Making the Case for Cages
In a contest between tanks versus cages, both have their strengths, but the higher cost of wood cages can be discouraging to customers. Here are 10 wood-cage selling points every retailer needs to know.
One of the things I have noticed in the big chain/box store pet departments that makes me wonder—and smile—is the stunning lack of proper caging and supplies for the animals they choose to market. It is one of those shortcomings that independent retailers like me can use to maintain a foothold in the increasingly competitive marketplace. After all, it is not only difficult for the giants to find a reliable supplier of caging for their needs, but cages and tanks are so difficult to ship safely and cheaply that even online competition has a hard time keeping pace. That is where we, as independents, can step in and corner a market.
The truth is that glass tanks and wooden cages both serve unique purposes, and stocking just one or the other means you are doing a disservice to both your client and your animals. It is imperative that stores with even a barely passable herp section make the effort to have a full line of appropriate cages on the shelf. I admit that it is often not easy to do so; but that simply means you have to make it a priority to develop relationships with cage suppliers.
Of course, glass tanks are fairly easy. The tropical fish industry quickly adapted to the needs of herpers, and most of the major aquarium builders also make lines of terrariums. The major herp industry manufacturers have also stepped up. At any given time, my store carries at least two of the three excellent versions of glass tanks for herps from ZooMed, Exoterra and Tetra/Terrafauna.
Wooden cages pose a bit more of a dilemma. My experience over 35 years is that good cage builders don’t seem to last in the business. To that end, I am working with a very good company right now, but any time a carpenter walks in and inquires as to my needs, I do handstands trying to foster a new cage source. One store I know of has solved the problem by building its own line of caging. Either way, ensuring a solid line of wood cages is essential to our business.
However, there is another catch—a wooden cage will generally retail for something like four to five times the price of an equivalent glass tank, and this can be a hurdle in sales. Here are ten tips to pass on to customers that make sales of a wooden cage easier:
1. Front-opening cages are easier to work than top openers, and the occupants are easier to work around. Of course, we now have lines of glass tanks that are also front opening, but those, also, are also more expensive than the traditional top-opener.
2. One element of cage cleaning is glass cleaning. Even the relatively pristine snake will roam the tank, nudging the glass, and sometimes leaving smears. In a wood cage, there is only side of glass—the door—and that is a lot easier to maintain than four.
3. Wooden cages hold in heat much more efficiently. The money you invest in a wood cage will eventually be offset by your lower electric bill. Also, most wooden cages function well with one heat source, whereas glass tanks often require both a heat pad and spotlight, which is something of a hidden expense in the glass-tank option.
4. Glass tanks have a breakage rate far in excess of wooden cages.
5. Wooden cages are relatively easy to make lockable—glass tanks, not so much. In families with small or multiple children, this becomes important.
6. Just as it is important to control kids’ access to the cage, it is at least as important to control your pets’ access to the rest of your house. Short of human error, wooden cages tend to secure snakes much better than glass tanks. Snakes are little Houdinis, and once out, they are often near-impossible to find. This point often sells well with one or more of the parents in a family.
7. A nice wooden cage looks like a piece of furniture and can fit in as an elegant part of the home. A glass tank always looks like a glass tank.
8. In essence, a wooden cage is a box with a light inside. You probably already have one of those in your house. It’s called a television. Ever notice how much time you spend drawn to that light? A cage does the same thing. People with wooden cages tend to focus on and enjoy their pet more.
9. At least in my shop, wooden cages retain a significant trade-in value; used glass tanks do not.
10. Most snakes, and a significant number of other animals, want to hide. The relative lack of visual stimulation they perceive in a wooden cage increases their comfort and tends to increase their activity levels and general well-being.
Finally, I let people know that my mark-up on cages is far less than my mark-up on tanks. My profit motive would go with the tanks, but long-term thinking is what makes me push the wooden cage. In all my years, no one has ever walked into my store and said, “I regret getting that cage you sold me. I would have been better off just buying a tank.” On the other hand, I see people every week who have purchased a tank, then thought better of it and are back to buy a cage.
Cages Versus Tanks
Once you have a strong handle of the selling points of a wooden cage versus a glass tank, the question becomes: which animals are best suited for tanks, and which will find advantage in a cage?
Roughly, and generally, this can be broken down with just a few questions. Animals that require semi-aquatic or tremendously humid conditions will, of course, be better served by a glass tank. I have seen folks try to set up amphibians, bog turtles and the like in wooden cages, and it works great—for about a week. Then the humidity starts to break down the wood—or, even faster, the pressboard that so many cost-cutters will choose—and the cage will either warp and fall apart or simply rot.
Animals that require lots of ventilation will also be better served by a glass tank. Chameleons are an obvious example, but I also find that a lot of desert species—most obviously bearded dragons—want intense heat at some points of the enclosure and relative cool at others, and a tank with top ventilation will allow the intense heat to flow up, rather than across. On the other hand, most snakes, lizards and tortoises will thrive in the relatively insular and more-easily controlled climate of a wooden cage.
I should mention that there are lines of plastic cages that can also serve to work well in some circumstances. In my experience, they are best used by hobbyists with fairly major collections who can devote an entire (heated) room to their population. I find them somewhat difficult to use on an individual basis, and they lack a certain aesthetic aspect as well. I also have found most lines to be price-structured in a way that puts brick-and-mortar operations at a competitive disadvantage.