A Case for Live Food and Why Live Food Should Be Your #1 SKU

I want to introduce you to a pet food product that is a huge center for profit and foot traffic, but I won’t reveal the product until a little later.  Here are some features of this family of products:

It’s no mistake that the most successful pet retail chains in the US have dedicated space for the reptile category.  It’s also no mistake that successful pet retailers in the US are motivated to help the reptile market grow!  Unfortunately, a large portion of the pet retail industry has very little understanding of reptiles and their potential value to their bottom line.  There are plenty of resources regarding the attractiveness of consumers keeping reptiles – but not many out there designed to promote the reptile category directly to retailers.  In this article, I’ll present where the profits lie, what builds consumer confidence and how our category can be a boon for the rest of a retailer’s sales. 

Building a Reptile Area

The first step to growing your profile as a destination for current and prospective reptile owners is to find partners in the industry that you can count on for sound advice and quality products.  Do your research and use your network in the retail pet industry to isolate reputable prospects for breeders and live food suppliers.  Through your research, I’m confident that you’ll discover that the same few names keep popping up in each of those partnership prospect categories.  The seemingly small group of quality partners is not due to a lack of competition – it’s just that those few names vastly outperform most the industry in quality, price and availability.


If you’re new to the reptile game, I recommend strongly to start off with economically priced and rock-solid pet reptile species including Bearded Dragons, Leopard Geckos, Crested Geckos, and small tortoises.  When finding a source for these animals, there are two choices.  First you can choose to work directly with a reputable breeder that produces the animals at their facility and send them directly to your retail location.  Second is to utilize a distributor who sources the animals from breeders that they partner with.  Each of the options has its advantages depending on your business model and location.  Often, a distributor can use it’s purchasing power and provide exceptional value to their customers, but many distributors acquire their animals from multiple sources.  If you do choose to partner with a distributor, it is important to fully understand where exactly your animals are being produced.  Captive bred and raised reptiles are much more robust and tuned for captive keeping.

There are also advantages to buying your reptiles direct from the breeders as well.  You’ll have complete control over your supply and a direct relationship to the proper care information directly from the source.  Reptile breeders have done a great job in perfecting the shipment of reptiles direct to store, adding flexibility to your supply.

Once you’ve selected the source of your animals for your retail location, demand that they provide you with clear care instructions specific to each species that you keep.  It’s important that you understand exactly how those animals were raised and that you are confident that you can keep them healthy and in great shape for your customers. 

Live Food Providers

Live food is the core of your profits in the reptile category, and must be treated as such for success.  If you can provide a consistent, high quality feeder insect product mix you can lock down a group of customer who will routinely visit your store every 3 to 5 days for live food.  Imagine the opportunities to capitalize on that foot traffic!

Understanding what the nutritional needs are of most pet reptiles is critical to developing a product mix to meet the needs of the greatest number of customers.  We break these down into two different categories for simplicity:

Staple Diet: Crickets, Mealworms, Superworms, Flightless Fruit Flies and Hornworms are high protein, low fat solutions for up to 80% of the bug portion of a reptile’s diet.

Supplements: Waxworms (Fat) and Calciworms (Calcium).  We like to think of Waxworms as a quick energy boost, or fun treat for reptiles.   Calciworms on the other hand, are a critical natural source of Calcium for reptiles and should occupy between 15-20% of the reptile’s bug diet.

Once we’ve helped you determine what your best product mix is for your location, we help you with methods to engage with your customers to grow their basket.  We provide a wide variety of reptile care sheets and “Who Eats What” charts to help your customers and staff understand the full dietary needs of popular reptiles and help you and your staff upsell each live food customer.

Bugs, in my store?

Keeping bugs in your beautiful store can seem daunting, but Timberline makes it as simple as possible.  High quality bulk boxes, pre-packaged options, and attractive retail cups make bugs look good!  We also give you top to bottom guidance, including videos, on how to properly care for and retail each product.

Growing the Category

Make sure that your partners have joined with similar stores to yours and have proven to be valuable to them.  Once you have determined your partners – take their advice! 

Catering to the reptile category is not that different than any other category.  Consumers are looking for value when making their purchasing decision.  Retailers with staff that is knowledgeable about reptiles and carry a complete line of products they need earn the trust of the customer.  Many prospective reptile owners are dissuaded from the hobby by pet store employees who have little to no experience with reptiles. 

Growing the reptile category begins with a new reptile owner purchasing their first reptile.  A clear majority of new reptile owners will purchase all the hard goods needed at the same location that they purchased the animal.  Retailers can help themselves dramatically by being well versed in the care of the reptiles they’re selling and up-sell the hard goods efficiently at the initial sale – often the initial hard good sale will satisfy the needs of the owner for years to come.  Light bulbs and substrates will drive some traffic but generally that traffic is semi-annual at best.

Sales and Profit

Make no mistake – the most profitable part of a retailer’s involvement in the reptile category is the sale of live insects as reptile food.  There is no argument to be had here – live feeder insects drive rapid foot traffic and higher profits than nearly all other products or services offered at a pet retailer.  In fact, the most successful pet retailers identify crickets as their #1 SKU in both volume and velocity across all categories.

So, what is holding you back from expanding your reptile section, or adding a reptile category to your pet store?  What concerns or questions do you have?  I’d love to help your store drive traffic and profits, because after all, feeder crickets and worms might be your smallest way to BIG profits.