sell hard goods. That’s where we do have a little bit of a barrier in the vet channel. But our veterinary sales keep on growing and growing.

Tom: Do you think there’s a trend of pet stores carrying more products that used to be thought of as more strictly veterinary products?

Chad: I see pet stores carrying a lot more products that are tailored to solutions, like health and wellness products. That’s what we specialize in. Do I see a lot more products from the veterinary channel coming into retail? Yes. The hardest part is packaging it properly so the customer realizes what the benefits are.

Tom: You own Zen Pet with your sister, Jen Barelli. What’s it like working so closely with a family member?

Chad: We’ve been working very closely for many years. We’ll put boxing gloves on here and there, but for the most part we work very well together. It’s nice because if I miss something or she misses something she tends to notice or I tend to notice, and we’ll pick each other up from that. It’s kind of like having a duplicate of yourself, which everybody would love to have. Of course, we have our differences on some issues but we’ve come to terms with each other. I’m comfortable with her decisions and she’s also comfortable with mine.

Tom: What’s your typical day like?

Chad: We come in to the office and we brief each other on what orders have shipped, who needs to ship any account updates. That usually leads into sales and marketing calls. Everything in sales, marketing and account management filters through either Jen or myself. We also deal with customer service calls, which we are going to be expanding and bringing someone in to help us on that. We are both on QuickBooks online, which makes it very easy to handle all business activity, even if we are on the road. Lastly, we tend to check in with our warehouse a couple times a day. We do visit our warehouse twice weekly.

Tom: What new things can we expect to see from Zen Pet in the near future?

Chad: We are very close to getting national distribution in independent pet stores. We’re rebranding two of our products. Zen Cone is kind of a hybrid of a soft cone and a plastic cone. The other one is Tick Tornado. It’s in a two pack at a good price point.

Good Dog Foundation Held Fifth Fundraising Gala, Honored Planet Dog in New York

The Good Dog Foundation held its fifth fundraising gala on May 17 at Gustavino’s in New York City.

The event also honored Planet Dog and the Planet Dog Foundation for donating to The Good Dog Foundation, as well as other nonprofit organizations that foster human-canine well-being and healing.

The evening started with a cocktail reception and silent auction to benefit The Good Dog Foundation. This was followed by a dinner, an award presentation to Planet Dog and a live auction.

Unleashed by Petco was the Signature Host of the gala. It provided a “fetching” bar with treats, toys, digital photo booth, and primping station for the more than 30 certified therapy dogs and their human partners who were in attendance

Award-winning actor and star of the Broadway play “Sylvia” Robert Sella hosted the event. After some witty opening remarks, he introduced Rachel McPherson, founder of the Good Dog Foundation, highlighting her ground-breaking efforts to foster understanding among doctors and staff of the usefulness of therapy dogs in a hospital setting.

“Rachel and the Good Dog Foundation are globally recognized for their success in finding, training and placing therapy dogs,” Sella said. “Rachel was involved with the use of therapy dogs in some of our darkest days, including 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing and in Newtown, Connecticut.”

“I fell in love with Planet Dog 15 years ago,” McPherson said. “Alex [Fisher] founded Planet Dog to make beautiful eco-friendly pet products. We are so impressed with this company.”McPherson thanked everyone – including Good Dog Foundation staff and trainers – for their support and talked about why Good Dog Foundation honored Planet Dog.

McPherson said that Planet Dog donates two percent of sales to the Planet Dog Foundation, which funds organizations providing and training dogs to serve as therapy dogs, guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, and medical alert dogs.

“It’s not a giant company, but it has a giant impact and a great big heart,” McPherson said.

There was a short video about Planet Dog founder Alex Fisher, the company and the Planet Dog Foundation, and then McPherson introduced Fisher and Colleen McCracken and presented the award.

“This award belongs to the people behind Planet Dog and the Planet Dog Foundation,” Fisher said. Referring to the partnership with the Good Dog Foundation, Fisher said, “Though both of our organizations are coming up on 20 years, I think we both agree our work has just begun.”

McCracken told Pet Age, “We are thrilled to be acknowledged by the Good Dog Foundation. It’s an amazing therapy dog program that we’ve been involved with for years. I’m humbled by the honor. Our founder, Alex, is from New York so we’re especially thrilled to have this happen here.”

After the award there was a video presentation featuring the work of the Good Dog Foundation at the Bendheim Cancer Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.

A live auction to benefit the Good Dog Foundation followed. Auction items included a five night stay in Paris and an original signed illustration by Maurice Sendak donated by the Maurice Sendak Foundation.


