It’s been said that home is where the heart is. But for pet store retailers, reptile homes are where the heart of your herp-related sales can come from.
That’s because, unlike your typical shoebox variety plastic hamster habitat or conventionally compact bird cage, terrariums and enclosures for cold-blooded critters tend to come relatively larger, higher priced and often require add-on products at the time of purchase like heat and UVB lamps and undertank heaters. All that bundled merchandise can add up to a tidy profit for your operation—provided you stock the kind of cages customers clamor for, say the experts.
Reptiles and Their Domiciles Find a Home
Ask Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand/Healthy Herp in Newark, California, and he’ll tell you that reptile habitats—and herp products in general—have come a long way into the mainstream over the past few decades.
“Back in the 1980s, reptiles were often kept in the back of the store or in the fish room and usually out of sight,” Oneppo said. “Fast-forward to today and reptiles are prominently displayed in stores, with many stores specializing in reptiles. Reptiles being more mainstream and people being more conscientious of their pets’ needs makes selling the proper habitat setup a whole lot easier.”
Richard Allen, owner of Reptile Rapture, a pet store in Madison, Wisconsin, says his store only carried a limited array of reptile homes when he opened his operations eight years ago. Today, by contrast, there’s an abundance of worthy terrarium SKUs to stock.
“The two brands that practically have the reptile habitat market cornered are Exo Terra and Zoo Med, which we carry a lot of,” Allen said. “One of the newest, which has been a big hit in our store, is Zoo Med’s Skyscraper Terrarium, which our customers like for its narrowness and height, making it a vertically flexible enclosure.”
The Skyscraper measures a slim but tall 18” x 18” x 36”, making it ideal for tree boas, tree pythons and arboreal lizards, and popular among retailers and customers alike who value extra shelf/counter space.
“Exo Terra’s Habisphere also makes for a great display in our store, working nicely as a showcase home for frogs and amphibians,” said Allen, noting that this glass terrarium product—designed especially for countertops or desktops—has a curved front window and a day/night light that provides a more user-friendly view of the setup and its occupants.
Another new enclosure that aims to revolutionize the segment is the Biopod (sold at Biopod.com), billed as a “self-contained ecosystem that replicates real environments.” Ideal for dart, poison or medium/large tree frogs or medium-sized reptiles, the Grand size Biopod features integrated misters, an air injection system that perfectly balances oxygen and carbon dioxide, integrated heating, an LED light panel that replicates natural sunlight, and more. Plus, this microhabitat can be controlled and customized via a smartphone app.
Oneppo notes that a number of other notable new terrariums have hit the market in recent months that boast unique shapes, sizes and aesthetic features. One glowing example is Zoo Med’s ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe, an open-air screen habitat equipped with touch-activated LED lights that illuminate the interior via three different color settings: white, red, or white and red.
“Also popular today are terrarium kits, often replicating habitats such as desert or rainforest,” Oneppo said.
Zilla, for instance, offers basic and deluxe versions of both desert and tropical kits.
According to Oneppo, another trend in recent years has been species-specific cages, “which have been tailored to accommodate the most popular pet species, including aquatic turtles, snakes, leopard geckos, crested geckos and bearded dragons.”
Cases in point: Exo Terra’s Crested Gecko Habitat Kit, Zoo Med’s Reptibreeze IguanArium, the Turtle Tub Aquatic Habitat and the Reptihabitat Leopard Gecko Kit.
How to Win Friends and Influence Pet Owners
Want to sell more reptile cribs to the masses? Take them out of the box and give them the lived-in lizard look.
“The best way to merchandise is to have some terrariums set up in the store on display, especially some of the kits,” Oneppo said. “You don’t necessarily need to have reptiles in them, but sometimes just having them out of the box and set up on display helps to sell them.”
At Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, a pet retailer in Centereach, New York, owner Bob Smith does just that.
“We showcase new terrariums like Zoo Med’s Skyscraper by setting it up fully decorated,” Smith said. “We recently put a green tree python inside the Skyscraper and set up a basking spot right in the front of the cage, which turned out to be the perfect display, resulting in a quick sale of the entire set up.”
Allen also prefers displaying and using the habitats he carries.
“I display every enclosure we sell in our store because I know how important it is to keep these products visible to the customer and to show them what it looks like assembled out of the box,” Allen said.
But taking merchandise out for a test drive isn’t enough. Your staff should be passionate about herps and the homes they live in, too.
“When an employee gets excited about and talks about their own personal experience with products, it’s very powerful,” Oneppo added. “Customers pick up on this and realize they are not being fed a line just to make a sale and are therefore more inclined to purchase the product.”