Times sure have changed.
Bruce Delles, owner of Twin City Reptiles, the second-oldest continuously operating reptile store in the nation, remembers a time when, “I could put everything for reptiles on one shelf in the back of the store.”
Along with increased sales has come an explosion in the quality and selection of reptile cages and accessories.
Led by companies like Exo-Terra, Zoomed and Zilla, the growing selection of enclosures means it’s easier than ever to match the unique needs of particular animals with the appropriate enclosure and find escape-proof cages.
And, just as important, according to Delles, the new enclosures look good and boast features that used to only be available in custom cages.
“A lot of cages now have a front open design,” Delles said. “The first one to come out with the front open was Rolf C. Hagen [maker of Exo-Terra cages]. Front-open cages are better because you don’t have to take all your lights off to get inside the cage. They’ve really come a long way.”
Even among the top-open cages, manufacturers have introduced designs that make it easier to gain access to the enclosure while simultaneously making it harder for enterprising reptiles to escape.
The Quest for Natural
If the many new cage options seem confusing, cage manufacturers have simplified the purchase decision for beginners by bundling cages and accessories together, so a new reptile owner can be confident they’re getting everything they need in one place, including hides, lights and naturalistic accessories.
This last item, natural accessories, is increasingly important to the trade.
According to Delles, customers are increasingly gravitating toward a “natural environment” inside their enclosures. The demand is steadily increasing for natural looking rocks and branches, sturdy fake plants designed for reptile cages instead of aquarium plants that flop over, and even environmental backdrops.
“The most popular accessories inside are something that’s realistic,” he said.
This list includes the Penn-Plax Granite Stone Hideaway, a Best in Show winner at the 2013 Global Pet Expo.
“The Hideaway is covered with crushed granite, which gives it a nice texture and helps with shedding,” Paul Demas, project manager with Penn-Plax, Inc., said. “It’s also stackable, so owners can create a multilevel hide and allow animals to pick where they want to hide out.”
Penn-Plax typically advises two hides per enclosure, with different hides in different temperature zones. This allows animals to choose where they want to hide out depending on the temperature in the cage.
Light Up the Tank
In general, Delles said, even with pre-assembled cage kits, reptile shops should concentrate on educating customers on the ideal cage set-up, especially lights. Not only does this help increase sales of hard goods, it creates happy, successful reptile owners, who are more likely to become repeat customers.
“The number one thing people do wrong is they don’t use either the proper type of lighting or the right wattage,” he said.
Lights are important to help maintain the proper temperature gradient across the cage. As cold-blooded animals, reptiles cannot regulate their own body temperature internally. Instead, they try to change their environment to match their temperature needs, which means moving in and out of hot “zones.”
In the natural environment, this is easy; reptiles can simply bask in the sun or find a shady hole. In poorly designed enclosures, it’s not so easy.
“I really tell customers they need to either use multiple thermometers or a temperature gun to take multiple temperature readings in a cage,” Delles said. “If you have one thermometer on the back of the cage that says 85 degrees and it’s 18 inches away from the light, it might be 115 under the light.”
More serious reptile owners should invest in a temperature gun, which Delles called a “godsend to the reptile industry.”
If the temperature in the cage is properly regulated, additional accessories like a humidstat, which measures humidity, probably aren’t necessary.
“Temperature is the most critical thing,” Delles said. “Take care of that and the rest will fall into place.”
Finally, the bedding should be matched to the species. Desert animals, such as bearded dragons, require a dry bedding, while amphibians will need something that can hold water and release it into the cage.
Ultimately, the best way to sell any kind of cage or accessory, said Demas, is to show customers how it’s done right.
“We tell retailers to set up a few cages where customers can see them in use,” Demas said. “If the enclosure works for the retailer’s animals, it’ll work for the customers too.”
– Jon VanZile