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Of Scales and Sales

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock with the other anoles, you know that stocking herps can be beneficial to your bottom line today. After all, the number of U.S. households that own a reptile has increased from 2.8 million in 1994 to 5.6 million today, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Yet, simply jumping on the bearded dragon and ball python bandwagon isn’t enough to ensure successful sales in 2014 and beyond. Wise pet retailers understand that reaping profits from reptiles involves careful strategizing and hard work, say the experts.

The Price Is Right

For example, take Jim Gentile, owner of The Pet Shop in Allston, Mass. Like many small, independent operators, Gentile has learned that you have to be choosy about what herps you carry, which is why he downsized his inventory of exotic species considerably from years ago.

“Today, I stock common, popular species like ball pythons, leopard geckos, baby red tail boas and tortoises,” Gentile said. “It’s often harder to compete financially with the breeders and vendors who can cut out the middleman and sell exotic morphs directly for cheaper at area reptile shows and expos. So nowadays, you’ve got to have cages that turn over quickly in your store. And that means pricing [reptiles] right.”

Paul Barclay, sales and marketing manager for Reptiles by Mack, a Xenia, Ohio-based reptile breeder/wholesaler, agrees that hitting the price tag sweet spot for customers can make or break your reptile sales.

“Pet stores that price their reptiles too high don’t get good turnover, and it slows down their ability to sell other products,” he said. “They may mark the animal up 300 to 400 percent from what they paid for it, which can lead to the reptile becoming a store mascot that never gets sold. We typically recommend no higher than a 200 percent markup. In fact, we’ve seen many retailers sell at cost. While that’s a loss leader, it can lead to a huge surge in customers because it sparks sales of cages, lights, food and other accessories.”

Clean and Healthy

Cleanliness is essential. It’s also next to impossible to entice customers when they perceive a lack of cleanliness in your cages, or throughout your store.

“Retailers have to keep their reptile habitats clean and well maintained,” John Mack, owner of Reptiles by Mack, said. “That requires keeping the glass clear, changing the water and food dishes regularly, and ensuring that the animals are healthy.”

The latter involves building a solid relationship with a breeder or supplier you can trust.

“Having even one sick animal in a cage can drag down your whole image,” Mack said. “That reptile needs to be taken out so that it can be nursed back to health and not over-stressed in the display environment.”

One-Stop-Shopping

In addition to stocking the ideal species, pricing them appropriately and maintaining a tidy appearance, carrying regular supplies as well as eye-catching accessories is a no-brainer.

“It’s probably easier to sell the accessories than the animals themselves,” Gentile says. “You have to at least stock the basics to make it easy for first-time buyers.”

Like many retailers, Gentile displays starter kits for several popular species comprised of items that he bundles together for a discount. The goal, he says, is quick, convenient one-stop shopping with simplified pricing that creates an incentive for repeat business.

“Customers like new and innovative products,” Kim Bell, owner of Reptile Industries, a herp breeder in Naples, Fla., said. “So while it’s important to have the essentials like heat mats, lighting, water dishes, hide huts and bedding, you should also keep up with new products that major suppliers come out with.”

Catching Their Eye

Getting the shopper’s attention, especially in a tightly packed store like Gentile’s where many cages, supplies and other elements visually compete with each other, should be another primary goal. Employ creative signage, posters and merchandising displays, which manufacturers often provide, to lure a prospective buyer.

“Also, move your colorful species and hot sellers toward the front 20 percent of the store, instead of the back of the store, for better visibility,” Barclay said.

In addition, avoid cluttered displays and habitats that have so many accessories in them that customers cannot see the animals.

“If they cannot see them, they may just walk away,” Bell said.

Be An Informed Resource

Lastly, you want to leave a lasting positive impression upon patrons, whether they purchase or not. That means making sure that your employees are well educated about the different reptile species you sell.

“Staff must be knowledgeable about the animals and the care needed for them so that they can educate customers and help them pick a reptile that is best for them,” Bell said. “Employee training is crucial, as customers will rely on them to help suggest the appropriate supplies needed. It can also be very beneficial to have care sheets for [reptiles] stocked in the store.”

Ultimately, what separates you from other retailers and pet providers is your level of knowledge and service, explained Gentile.

“When customers come into my store and buy my animal, I want them to know that they’re also buying everything I know about that animal and that they can continue to rely on me as a trusted resource of information on that pet,” Gentile says. “If they have questions or a problem, they can come right back and see me for solutions.”

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