Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more pet parents have discovered that reptiles and amphibians can make incredible companion animals. However, they have also learned that these creatures have very specific care requirements. According to Phillip Bartoszek, Zilla brand manager, knowing how to care for a pet properly is important when keeping these exotic animals. In addition to the current trends in the reptile sector, With 20 years of experience in the pet industry, specializing in pet reptiles and aquatics, Bartoszek explains how it’s imperative that retailers educate their customers on what it takes to give a reptile a long, happy and healthy life.
How would you describe the recent growth in popularity of reptiles as pets?
The pet reptile category has seen healthy year over year growth in recent years, with its percent growth outpacing other historically mainstream pet categories. Many factors have contributed to this including hypoallergenic pet trends, reasonable cost to maintain, being appropriate for smaller living spaces, quietness and relative ease of care. Millennial and Gen Z pet owners specifically think of pet reptiles as being a more unique and “cooler” pet experience that helps set them apart from other pet owners and allow them to express themselves. Trends in naturalistic terraria and vivariums have also helped invigorated the category, providing consumers the inspiration to create their own slice of the tropical rainforest or arid desert in their home.
What are currently the most popular reptile species that hobbyists are keeping as a pet?
Aquatic turtles continue to be the most kept group of reptiles accounting for over 40 percent of the pet reptiles owned in the U.S. Other popular species include bearded dragons, ball pythons, corn snakes, leopard geckos, crested geckos, horned or Pacman frogs and Testudo tortoises. Due to continuing advances in husbandry and our understanding of how reptiles and amphibians live in their natural habitats, a rapidly increasing array of species are being successfully captive bred and becoming more widely accessible. One of the most appealing aspects of this category is the variety of pet types for consumers to choose from, allowing them to select the perfect species for them or their family; a reptile or amphibian that fascinates them while meeting their care criteria, or level of expertise.
What’s important for retailers to know about reptile care and the products that are appropriate for them?
Reptiles are different. Unique aspects of reptile and amphibian physiology set them apart from pet mammals and birds, and drive many of the specific product categories essential for their care. They rely much more heavily on the external environment to satisfy their metabolic needs and often hail from places with unique habitats and microclimates. Critical reptile product categories like heating, UV lighting, substrates, and naturalistic décor have been developed to help re-create these habitats successfully in terrariums. Reptile foods account for the largest portion of reptile product sales, so be sure to offer a variety of packaged foods including complete diets as well as treats. Also consider solutions for offering live and frozen reptile foods to round out your selection as many species prefer to feed on live insects or frozen rodents. These items purchased typically weekly or monthly can help to drive regular foot traffic.
What’s your advice for a retailer who’s never offered reptiles or their products who has decided to do so?
Focusing on few popular core species is the best way to start and can help remove some of the complexity from the category. For example, targeting aquatic turtle/tortoise, bearded dragon, and leopard/crested gecko products can satisfy the needs of the majority of pet reptile owners entering the store. Offering starter kits to cover a handful of these species and stocking the necessary consumable items (nutrition, supplements, substrates and replacement light bulbs) to support them will facilitate return sales and provide a great foundation. Next, expand the assortment to include upgraded heating and lighting choices as well as décor options that will allow customers to further customize their terrariums to suit their taste or meet the needs of a wider range of species.
What are some of the driving factors in the research and development area at ZILLA?
At Zilla, we strive to develop products that make it easier for pet reptile owners to satisfy all their pet’s needs through comprehensive product lines along with the appropriate innovation to support successful husbandry. We strive ourselves on providing reptile lovers with the solutions they need for healthy happy pets, and an enjoyable pet owner experience. Superior performance, durability and ease of use drive our product development process and strategy for the future. Zilla’s focus is on developing the best care and husbandry solutions by using the latest technology coupled with innovative, thoughtful design. The resulting products, from state-of-the art energy saving lighting, nutritious, convenient and natural foods, to front opening glass terrariums and specialized bedding, are made for reptile owners who want products that protect and allow their pets to naturally thrive. We take the mystery out of taking care of your reptiles, amphibians and other cool creatures.
Why is it important for brands to offer species care guides for retailers and consumers?
Due to the sheer number of species available and differing care requirements, customers interested in a pet reptile are more likely to research their pet beforehand by searching out care information and product recommendations. Offering species care guides for both your employees and customers will allow the retailer to become a trusted source of information while removing some of the intimidation and frustration that can come from searching for reliable information. Reptile product manufactures, pet reptile breeders and distributors can all be excellent sources for trusted care information that can be printed and offered in store or supplied when someone purchases their reptile kit. Establishing the role of the retailer as a source of reliable information is key, and will help lead to a long term relationship with the customer as they continue to grow in the hobby.