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Slithering Down to the Bottom Line

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After years of booming sales in reptiles, especially lizards and snakes, and a slew of new product introductions aimed at the burgeoning market, the pace of growth seems to have leveled off this year.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t increase sales from the reptile department—pet shop owners are heading back to the basics (if they ever left them in the first place) to make departments more efficient and profitable, and they’re always looking for new products.

In recent years, this especially means better lights.

Ryan Gittman, owner of Underground Reptiles in Deerfield Beach, Fla., calls lighting an “essential” that always sells well in his store. The increased awareness of lighting is thanks in part to a years-long effort by pet retailers to educate consumers about the correct way to light a reptile cage to provide the animal with the right amount of UVA and UVB, plus warmth for basking where necessary.

To answer the growing demand, the reptile products industry has stepped up development of lights to make them more cost efficient and smaller. The ZooMed line of ReptiSun T5 bulbs, for example, are perfect for terrariums, said Robert Coral, CEO of The Serpentarium, Inc., in Elk Grove, Calif. They produce strong light and the UVB many daytime reptiles need to thrive. ZooMed also produces a line of mini-compact fluorescent bulbs with UVB radiation that can be combined with basking heat lamps for an energy-efficient set-up.

“They’re really cool,” Coral said.

New product innovations aren’t limited to bulbs. Reptile manufacturer Exo-Terra recently introduced an easy solution for the pesky problem of keeping crickets. The Exo-Terra Cricket Pen is an all-in-one product for keeping and dispensing crickets—an included dispensing tube makes it easy to move crickets from the pen to the reptile cage.

While having the best products is important, it’s vital to create the right atmosphere in the store. This includes hitting the basics: a knowledgeable staff, healthy animals and a clean store.

“You need nice set-ups,” Gittman said. “Don’t cheese out on the set-ups. Unless people walk into the store and say, ‘Man, that looks nice,’ they won’t buy. You have to have a nicer set-up than they have at home.”

For some animals, especially those that are territorial and need to be acclimated to their cage-mates, like frogs, this can mean having a viewing-only set-up and keeping the actual animals for sale in the back of the store. For others, like the very popular bearded dragons and ball pythons, this can mean having a “sample” set-up, with less elaborate tanks of animals for sale. It’s even better if the sample set-up shows the animals in a tank configuration that is available for purchase, whether it’s a ZooMed or Exo-Terra tank kit.

The Serpentarium has taken this one step farther. The facility is a combination “living reptile museum” with rare and unusual animals on display for tourists and a full-service pet shop.

Both businesses are revenue-producing, and one supports the other: museum customers are invited to buy some of the animals they see on display, and pet shop customers can get inspired by the more intricate museum displays.

- Jon VanZile

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