Retailers Find Added Value in Reptiles, Other Small Animals

While COVID-19 has created a fundamental shift in the way our economy works – where would be without third party food delivery, car-side pickup groceries or streaming services? – it has been a bit shocking to see certain industries foundering while others are booming. Board games, interestingly enough, have been one area that has seen massive growth throughout quarantine, while the pet industry has shown no signs of slowing its meteoric rise over the past decade.

Despite the rampant unemployment and economic struggle, people in both the United States and world-wide have sought comfort from a pet. The pet industry has nearly doubled since 2011, exceeding $99 billion last year alone, according to a February article by Statista. Since COVID-19 arrived in the United States, an estimated one out of 10 homes with a child under the age of 18 adopted a new pet for their household. Our industry continues to strive and the rising tide lifts all boats, from breeder to wholesaler to distributor to storefront.

However, it always pays to be aware of the current trends within the industry, and one segment that continues to rise in popularity and market share are pets that many might consider to be “non-traditional.” Pets like reptiles and amphibians, insects and other similar creatures have become increasingly popular, especially within households with more than one pet.

According to the 2019-20 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners survey, over 4.5 million American homes have a type of reptile as a pet. This greatly surpasses saltwater fish (1.6 million homes) and starts to approach the broad “small animal” category (5.4 million homes). Lizards, frogs and snakes are becoming increasingly desirable as small pets, particularly for Millennial and Gen-Z pet owners. These generations often rent homes and are more likely to need a pet that adheres to apartment or condominium guidelines. Interestingly, these newer pet owners view their scaly friends as ‘part of the family’ as much as any dog, cat or guinea pig. In a Packaged Facts survey from April 2020, 85 percent of “other pet” owners, which includes the reptile category, view their pets as part of their family. This closeness has resulted in a significant rise within this market share and should serve as a lucrative opportunity for any pet store willing to take advantage of it.

While entering the reptile market might seem like an intimidating transition, in reality doing so can often run hand-in-hand with your already extant operations. A simple change like adding frozen reptile food to your stock of refrigerated food can serve as a seamless transition into the reptile industry. This can attract reptile owners to your store and provide additional options for customers that you may be missing out on. Similarly, offering terrariums and other exotic-suitable caging alongside more traditional aquariums or small rodent cages may provide alternatives for a reptile-curious consumer, imagining how they might decorate a home for a new addition. Areas near your registers could provide an ideal place for pre-packaged crickets or mealworms, allowing your customers a convenient purchase that’s also easy for your staff to maintain.

Should you elect to move into actual reptile sales, be sure to avoid overreaching – only take on what you are comfortable selling. Educate yourself on various introductory-level species and equip your staff with the knowledge and resources to in turn, educate your customers. Although we’ve spent numerous essays articulating the virtues of various reptile and amphibian species, consider starting with easy-to-care-for animals ideal for a novice reptile-keeper. Crested and leopard geckos, colubrid snakes such as corn snakes and king snakes, veiled chameleons and bearded dragons all make for a smooth transition into reptile sales, with relatively easy care requirements and a wide variety of morphs and colorations. Once you gain more familiarity with the level of effort required by reptiles, consider broadening into other species based upon your pre-existing relationships with breeders and wholesalers. Perhaps a friendly breeder might be branching into a new species or a wholesaler might have overstock of a certain animal type. Relationship-building, as with so many other finer points within the industry, remains crucial when expanding into a new field.

With the pet industry booming and non-cat and non-dog companion animals seeing significant rises in popularity, this spring could be your best opportunity to spread into an entirely new market. This may just be the best year yet for reptiles.


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