Healthier Herps

With the growing popularity of reptile and amphibian pets, there are more pet owners than ever before who are concerned about the proper nutrition of these exotic animals. Pet product manufacturers have responded to this concern by offering a widening range of dietary supplements for herps. There are also more products to combat mites and other external problems.

Vitamins, Minerals and More

Supplements are an important part of the husbandry of most reptiles and amphibians because the diets of pets are often lacking in one nutrient or another.

The JurassiPet Reptile line from Seachem Laboratories offers a full range of reptile products that includes nutritional supplements.

“They are based on sound science and research, providing only the highest quality ingredients on the market,” said Trevor MacLean, national director of sales and support at Seachem Laboratories.

“Calcium and additional vitamins are critical to a reptile’s health, so we offer several supplements that meet those needs,” MacLean said. “JurassiVite is the only reptile/amphibian vitamin/mineral supplement that provides all 14 essential vitamins and 17 trace and ultra-trace minerals recommended by herpetological experts.”

According to MacLean, calcium is of particular importance, especially in regards to its relationship to phosphorus.

“A common issue that occurs in many reptiles is metabolic bone disease (MBD),” MacLean said. “Too much or too little calcium; too much phosphorous; too little or too much vitamin D3, too little UVB; too little protein or a combination of these factors generally causes MBD. All of which can be avoided with the proper supplementation and providing your reptile with a clean environment.”

“Our calcium supplement, JurassiCal, is available as a powder or liquid form that is extremely concentrated and does not contain phosphorous or vitamin D3. Herbivorous and carnivorous diets are frequently calcium deficient and phosphorous rich, thus having a calcium supplement containing phosphorous is of no benefit.”

Several other companies also offer a range of supplements for reptiles and amphibians.

Zoo Med makes ReptiVite in two formulas: with and without vitamin D3. According to Zoo Med’s website ReptiVite is “a complete vitamin, mineral and amino acid complex specifically formulated for reptiles” and was “originally developed for the San Diego Zoo to correct soft-shell problems in turtles.”

Zoo Med’s Repti Calcium is also available with and without vitamin D3. Both are ultrafine, phosphorus-free powders of precipitated calcium carbonate.

Repashy Superfoods manufactures several supplements that match specific dietary needs. The RescueCal+ is a calcium supplement designed especially for reptiles already suffering from a calcium or vitamin D deficiency. It can be dissolved in water for easy usage and, according to the company’s website, is the only calcium supplement to contain magnesium.

Other items in the Repashy line include the SuperCal calcium supplements, available with four different levels of vitamin D, HyD, MeD, LoD and NoD; SuperVite, a complete multivitamin and multimineral powder; and SuperPig, a carotenoid formula that brightens the pigmentation of reptiles to help them show off their best colors.

For keepers of horned lizards and other ant-eating specialists, Repashy Superfoods made Formic Cal Plus. This is a calcium supplement with added calcium formate that would be provided by feeding on ants in nature.

Reptiles that are breeding, sick or newly acquired may stop eating for some time. This can be detrimental to their health.

To help with this problem, Zilla has created Jump-Start Caloric Supplement and Appetite Simulant. The Zilla website says “Jump-Start was created to address the full range of reasons a reptile’s normal eating pattern may be disrupted, from breeding, illness and anorexia to everyday sluggishness.”

On the Surface

Of course not all problems seen in reptiles can be prevented or fixed with supplements.

“Another common occurrence with reptiles is mites,” MacLean said. “These are pesky, unwanted parasites that can cause your reptile discomfort, and ultimately reduce their overall fitness. By using a safe, nontoxic formula such as JurassiMite or Mite Wipes, you can easily rid your reptile of these unwanted pests!”

Mite Wipes launched at this year’s Global Pet Expo. They contain a nontoxic, all-natural formula that eradicates mites and ticks. According to the JurassiPet website, it is safe to use Mite Wipes daily.
Provent-a-Mite from Pro Products is a spray that eliminates mites and ticks. According to Pro Products website, it is the only mite control product approved by the EPA and USDA for all species of reptiles, including tortoises. It can be sprayed on the pet, substrate and cage décor and will remain effective for 30 days.

For reptiles that are having trouble shedding their skin, Zoo Med offers Repti Shedding Aid. This made in the USA spray helps in removing dead skin stuck on snakes and lizards.

MacLean advises that understanding reptile supplements and medications is the key to successfully selling them.

