November 4, 2016

Every successful operation needs a good foundation. And that’s as true of a pet store as it is of a reptile habitat, which requires the proper bedding material on which a herp can habitate and thrive.

According to experts, an increased focus from manufacturers on species-friendly products and more natural materials are among the reasons retailers have plenty of substrate merchandise and types to choose from nowadays.

The Real Deal
Apollo Reese Owens, sales manager for Galapagos Pet Supply, the Santa Barbara, California-based maker of reptile substrates and moss bedding, says natural materials are all the rage.

“Pet store owners and consumers are waking up to the benefits of natural substrates, and are starting to understand that many products come from non-renewable resources,” Owens said. “Sustainable materials and by-product harvesting are more important now than ever, and more reptile owners are leaning toward natural-looking enclosures, so fake and imitation bedding is dwindling in popularity.”

Coconut and moss are two of the most preferred substrate ingredients today. Both are used in Galapagos substrate products, including Tropicoco Soil and Tropicoco Husk, as well as Royal Pillow Moss. Coconut husk is a perfect reptile substrate material because it contains natural antibodies that help fight against mold, mildew, foul odors and other harmful pathogens. Meanwhile, Galapagos’ hand-harvested moss helps maintain a terrarium’s humidity and is conducive to proper pet hydration and shedding.

Austin Harris, manager for Underground Reptiles, a Deerfield Beach, Florida, pet store, is a fan of substrates that blend different materials, including Galapogos’ products.

“Being able to mix multiple substrates, including live moss, into your terrarium allows you to get the perfect humidity you’re looking for, plus it looks cool,” Harris said.

Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Labs, Inc., in San Luis Obispo, California, says planted and bioactive terrariums are becoming more popular, as well.

“They can be beautiful works of art in a reptile owner’s home, providing ideal habitats for tropical pets and a peaceful window for keepers into a tropical world,” said Rademacher, adding that Zoo Med’s new ReptiSoil is the ideal substrate for these bioactive setups. The product supports growth in terrarium plants such as ferns, bromeliads, miniature orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants. ReptiSoil features four components—peat moss, soil, sand and carbon (which helps aerate the soil and improve drainage)—that work together to retain humidity and promote burrowing, nesting and egg laying.

Getting Creative
Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for Healthy Herp, a division of San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, California, has noticed an increasing demand for products designed to create more naturalistic terrariums, “such as substrates that are easy to clean and free of dust and shavings, as well as soils and sands that can be wet, molded and excavated.”

Indeed, some goods go beyond the cage-bottom call of duty and offer the ability to sculpt creative, livable landscapes within an enclosure. Case in point: Zoo Med’s new Cavern Kit contains Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, which can be imaginatively shaped via included tools into tunnels, caverns, caves and shelters that allow reptiles to engage in their natural digging and climbing instincts as well as safely wear down their nails.

While the proliferation of substrate brands over the past few years is good for consumers, it’s also challenging for retailers who may have limited shelf space. Among the notable products in this subcategory today are multiple SKUs from National Geographic, like Sunset Reptile Sand, Coconut Fiber and Marble White Sand; numerous offerings by Zoo Med, such as Repti Chips, Eco Earth Expandable Reptile Substrate and Hydroballs; and a diverse array of choices from Exo Terra, ranging from Forest Moss and Coco Husk to Jungle Earth and Bio Drain, a non-organic substrate that doesn’t rot or decompose and allows for superior drainage.

From the Bottom Up
For years, retailers have been stocking substrate products horizontally flat and positioning them near the bottoms of shelves. Owens warned that this can hurt sales.

“Lately, I’ve seen more stores peg their substrates and begin to move them higher up on the shelf,” he said. “Merchandising substrates higher up and closer to eye level attracts customers’ eyes and encourages them to actually read each label and learn what makes it different from the product next to it.”

Harris said retailers need to ensure that customers understand the importance of buying and using the right substrate product.

“Always stress the importance of a healthy, clean environment,” he said. “To care for most reptiles and amphibians properly, the substrate should be changed at least every four to six weeks, which equates to around $10 a month on new substrate that provides a nice clean bedding for the pet to live on. That’s not a lot to ask for a product that will decrease the chance of the animal getting sick from bacteria growth.”

To encourage this and cater to consumer demand, it’s important to stock a healthy variety of substrate options.

“If a customer remains uncomfortable in using a particulate substrate, point them to a different product, and don’t let them feel limited in their options,” Rademacher said.

Lastly, practice what you preach by showcasing different herp bedding in your displays.

“Use (herp bedding) in your store to create some really nice looking terrariums—even if they don’t have live animals in them,” Oneppo said. “Also, try using the excavator type sands and create nice looking environments that people can purchase on the spot to take home, ready to go without the work.”

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