A Lizard with Appeal

Stumbling upon an interesting article a few days ago revealed information that really bears discussing. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the British Survey of Herpetologists in the United Kingdom, reptiles have now outpaced dogs as pets within the UK.

Approximately 8 million reptiles call the British Isles home, compared to approximately 6.5 million dogs. Some statisticians have estimated that reptiles may soon match cats as the UK’s favorite pets!

Given this news, it’s high time that we take another look at the leader of reptile sales: the bearded dragon. Alongside the veiled chameleon and ball python, the bearded dragon joins a triumvirate of reptiles that any savvy pet store owner simply cannot ignore.

Native to Australia’s deserts, the bearded dragon (genus Pogona) is a typically docile, personable reptile that actively enjoys being touched, pet and handled by their owners. Furthermore, bearded dragons are diurnal, meaning they share active waking hours with their owners. Their natural curiosity, coupled with a mild temperament, can make bearded dragons ideal pets for a new customer.

The bearded dragon’s popularity has led to extensive work by breeders to establish new morphs and colorations. Variations like the German giant, leatherback and silkback bearded dragons provide a significant variety. While most bearded dragons show a mix of gray, green and tan as their primary colors, breeders have produced varieties in red, yellow and even white colorations. In terms of sheer variety, bearded dragons appeal to both veteran and novice reptile keepers.

Bearded dragons prefer an arid, desert environment with generally low humidity levels and a suitable basking spot, which may reach near 100° F. In the wild, some bearded dragons can go for years without being exposed to liquid water. However, consider misting your bearded dragons with a spray bottle.

While water can be offered in a shallow dish, excess humidity can be harmful to them. Bearded dragons also require UVB light, enabling them to synthesize vitamin D3, which helps them properly absorb calcium.

A juvenile bearded dragon can eat between 15 and 20 crickets a day, plus another 10 mealworms and greens. While most owners should shift their bearded dragon over to a primarily greens-based diet as it reaches adulthood, the potential profit on a single bearded dragon purchase should be apparent to a store owner.

If a customer purchases a tub of crickets every 7 days, that level of frequency becomes approximately 50 tubs of crickets in a year. Note that this does not count mealworms, greens, lighting, caging, substrate or any other subsidiary purchase necessary for the care of their bearded dragon. With even a standard profit margin on crickets, the net profit gained from a single bearded dragon sale can prove to be well worth the investment.

One potential hurdle to be aware of involves the risk of salmonella. While all reptiles—in fact, all pets—have the ability to harbor harmful bacteria, bearded dragons have gained some unfortunate press due to a series of contaminations in 2014. Considering that bearded dragons appreciate touch more than most other reptiles, the likelihood for contamination comparatively increases.

Educating your staff of the dangers of bacterial contamination should be one of your store’s basic goals. Staff members are not only the primary handlers of your animals, but also the connection between you and your customers. Staff should wear gloves and protective gear when cleaning enclosures. Also consider installing sanitizer dispensers near reptile displays, allowing those in contact with a reptile to sterilize their hands.

A worldwide leader in pet reptile sales, bearded dragons are worth the time and investment as they form the backbone of a store’s reptile sales.

A Rising Star

Often overshadowed by their turtle compatriots, tortoises are a rising star of the reptile world. Sociable, friendly and easy to care for, tortoises could be one of your staples as the variety of reptiles widens within your store.

The biggest difference between turtles and tortoises lies in their chosen habitat. While turtles prefer aquatic environments, tortoises are entirely land-based. Physically, this manifests in differences in their shells (tortoise shells are larger and dome-shaped), legs (tortoises have more defined feet) and weight (tortoises are often significantly heavier than turtles). Furthermore, while most turtles are omnivores, tortoises are almost exclusively herbivores.

The vast majority of tortoises are wild-caught rather than captive-bred. This is due primarily to “four-inch laws,” which regulate the size of turtles and tortoises being sold. Rather than breed tortoises and wait for them to grow to a salable size, tortoises are instead wild-caught and shipped to wholesalers. This ensures that the tortoises are not only salable, but also healthy. Of course, check your own state’s regulations regarding tortoise sizes before making any purchases!

The most common tortoise in the reptile trade is the Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii), also known as the Central Asian tortoise or the Horsfield’s tortoise. Many retailers also sell Herman’s tortoises, leopard tortoises or Greek tortoises, the latter of which can make for an ideal pet for a more sophisticated reptile owner.

We encourage pet retailers to avoid selling the sulcata tortoise, which can grow to weigh over 100 pounds, making most households into untenable environments for them. Tortoise rescues often have an overabundance of sulcata tortoises whose owners simply did not have the space to accommodate such a massive reptile.

Tortoises, particularly Russian tortoises, can make for ideal pets primarily due to their personality. Tortoises tend to be inquisitive, friendly and quick-learning. Interaction with humans is high, and tortoises can easily become beloved members of the family. Further, Russian tortoises are not only well-priced—generally around $100 retail—but also tend to be stocked year-round, making availability an easy thing to accomplish.

Russian tortoises only grow to approximately 10 inches; not much larger than a common box turtle. Russian tortoises are herbivores, preferring broad leaf plants, such as those you might find at a local supermarket. Key, however, is to provide a variety for your Russian tortoise. Avoid beet or rhubarb greens, which can lead to a buildup of oxalic acid, leading to kidney issues.