“Understanding the science behind products will help retailers to sell with confidence,” MacLean said. “Educating not only about the products, but also about proper husbandry, will help the customer to be more successful. When customers are successful, it keeps them in the hobby.”

And Your Little Dog, Too!

When it comes to dog breeds, Americans are thinking small. The percentage of small dogs – those under 20 pounds – has been growing steadily larger since around 2000.

To go with this trend, more pet products companies are offering items designed especially for compact canines. If you want a rundown on the small breed trend and the products that trend has inspired, turn to our cover story. From special diets to tiny toys, the latest items for pint-sized pooches are here. For most pet retailers, stocking some of these and other items for these popular breeds is a no-brainer.

The reasons for the growing popularity of little dogs seem to be connected to the greater trends of modern living. More people are living in cities in smaller spaces. It’s easier to have a smaller dog in those types of dwellings than a large dog. As dogs have more and more been considered part of the family, more owners want to take their dogs with them as often as possible. Again, that’s easier with a smaller dog.

One aspect of having a small dog that doesn’t get talked about often but that I think is one of the big advantages they have over their larger cousins is that smaller breeds tend to live longer. With a smaller dog, there is a greater chance of seeing that pet live to be a dozen years or more. Of course, if you really want a long-lived pet, nothing beats parrots and tortoises.

Which brings me to my confession: I much prefer big dogs to small. There’s no question that small breeds are cute, loyal, smart, fun and affectionate companions. There’s just something about the bigger breeds that appeals to me. If I were to get a dog, I’d likely choose something on the larger side of the canine spectrum. For now, though, I’m sticking with cats, snakes and spiders.

Caring for the Slow and Steady

Turtles and tortoises (more scientifically known as chelonians) comprise a few hundred species, some of which are very popular pets.

“Red-eared sliders still prevail as the most popular aquatic turtle and this is mainly attributed to the low price and ease of acquisition associated with them,” said Chris Leone, owner of Garden State Tortoise, a turtle and tortoise breeding facility in central N.J. “Other popular aquatic species catching up to them are Mississippi map turtles, western painted turtles, yellow-bellied sliders and peninsula cooters.”

“As for tortoise species, the sulcata, also known as the African spur-thighed tortoise, is the heavy weight champion here, trailed by Russian tortoises, various hingeback species, red foot tortoises and sometimes eastern Hermann’s tortoises,” Leone said. “Sulcatas are attractive tortoises which can easily adapt and turn out to be quite personable.”

However, Leone also said the large adult size of sulcatas means they are not the right pet for many keepers and owners often have to give up their sulcatas when they get too big.

“Zoo Med is proud to offer a full line of products for turtles and tortoises,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Labs. “As turtle and tortoise enthusiasts, we commonly find a need for specialized equipment for these specialized animals and use this knowledge and experience to find solutions for fellow keepers.”

This line of products for shelled companions includes Turtle Clean Filters, Aquatic Turtle Feeder, Turtle Tub Kit, the new Turtle Pond Dock, the Tortoise House, the Tortoise Play Pen and an array of diets created for a wide range of species and life stages.

“Our Aquatic Turtle Feeder makes feeding time fun and interactive by encouraging more activity from pet aquatic turtles,” Rademacher said. “The floating, fish shaped feeder can be filled with turtle food pellets which are released when the feeder is bumped by the animals. In nature, turtles forage for food and this item is designed to help promote these natural activities.”

The Pond Dock provides a large basking platform for aquatic turtles housed in outdoor ponds or large indoor enclosures. It and Zoo Med’s other Turtle Docks have a self-leveling feature, so they automatically adjust to all water levels, allowing turtles to haul out to bask and dry off when they feel the need.

The Tortoise House can be used indoors or outdoors. The wood siding offers the pet security and the enclosed “sleeping area” is snug and weatherproof. According to Rademacher, the modular design allows keepers to expand their housing as needed, and it is easy to assemble. Zoo Med’s Tortoise Play Pen allows temporary outdoor housing so a tortoise or box turtle can graze on grass and be exposed to beneficial sunlight.

Recently, Tetrafauna from Spectrum Brands launched ReptoHeat, a dual temperature basking heater suitable for turtles and tortoises. It features two temperature modes with the heat provided by a ceramic heating unit. It mounts quickly and safely to a metal screen cage top.

Chelonian Chow

Unlike many other reptiles and amphibians, turtles and tortoises can thrive on convenient packaged diets.

Mazuri is one company that offers a full range of diets for chelonians.

