July 1, 2014

Who needs a home when you have a shell to hide in? Tortoises and aquatic turtles, of course, which require a surf-and-turf-amenable habitat equipped with ample heat, light, substrate and other accessories to live comfortably.

But the days when blandly designed aquariums were the only domestic dwellings that owners of these pets could purchase are long gone. Today, there’s a much wider variety of tanks, tubs, toppers, play pens and aquatic terrarium trimmings for turtle and tortoise owners to choose from.

From Boxes to Palaces

Indeed, modern turtle/tortoise habitats have evolved from boxy vanilla enclosures to intricate domains equipped with generous amenities. Case in point: Zoo Med’s Tortoise House, a secure wooden enclosure that can be used indoors or outdoors. It includes a private, weatherproof sleeping area with a solid, lockable top that offers protection from drafts and shade. The habitat’s open side has a lockable wire safety cover to prevent escapes and protect the pet while allowing natural sunlight exposure.

The Reptology Tortoise Palace by Penn-Plax was built to resemble a piece of furniture while also providing an appropriately sized and functional home. The unit comes with an adjustable light stand, secure cover that locks in the open position to make cleaning easier, and a hide box.

Zilla’s Turtle Tank, which features a handy filter mounting panel built into the side of the aquarium, continues to impress retailers and consumers alike.

Owners who crave extra elbow room for these animals have been rewarded in recent years by enclosures available in an array of different sizes, shapes and volume capacities.

“Most terrariums can’t offer larger sizes because of the extra weight of the glass,” said Pete Jansema, owner of Orange, Calif.-headquartered Waterlandtubs, which manufactures an assortment of black 100 percent recycled polyethylene enclosures in sizes ranging from less than 3 gallon to 200-gallon capacities. “But our products are lightweight, easier to clean and virtually indestructible.”

Most feature a dual-sided access ramp that separates a water side from a land side.

The Tetrafauna Reptile Kits feature components designed to work together, so set-up and maintenance are easy. The 15-gallon size features innovative screen tops that allow one-handed operation, and include built-in cord routing. The screen is padlock compatible for easy locking.

It includes filtration, basking, platform, heat lamp with bulb, food, and water care, and also comes in a 20-gallon size.

Born to Bask

In the tortoise/turtle category, there’s also been a marked trend toward providing more appropriate and functional basking platforms, according to Paul Demas, project manager for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge, N.Y. These add-ons, intended to be placed within or atop compatible habitats, allow aquatic turtles to climb out of the water, dry off and entertain owners.

“This is especially true when it comes to turtles as they mature and grow,” he said. “Traditional platforms were geared toward smaller, if not hatchling, turtles and did not stand up to the test of time as far as holding the weight of larger turtles.”

To combat this problem, Penn-Plax introduced the Reptology Turtle Pier, available in a small or large configuration, both of which are designed to support the weight of larger pet turtles. The Pier’s floating platform sits just above the water line on three, 8-inch pylons, affixed with suction cups that can be extended to allow the turtle to rest out of the water for basking in an area accessible via a docking ramp. The floating platform enables evaporation and will rise or fall with the water level up to 12 inches, and can be set as shallow as 3 inches for low or zero-water environments.

Another attention-getting example of a basking add-on is Exo Terra’s Turtle Bank, which serves as a floating island. Held in place by magnets, it can be set in the corner of the tank to maximize the swimming area. The submerged ramp adjusts automatically to any water level.

And Penn-Plax still makes its Turtle Topper, an innovative above-tank basking platform that includes a submerged resting platform and an access ramp that leads to the basking area, viewable via a see-through polycarbonate lid.

Riding the Shell to Higher Profits

Consider that turtles and tortoises continue to be among the top-selling reptiles across America, which should encourage retailers to carry products that cater to these pets.

“There is an increasing market for aquatic turtle products that stores can easily take advantage of for increased sales while meeting the demands of their customers,” Demas said.

Don’t just stick turtle/tortoise products on the shelf and expect them to sell themselves, however.

“Use the basking platforms you sell in display tanks, and show customers how they are used,” Demas said. “Give customers options, have multiple setups, if possible, and rotate items on a regular basis.”

Richard Allen, owner of Reptile Rapture, a Madison, Wis.-based pet retailer, recommends bundling products together into convenient setup starter kits and offering price incentives. His include the tank, filter, UVB/UVA light, spotlight, dome, gravel, fake plant and a floating accessory.

“We’ll take 50 percent off the price of a [tortoise or turtle] when they buy the whole setup,” said Allen, who suggests displaying habitats and bundled setups immediately adjacent to live animals for sale. “And even if they only buy the bundled starter kit, we offer it about $10 cheaper than if they were to buy the products individually.”

Addie Schuhle, product buyer for Pet Food Depot in Phoenix, said it’s also important to merchandise “a variety of bedding and light bulb products.”

“I offer [tank] backgrounds and some decorations,” she said. “I am constantly moving things around, especially the décor items, such as logs, stumps, cork and driftwood. But I would stay away from specialty items and stick with the basics that encompass a large variety of reptile types.”

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