Jodi & Brantley Berry (Pleco Caves) interview

Brantley and Jodi Berry, owners of Pleco Caves. Photo by the Berry’s.

Several years while attending an annual ACA convention, I was walking through the vendor show room and spotted several tables covered with some really cool looking clay caves. I had been looking for something very specific for one of my tanks, so I walked over to the tables and saw a large sign that said Pleco Caves. I began talking to the young lady on the other side and explained that I was looking for something specific. I then asked her if they do custom work. She said, “Sure.” That was my introduction to Jodi and Brantley Berry, owners of Pleco Caves.

Based in Indiana, Pleco Caves is a regular vendor at many cichlid and fish conventions/shows. The number and diversity of clay products they make for aquariums is incredible. Not only do they make great stuff but they are fantastic to work with. They have made several custom items for me, which have always been produced exactly to my specifications. Don’t let their business name fool you. Their products work great for cichlids too! I can honestly say they have made my fish journey a better one. I reached out to Jodi and Brantley back in the spring and asked if they would be willing to do an interview for the blog. Thankfully, they didn’t hesitate. Let’s get started!

How did Pleco Caves get started?

It started because we saw some really bad products being made over 10 years ago that were “melting” in tanks and causing lots of problems.

Condo caves, shrimp tubes, and triple tubes. Photo by Pleco Caves.
Bricks and Mega bricks. Photo by Pleco Caves.

Your variety of clay products is enormous. How do you decide what to make and the type of clay compositions you use?

The most commons shapes and sizes were standard sizes we made. Other items have been from customer demand and feedback on what people need. We just make sure to test our clay to make sure it’s 100% aquarium safe and human safe. All of our raw materials come from the United States.

A photo of the Pleco Caves booth at the 25th OCA Extravaganza in Cleveland, OH in November 2019. Photo by the author.

Talk a little about the process for making a new design, from start to finish.

The design can be something we can make from hand, or something that may require a special jig to be made. We try to make sure they look okay for what they are and that they can be made to fit in the aquarium. Another thing is reproducibility… can we make this product over and over the same so when you buy it now, you get the same thing later.

Burrito caves in three colors. Photo by Pleco Caves.
Breeding huts, breeding egg, breeding bell, and discus cone. Photo by Pleco Caves.

You make more than caves. What are some of the other things you produce?

We are actually expanding back into making novelty, decorative, and household items. We are making the old-style ceramic Christmas trees in house, as well as many other holiday decorations for both fall and winter season. We do have some of those items available on our site.

There are other businesses out there that produce similar products. What sets Pleco Caves apart from your competitors?

Our products are made here in the USA of USA raw materials and made by a small company to help support our family. When you talk to Pleco Caves, you talk to me (Brantley). We do everything from start to finish, so there isn’t any question about what it’s made of, if it’s made from materials with lead or not.

Square caves, u-tube cave, and breeding tree (standing upright). Photo by Pleco Caves.

For a customer who wants something specific that you don’t make, describe that process for the readers.

They can just email their idea or a drawing, and then we sometimes make sample items to show them pictures until they are satisfied. Then we make a product run. We also do a lot of modifying of our existing products, making them longer or shorter or things like that.

A couple of custom tubes that Pleco Caves made specifically for me. They’re made with a clay composite that dries very smooth. Brantley and Jodi experimented and came up with this for me, which was PERFECT. Photo by the author.
Same clay caves as the photo to the left, but from a different angle. Photo by the author.

How has your business changed over the past five years besides normal growth (i.e., more production, more revenue)?

We’ve changed the way we buy materials and suppliers in some instances to keep our material costs down and our prices consistent over the last five years. We are trying to buy from smaller businesses that also make a great product like us, and work with them to get material spec’d to our needs.

What are some new things you are working on or plan to in the future?

We are expanding our business into other areas, including seasonal pottery and custom home items as well. Always looking for product ideas and new ideas. Maybe someday we will have some “paint your own pottery” classes or pottery classes.

Thanks for taking time to answer the questions. Anything about Pleco Caves we didn’t cover that you would like to tell the readers about?

We always strive to fill market gaps with new products or improve our products and materials. We have a referral program and some fish room sponsorships available as well.

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