“Each of the diets were designed by nutrition experts dedicated to producing the best quality of diets for your turtle and tortoises and each product contains a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee,” said Troy Tollefson, Ph.D., nutritionist at Mazuri.

“For freshwater turtle species, Mazuri has an extruded floating pelleted diet (Mazuri Aquatic Turtle) and a gel based diet (Mazuri Aquatic Gel) that are both nutritionally complete and designed to meet the needs of all life stages of your turtle,” Tollefson said. “All diets contain high levels of fish, fish oil, natural vitamin E and are highly palatable.”

Mazuri also offers three pelleted diets for tortoises: Small Tortoise LS, Tortoise LS and Tortoises. According to Tollefson, the Small Tortoise LS diet meets the nutritional requirements of growing tortoises for their first year, and the regular Tortoise LS diet is for tortoises older than that. The Tortoise LS diets are based on timothy grass, have high levels of fiber and contain live probiotics.

In June of 2016, Tetrafauna will launch the ReptoMin Pro Lifestage Nutrition line of age-specific diets for aquatic turtles. It will feature Baby, Juvenile and Adult diets.

“Not only are these Lifestages formulas scientifically balanced to fulfill the needs of each growth milestone, but each stage is also complemented with natural, easily digested yucca extract that controls and blocks odors derived from pet waste for maximum enjoyment of your pet turtle,” said Keely Roberts, Spectrum Brands aquatic nutrition marketing. “And with odor-blocking technology, you can finally spend your time enjoying your pet–not constantly cleaning up after him.”

Selling Stuff for the Shelled

Tetrafauna’s merchandising will make it easy for pet store personnel to sell the Lifestages Nutrition line.

“For the new Tetrafauna PRO ReptoMin Lifestages Nutrition line, we will provide retailers with merchandising strategy and many advertising tools to help educate and make their consumers successful,” Roberts said. “From easy-to-decipher size charts at the shelf, icons on packaging, innovative talk box and brochure design, as well as Tetra Care’s trusted support team, we are confident Tetrafauna PRO ReptoMin® Lifestages Nutrition will be well received by turtle keepers and retailers alike.”

Zoo Med also provides help for retailers selling products for chelonians and for consumers caring for them.

“At Zoo Med, education is very important to us,” Rademacher said. “Our website, Facebook and YouTube are filled with educational information about our products and the animals they are intended for.”

Leone advises that, to maintain chelonian keepers as customers, you have to stock the right products.

“With turtle and tortoise husbandry being at the peak of its popularity, many keepers are aware of the better choices in equipment,” Leone said. “It seems many retailers have not caught on to this, which can be frustrating. I know all too well that when you are in a pinch and need to replace something like a bulb, sometimes you can’t simply run to the pet store because they just don’t carry it.”

He recommends some less obvious products that would appeal to these pet owners.

“Over the counter deworming medications, which are extremely important for tortoise health care like Panacur and Safe Guard, would be great to see available,” Leone said. “More appropriate enclosures such as Vision cages, HerpCages and Neodeshas should be carried as these work well for housing semi-terrestrial turtle species that require high humidity and low light. They also work well for raising baby tortoises, which by nature require high humidity levels.”

It’s Easier Being Green

Having just returned from Global Pet Expo, I can tell you that the pet industry has gone green. Eco-friendly products seemed to be everywhere. Almost every company I spoke with highlighted the ways that company was working to be more sustainable and using safer and more natural materials.

While I didn’t know that’s what I would see at Global when we were planning our April edition, in acknowledgement of Earth Day, we decided to make this our Green Issue. I won’t claim any great insight or psychic abilities; anyone who has been around the pet industry for the last several years knows about the proliferation of green pet products.

Our cover story is all about eco-friendly products and the consumer demand for these products. More and more pet owners are not only willing to purchase environmentally friendly products for their pets but are actively seeking these products out. Today’s pet owner is often as concerned for the well-being of the planet as for the well-being of his or her pet.

Along with the cover story, in our products section you can find Focus on Eco-Friendly Products. This will give you a look at the diversity of green products that are now all the rage in the pet industry.

And, of course, every month we bring you our Natural Trends & Products column by Stacy Mantle. For this issue, she wrote about raw diets, a growing category within the pet food segment.
Pet Age itself embraces the greening of the pet industry by being a member of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition (PISC), and our own Craig Rexford is a member of its advisory board. PISC provides information to pet companies on how to make their products and processes more sustainable.

I share the environmental concerns of many other pet owners and seek out products that are more sustainable for my pets. It’s encouraging to see the options for doing so keep expanding. It’s also encouraging that greener product options exist across the various segments of the pet industry, not just in the cat and dog categories.

