Décor Goes Natural
Naturalistic decorations and functional items dominate
the marketplace in herp terrariums.
BY ETHAN D. MIZER
When it comes to herp terrarium décor items, the more realistic looking they are, the better. Customers want products that are as close to the real thing as possible, and, increasingly, they are making repeat visits to pet specialty
shops to update their setups with new items.
Industry insiders report that the hobby is focused almost exclusively on naturalistic offerings.
“Everyone wants natural décor,” said Aron Morrison, owner of Reptile Room in
Hayward, Calif. “The plants are getting better. They’re looking more naturalistic.”
The Fluker’s and Pet-Tekk lines sell well for Morrison, he noted. He also likes The
Hagen Group and Zoo Med offerings, which he said do well in-store.
The design of these products is improving all the time, with plants appearing more
realistic with each new product release, said Trace Campbell, manager of Animal Ark
in Kingwood, Texas.
“Natural décor is the most popular type of décor by far,” Campbell said. “I dedi-
cate a lot of space for them. It’s something every hobbyist has to have. If you’re going
to keep a snake, for example, it has to have a place to hide. We dedicate a lot of space
Many of these items serve both an aesthetic and a functional role for hobbyists,
and selection is only increasing.
“Décor items look like they fit into the habitat more naturally and seamlessly,” said
Jonas Sternberg, owner of Sierra Fish and Pets in Renton, Wash. “That’s where the indus-
try has improved. Before, [décor items] looked like a piece of decorative material to put
in the tank; a lot of them have advantages now. Manufacturers are incorporating bowls
and ways for the animal to feed. They’re killing two birds with one stone.”
Many manufacturers cater to this demand, and several lines sell very well, re-
“Zoo Med’s always a strong line,” said Eric Majors, owner of Seven Seas Pet
Store in Jasper, Ind. “Exo Terra has some pretty nice looking stuff out there. Realistic
cactus products have sold very well for us. Zoo Med has their artificial cactus pieces
that look nice. We stick with mostly name brands.”
While some herp species aren’t as suited to heavily decorated terrarium setups, either
due to their size or propensity to move things around in their enclosure, many species
appreciate multiple hide options and cover from décor.
“With the smaller animals, there’s definitely a move toward naturalistic décor,” said
Adam Zwieg, owner of Adam’s Pet Safari in Chester, N.J. “Natural-looking décor is very
popular, at least for the animals suited to that kind of enclosure.”
Décor items also tend to offer a fairly strong profit margin for retailers, Campbell
“We do well with everybody, from Zoo Med to Zilla and Hagen,” he said. “We carry
everything. We do a lot of reptile business.”
The push in the industry has been to produce ever-more-realistic décor
items, especially in the form of artificial plants, rock hides and bowls.
“Hagen and Zilla have really stepped their game up with reptile
décor,” said Trace Campbell, manager of Animal Ark in Kingwood,
Texas. “Zilla has some new rock hides that look pretty good. Hagen has
rock hides, and its stoneware dishes do very well.”
Today’s offerings feature increasingly greater detail, and innovative
design features help customers set up new terrariums more easily or
incorporate new décor into existing setups.
“Galapagos Pet has this bark with moss on it,” said Adam Zwieg,
owner of Adam’s Pet Safari in Chester, N.J. “I just got it in a week ago. …
It’s almost all natural. A lot of [it is made from] resin that’s made to look
natural. There are some advantages. It’s easier to clean.”
Pet-Tekk added realistic-looking orchids and succulents to its
MagNaturals line in the past six months, said Scott Wenguer, president
of the Van Nuys, Calif.-based company.
“They come in groups so that it looks natural,” he said. “These
are mounted on a real piece of grapevine. Some have magnets so
hobbyists can put them wherever they want.”
The Pet-Tekk line performs well for Aron Morrison, owner
of Reptile Room in Hayward, Calif. Customers like the functionality of
current décor offerings, he added.
