Top to Bottom
Herpkeepers seek habitat lighting,
heating and substrate that are visually
authentic and energy efficient.
BY AUDRE Y PAVIA
Manufacturers are seeing a number of trends in the herp sub- strate, lighting and heating categories, all driven by the grow- ing knowledge of consumers who keep reptiles and amphibians as pets.
In substrate, Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile spe-
cialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., points out that
one of the company’s recent product launches was a response to a trend
in what hobbyists refer to as “bioactive substrates.”
“The goal is to create a ‘living’ substrate, an ecosystem that not only
maintains itself, but also metabolizes waste and can improve reptile and
amphibian health,” he said. “It is important to understand that creating
a visually authentic substrate is only the start, as a number of other ‘in-
gredients’ need to be added—like microfauna, carbon, healthy bacteria
As part of a trend toward a more natural environment for these pets,
Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax in Haup-
pauge, N. Y., sees a movement toward products that integrate well into
“The less obtrusive a piece of lighting or heating equipment is, the bet-
ter,” he said. “With substrates, natural materials will always be import-
ant, but now manufacturers are able to better engineer those materials to
provide a better experience for herps and their keepers.”
In the area of lighting and heat, Ryan McVeigh, marketing brand
manager for Zilla, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden
& Pet Co., noted a trend in providing new and efficient technologies that
advance keeping herps in captivity.
“By providing better outputs in both UVA/UVB and heat while reducing energy consumption, you’re able to provide better alternatives
for consumers,” he said.
SHOWING CUSTOMERS THE LIGHT
“Consumer education is particularly important within this category because you’re talking about aspects of the hobby that are
critical to the survival and happiness of the animal,” said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge,
N. Y. “As with most other categories, the best way for retailers to educate their customers is by having knowledgeable, courteous
members of their staff available to educate customers and guide them through the purchasing process.”
Consumer education only comes when employee education is properly executed, said Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division man-
ager and reptile specialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
“We rely on our Exo Terra representatives to provide as much material as possible to our retailers,” he said. “This includes
steering them toward our website and Facebook pages, and reviewing our sales sheets. Packaging can only provide so much
info. The reptile industry is fortunate enough to have tech-savvy consumers who eat up new information.”
According to Luciano Moralez, store operations manager for Clarks Pet Emporium in Albuquerque, N.M., customer education
is the lifeblood of a store.
“We want to see passion from our staff,” he said. “We take pride in the fact that we can fix any problem people come to us
with. We do what’s right for the buyer’s budget and unique tastes.”
Bob Potts, owner of Herp Hobby Shop in Oldsmar, Fla., places an emphasis on herp care when educating customers.
“Keep ’em healthy and keep ’em alive. That’s our motto,” he said. “We do a lot of educational outreach at schools, Repticons
and reptile swaps. We are attuned to what people need to know to be excellent pet owners, and we deliver the information to
them, as well as the goods.”
DISPLAY TO HIGHLIGHT CHOICE
Displaying and marketing herp substrate, lighting and heating products in a way that makes it easier for consumers to make a
choice is the best way to handle this category, according to manufacturers.
“Lighting is one of the most confusing and intimidating categories to the new hobbyist,” said Ryan McVeigh, marketing
brand manager for Zilla, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co. “There are many different bulbs with
different styles, wattages, outputs and wavelengths. Some give off UVA, some don’t. Some give off UVB, and others are heat only.
With all of the choices, it’s important to display these bulbs in a way that allows the consumer to differentiate between all of the
options. By separating heat only from UVA/UVB bulbs, and having knowledgeable staff to help guide them, it can make the task
of choosing lighting much easier.”
According to Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield,
Mass., using displays to grab shoppers’ attention is vital when it comes to this category.
“In an ever-evolving and progressing sales world, creating ‘theater’ is very important,” he said. “Catching the attention of
our consumers can be challenging, but we should understand one of the biggest reasons reptiles and fish are so attractive to
consumers is because they are visually stunning. So it should stand to reason that the products that revolve around these pets
should also be visually impactful. Having some fixtures and new types of bulbs on display can help show how herp-keeping has
become much more streamlined, with fewer cords and fixtures.”