The green pet product trend shows no signs of slacking. Retailers would be smart to embrace it by stocking sustainable products and showcasing them for customers. It’s good for the retailer, the consumer, the pets and the planet.

Happy Earth Day!

Tom Mazorlig

New Products, Trends on Display at Global Pet Expo

Global Pet Expo (GPE), already the largest American pet trade show, keeps getting bigger and hosting more vendors each year.

The show is held annually by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). The 2016 GPE was held in Orlando, Fla. on March 16-18.

According to Bob Vetere, president and CEO of APPA, GPE has grown 60 percent since its first show and the 2016 edition set records for attendance and number of buyer preregistrations. There were 5,842 buyers present—a four percent increase since last year. This year, there were 3,218 booths housing 1,087 exhibitors.

With all of these pet companies showing off their latest and greatest products, the Pet Age team combed the show looking for trends that would be important for retailers to know.

The pet tech trend is going strong, with at least two dozen vendors offering pet activity trackers, smart feeders, app controlled aquarium lighting and more. OurPets showcased what is perhaps the most complete line of technology-integrated products, Intelligent Pet Care. It includes the SmartPetLink app that controls a smart litter box, smart feeder and smart waterer.

Another trend that was out in force is pet companies partnering with celebrities. At GPE, Petmate launched a line of dog products with country star Miranda Lambert. The line is called Mutt Nation and has a country-rock and rustic style that draws on Lambert’s roots.

There was also the debut of Big and Bobbi, LLC, a line of dog shampoos created in a partnership between American rapper, songwriter, producer and member of Outkast Big Boi and Bobbi Panter of Bobbi Panter Pet Products.

At least one celebrity launched a pet company that was entirely her own. Lisa Vanderpump from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules launched Vanderpump Pets at Global. The company offers leashes, collars, clothing, carriers and accessories for dogs and cats.

Pet owners are always looking for ways to calm pets, ease separation anxiety and relieve their pain. The latest trend in that arena seems to be treats, supplements and lotions containing natural, cannabis-derived cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is legal in all 50 states and contains no THC, according to Larry Wright, president and CEO of The Green Pet Shop.

“CBD is medicinal and it doesn’t get pets high,” Wright said.

The interest in CBD has been driven by the growing acceptance of medical marijuana for humans.

“Ever since medical marijuana became popular, people have been using it for pets,” said Graham Sorkin of The Green Pet Shop. “We decided to create a formula for pets. We see a lot of demand for a domestic product instead of from China.”

Pet Releaf offers a full range of dog and cat products containing calming CBD. Barkworthies launched Pumpkin Cannabidiol Treats for dogs.

The Green Pet Shop offered a CBD lotion in a gel pen that is applied to the inside of pets’ ears.

“A transdermal delivery offers a higher percentage of effectiveness in pain relief,” Wright said.

Although the demand for alternate protein sources and ancestral diets is not new, the number of products that includes these items has surged. At GPE, Pet Age staff saw foods and/or treats based on lamb, goat, rabbit, bison, wild boar, quail, pheasant, alligator and kangaroo, which are likely only some of the varieties available.

Why the increased interest in these types of diets and treats?

“Interest in ancestral canine diets is on the rise as pet parents seek ways to feed their dogs as they may have eaten in the wild,” said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Merrick Pet Care. “These diets combine the best of the mega pet food trends pet parents are looking for. For example, Merrick Backcountry features high-protein grain-free recipes that start with real deboned meat, plus freeze-dried raw pieces of meat, fish and poultry for the fresh taste and digestibility of a raw diet and exotic protein blends to give dogs a novel flavor experience.”

Bone broth might be a new in-demand product, said Scott Kinsinger of Caru Pet Food Company. Caru launched a grass-fed, made in the USA bone broth at Global.

According to Kinsinger, bone broth offers a number of benefits to pets.

“It’s full of nutrients and glucosamine for joints,” Kinsinger said. “It’s a natural way to get these into a dog and it’s very palatable. Retailers are very excited about it.”

The Honest Kitchen has also offered a bone broth product: Bone Broth with Turmeric.

Whether brand new or longstanding, these trends are some that retailers would be wise to notice. With each trade show comes the opportunity to offer pet owners increasingly innovative ways to care for their companions. And of course, staying ahead of market trends often means staying ahead of the competition.


Slice of Life

One of the niches within the reptile hobby is the design and maintenance of natural terrariums, also called vivariums. Natural terrarium aficionados seek to create tiny slices of rainforests or deserts in their homes.

