June 6, 2017

If there’s one truth in the pet trade, it’s this: all of those critters have to eat. Reptiles, particularly, have diverse tastes in food that can simultaneously give you a throbbing stress migraine while providing the single greatest source of incoming revenue for your store. Staying abreast of new developments and changes within the realm of reptile food may well prove the difference between long-term success and struggle for your store.

Much like any other pet, any given reptile has a personality. Some will crave human contact and attention, others dislike being held. Similarly, some reptiles will eat any food item placed in front of them, while others have finite preferences and tastes. Perhaps your bearded dragon likes waxworms more than mealworms, or maybe your chameleon won’t eat crickets dusted in a certain brand of calcium powder. Providing a variety for your customers—both in actual food items and in supplementation—ensures that customers can find exactly what their pet wants most. Catering to those needs provides a positive customer interaction and keeps those customers coming back to your store time after time.

At the core of any store’s reptile food sales has to be crickets. While these little creatures can be a nuisance, they have two massive advantages that make them an absolute necessity within your store. First, crickets are inexpensive. Crickets have a relatively low footprint upon your overhead costs and can serve as a significant profit engine. Secondly, the proverbial ‘big box’ stores of your area likely do not carry crickets. With the pervasiveness of crickets as a primary food product within the reptile industry—the number of captive reptiles that feed upon primarily crickets is massive!—having a steady, reliable cricket supply ensures that customers will continue to return to their local pet store for a product that cannot be found at the grocery store.

However, alongside basic crickets, additional options remain at your disposal, should you choose to take advantage. One easy way to ensure repeat customers is through simple convenience. Retailers can consider having their staff members pre-bag various sizes of crickets by the 10 or by the dozen. Rather than dropping a current task to assist a customer by scooping crickets from a main bin, staff members could instead simply reach under the counter and pull forth a bag of small crickets, ready to go.

Alternatively, retailers may wish to look into pre-packaged bins of reptile food. Oftentimes, these are more ‘premium’ items, as they will contain gut-loaded insects or insects pre-dusted with calcium or other vitamin powders. Other reptile food suppliers, such as Timberline, have begun producing bins of pre-packaged reptile food suitable for various species. Packaged items like cactus, leafy greens or fruit fly larvae can make for easy grab-and-go items for customers, making life easier on them and ensuring repeat business for the store. Reptile food producer Timberline has even begun providing a “Reptile Lunch Box,” which contains prepacked, date-stamped boxes of crickets, complete with food and water to keep the crickets alive.

Coupled with this is a trend toward pre-packed frozen mice and rats for our carnivorous reptile friends. These frozen mice are often packed individually, allowing a customer to buy as many as they need at a clip, or buy a larger pack for greater economy. Both single packs and larger packages can be kept in a small freezer within easy reach of a register—gone are the days of having to hunt through a bulky deep freeze for frozen mice! Again, the advantage here lies in the niche market; big-box stores, supermarkets and the like will not carry frozen mice and rats. If you can make yourself indispensable to your customers, it becomes increasingly likely the same customer will turn to you for additional needs, such as other pet food, habitat supplies or even new animals.

One of the newer developments in reptile food has been that of hornworms, also known as Goliath worms. The larvae of the Sphinx moth, hornworms are large, softbodied caterpillars similar in appearance to silkworms. Often viewed as a pest insect—hornworms often feed upon tobacco or tomato plants—hornworms have gained popularity with owners of bearded dragons, leopard geckos, chameleons, uromastyxs and other larger lizards. Hornworms have a naturally high calcium content and are relatively low in fat, which makes them ideal feeder insects for creatures that are having difficulty eating. Because of these factors, retailers may be able to bill hornworms as a premium food, particularly as a treat for their hungry reptiles.

One of the biggest questions a retailer must face is that of live food. While many reptile enthusiasts swear by live feeder mice and rats, the additional space, cost and effort necessary to maintain feeder animals within a store may not be worth the aggravation. However, if an area has enough reptile owners that prefer live food, it may well be worth it to meet the demand of those customers. Again, no big-box store or supermarket will encroach on this market, so a wellstocked store that carries live food has the potential to tap into a cornered market. However, stay focused on the overall demand for feeder animals in your area, and act accordingly.

We’ve said it numerous times since the inception of this column, but it bears repeating: the initial sale of a reptile pet is only the beginning. The majority of a retailers’ interactions with customers, and the majority of their transactions, will not come from animal purchases but rather the purchases of food and other subsidiary purchases. Reptile food is at the core of any pet-store/customer relationship; retailers should ensure that they hold up their end of the conversation!

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