Industry participants predict that innovation in the category
“We just got back from the Phillips 2017 Southern Buying Show
[in late September],” said Eric Majors, owner of Seven Seas Pet
Store in Jasper, Ind. “Deep Blue is getting into more of the terrarium
stuff. Zoo Med is always on top of it. They’re trying to make more
realistic-looking items. I really expect to see more live plants
down the road.”
Because terrariums are inherently visual, it’s
generally best to let décor items themselves
draw customers’ attention to the shelves
rather than attempt to rely on signage,
“My experience with signage is,
three-quarters of people never even read the
signs when you make them up,” said Adam
Zwieg, owner of Adam’s Pet Safari in Chester,
N.J. “Putting décor items where customers will
see them seems to be the best way to go.”
Décor sells itself, said Trace Campbell,
manager of Animal Ark in Kingwood, Texas.
“People come in and that’s something
they want to shop for,” Campbell said. “They
want to put a hide with a bowl and see how it’s
going to look. They mix and match, and spend
a lot of time putting that stuff together.”
Forgoing signage in favor of displays might
have other benefits as well. Some retailers use
displays as a way to offer deals to customers
or help push specific items.
“I generally try to put décor items on
the shelves like any other product,” said Eric
Majors, owner of Seven Seas Pet Store in
Jasper, Ind. “I’m not really good at signage. I’ve
tried everything. You could probably put a ‘ 30
percent off’ sign on terrarium plants, but if you
don’t have them displayed right, I don’t know if
you’ll sell them or not.”
Majors uses displays with live animals and
décor items to help pique customer interest
and drive sales.
“Every two or three months, if I can find a
product on sale, I’ll build a terrarium and set it
next to the product,” he said. “We try to switch
stuff out and mark it down.”
Other retailers set up terrariums without
any reptiles or amphibians inside. The goal is
to display the décor without having to deal
with the maintenance involved in housing live
animals in a terrarium.
“You have to have tanks set up,” said Scott
Wenguer, president of Pet-Tekk in Van Nuys,
Calif. “I used to have a retail store. We did very
well with reptiles. I would set up a 20-gallon
tank, a lot of times with no animal inside. That
way, it doesn’t get messy and everything’s
brand new. … It’s a visual hobby. People are
visual, and people want natural-looking stuff.”
It can be effective to set up a display
terrarium featuring a live herp, and then offer
and merchandise a prearranged kit including
all the supplies used in the display.
“A lot of times what I’ve done with crested
geckos, for instance, is we’ll set up a little
display with a gecko, and we’ll have that same
exact kit made up without the crested gecko
in it, and we’ll sell that ready to go,” Majors
said. “It’s a turnkey option. That works better
THE SWEET SPOT
Every market is different, and pet specialty retailers need to know
their customer base well enough to discern what items will fall
within the “sweet spot” when it comes to pricing for herp terrarium décor, reported industry participants.
“There’s that $24.99 or less sweet spot,” said Scott Wenguer,
president of Pet-Tekk in Van Nuys, Calif. “People will spend $25 on
a nice plant. [Retailers also need] the stuff that’s $17 to $18.99 for
the mid-range, and some stuff that’s $10 or $12, or less.”
Having an offering for every budget helps drive sales of
multiple items, retailers reported.
“We carry a range of décor items in different price points,”
said Aron Morrison, owner of Reptile Room in Hayward, Calif. “But
the sweet spot range is between $10 and $20. We try not to carry
anything over $20.”
Décor items priced in the mid-tier are the most popular
with customers at Animal Ark in Kingwood, Texas, said manag-
er Trace Campbell.
“Our prices are really low in general,” he added. “But if a
wooden half-log is $2 less than a rock hide, [customers will]
spend the $2. But if the rock cave is $7 more, they’re going
to go for the wooden log. It’s the big jump that customers
While there seems to be a general consensus on a price
ceiling for herp décor, premium options are increasingly popular,
retailers reported, and there is a market for more-expensive items.
“You have to have a little bit for everybody,” Wenguer said.
“There are still old-school people that are using newspaper and
an upside down terra cotta pot for a hiding spot. But I think most
people want their tanks to look nice. If it’s displayed right, people
will pay the money.”
EW PRODUCTS ERCHANDISING RICE POINTS