While there is no reliable information on how large this segment of the hobby is, some experts think the trend is growing.

“I have been seeing an increase in people designing natural terrariums,” said Ron Tremper, consulting herpetologist for Tetrafauna, Spectrum Brands and Pet, Home and Garden. “Why? First, there are better designed units available, like the ReptoHabitat that affords people the chance to keep plants and herps in harmony. Second, people want more out of their reptile pet and so a beautiful terrarium gets invited into the living or family room in more and more households.”

Mike Rizzo, owner of Glass Box Tropicals, a Michigan-based supplier of terrarium equipment, plants and poison dart frogs, agrees that popularity of keeping natural terrariums is growing. He sees different but related reasons for the growth.

“Yes, the keeping of naturalistic terrariums/vivariums is growing in popularity quite dramatically,” Rizzo said.

He believes there are three factors feeding this trend.

“One is social media,” Rizzo said. “There are now many Facebook groups as well as online forums devoted solely to this topic, many of them with thousands of members. When a member of one of these groups shares a picture or post, it allows an even larger audience to be exposed to the beauty and tranquility that these creations can bring to a home or office.”

“The second factor is education,” he said. “Many more hobbyists are learning that their animals will be happiest in a naturalistic setup. These setups help increase humidity and create more potential hiding spots, which often makes the animals inside feel more comfortable and secure.”

“Finally, there is increasing availability of the items needed to create amazing, naturalistic tanks,” Rizzo said. “There are several very popular and well-stocked websites, most that can have any item to you within days of ordering it, and many that also guarantee live arrival or plants and microfauna. Many brick and mortar pet stores are starting to carry additional naturalistic terrarium products as well.”

Lighten Up

Natural terrariums encompass diverse environments from rainforests to deserts to almost anything in between. One thing they have in common is live plants, and live plants need appropriate lighting.

“LED lighting has become an important part of natural terrariums for supporting plant growth and reptiles’ proper vision,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator at Zoo Med. “Zoo Med’s new energy efficient LED Terrarium Lighting with a low profile design also boasts a unique modular design that allows for replacing or swapping out LED modules. Each module comes standard with three different colored light emitting diodes (LEDs) including white, red and blue. The 6500K daylight high output LEDs provide truly naturalistic, brilliant white lighting. This light supports pet’s vision and promotes natural behaviors such as feeding and breeding responses. Light combinations can be easily controlled with independent rocker switches located on the end of each hood.”

For terrarium inhabitants that need UVB lighting, Zoo Med offers the ReptiSun LED UVB Terrarium Hood. It combines the energy efficient ReptiSun LED lighting with a ReptiSun 5.0 UVB Lamp.

Enclosing Nature

While keepers can create a vivarium in any tank, most prefer front-opening terrariums for easier access.

The Tetrafauna brand from Spectrum Brands offers several enclosures that will fit the bill. The Deluxe ReptoHabitats come in several sizes and have sliding glass front doors along with sturdy screen tops, allowing easy access to any part of the terrarium. The bottom features a low profile drain to make cleaning out water features simple.

Zoo Med’s new Skyscraper Terrarium is an option for keeps of tree-dwelling species. It has an 18-inch by 18-inch base and is 36 inches tall.

“It is perfect for many arboreal species such as tree pythons and boas, New Caledonian geckos, anoles and many others,” Rademacher said. “The extra tall habitat allows arboreal animals to perform natural behaviors and feel secure in their tree-top home. The watertight base allows keepers to build naturalist habitats including water features and plants.”

Show Them How It’s Done

When it comes to natural terrariums, the best way for retailers to create interest– and sales–is to have one or more on display, according to experts.

“Seeing is believing,” Tremper said. “Retailers must have one or two knockout terrarium set-ups on display. This helps potential customers envision what could be theirs; especially if a recirculating waterfall is in play. The sales force must engage customers and show them the features and how to be successful.”

Rizzo agrees.

“The best way to sell many of these is to set up a nice display tank so that customers can envision the possibilities,” Rizzo said. “Some stores also have great success selling tanks that are already setup and ready for animals to be introduced immediately.”

According to Rademacher, it is helpful to show products in use.

“Showing products in use is really a great way to inspire current and potential pet keepers to be creative and build natural terrariums for their animals,” she said. “Zoo Med has made several different YouTube videos with examples of how to use products to create naturalistic terrariums. Retailers are always welcome to share our videos as well as photos from our website for inspiration and guidance.”


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