Tortoises do require calcium supplementation, however, so include this with any greens you choose to feed your reptiles. A light dusting of calcium, coupled with lighting that provides UVB light, will ensure that your tortoises stay healthy and strong.

While many of the foods most associated with Russian tortoises are available from local supermarkets, there are foods that your store can offer as a potential subsidiary sale for your customers. Timberline, for instance, offers “Reptile Cactus” as an ideal tortoise food, as cactus is particularly high in calcium. Offering this sort of item for your customers can set you apart from the “big box” stores.

Aquariums, no matter the size, often prove to be poor enclosures for tortoises, as they do not allow for enough free-flowing air or space. Rather, wooden enclosures or tortoise tables prove to be a more reasonable option for tortoise owners, walking that balance between open space, free air and security. Tortoises love to dig, so any enclosure should include a section with sand or loam in which your tortoises can dig away.

While the tortoise may never quite replace the bearded dragon or ball python within the annals of reptile sales, their unique personalities and ease of care can make them into ideal pets for the right homes.

Seasonality and Trends

The appeal of reptiles as pets has been rising in the United States, but we often forget about the global appeal that reptiles have. Numerous countries have begun to indulge in the reptile trade, with China and other Far East countries leading the charge in reptiles as pets. Within an emerging economy, Chinese reptile lovers have come to the surface to acquire new species and morphs as pets.

This change in the global market has a drastic effect on a topic that we’ve touched on in our earlier articles: reptile seasonality. Because of additional demand in the reptile market from the Far East, certain reptiles may become somewhat more difficult to get depending on the season.

However, due to numerous advances in captive breeding science, we don’t believe this will have a broad effect on the sales of individual stores. Prices should remain fairly stable, though certain breeds or morphs may be more difficult to find due to demand overseas. The prices of ball pythons, for instance, have not fluctuated much despite this increase in market size.

An astute store owner can plan for these fluctuations by anticipating what each season brings in terms of sales, reptile supply, demand and more. By establishing a yearly seasonal plan, it becomes easier to anticipate what your store needs in any given season.

Summer, as we addressed in one of our earlier articles, tends to be a slower time for sales. Many people are on vacation, which leaves less time to care for a pet that spends most of its life behind glass. However, because many reptiles are hatching in the summer, this can provide a fantastic opportunity to promote animals that have a higher availability than at other times of the year via sales and promotions.

Late summer and early fall represent a fantastic target period for reptile store owners, as that time frame brings together an ideal recipe for sales: While store owners can reap the benefits of the end-of-breeding-season supply, many people look to the early fall to acquire new pets, as children are returning to a daily routine and life “stabilizes” before the holiday rush of winter. Consider providing aggressive promotions during this time, too, which will help bolster your sales numbers after any summer slump you may have experienced.

Another period to target specifically, of course, is the holiday season. While you’ll have to rely on the supplies of year-round reptile breeders, parents often will look for a package deal on aquariums and terrariums to provide a centerpiece present for a new reptile owner. With aggressive pricing, you should anticipate a sizable sales bump here. One way to achieve that pricing is to include an “everything you need” package for your most common animals, including lighting, substrate, housing, heating, food and the animal itself. Offer a discount (perhaps even offer the animal for free) and you’ll see your reptile supplies fly off the shelves.

The key theme throughout your seasonal plan, however, remains the central core of our arguments throughout this article series: Aggressive pricing leads to more sales. And it’s typically not a matter of making a profit from the reptile itself, but rather the subsidiary sales that come with that reptile from food, substrate and other necessities not available in local big-box stores.

The best advice we can give is to establish and maintain positive, open relationships with your reptile suppliers. A solid working relationship with your reptile breeders can keep you abreast of new trends in breeding, and overstocked or over bred reptiles that may be available at discount, or offer advice on animal care and keeping. The relationship between your store and your suppliers should be second only to the relationships your store builds with your customers.
With a worthy seasonal plan and a good deal of flexibility, any quality store can take advantage of the seasonality in the reptile trade. Just be ready to roll with the punches as you go, and increased profits will be in sight.

Love at First Leopard

While it’s always wise to cater to your repeat customers, one of the best ways to ‘convert’ a potential reptile owner to a lifelong reptile lover is through an animal best fitted to a reptile newbie. One of the best reptiles for just this function—and one of the bestselling reptiles across the board—is the leopard gecko. Since their inclusion in captive breeding programs, leopard geckos have skyrocketed to become one of the fastest selling reptiles in recent memory. Keeping these guys in stock should absolutely be a priority for any reptile retailer looking to expand their customer base.

While wild leopard geckos may tend towards drab patterns and colorations, captive-bred leopard geckos have been bred to have a marvelous array of morphs and colors, making them particularly attractive as pets.

Among these morphs are the Mack Snow and Mack Super Snow, which we first bred over 15 years ago. The Mack Super Snow, when reaching adulthood, features a solid white body with purple to black demarcations and black eyes with no visible pupils. These morphs have been interbred with those of other breeders, leading to such varied geckos as the Mack Snow Enigma, the Super Snow Blizzards and the Mack Snow Patternless.

There are numerous reasons why leopard geckos make ideal beginner reptile pets, starting with their
ease of care and ease of entry. Leopard geckos typically do not take much room—a 10- or 15-gallon terrarium can easily support a leopard gecko for much of its life—making this reptile ideal for small bedrooms, dorm rooms or small apartments. Further, while leopard geckos do require an under-tank heating element, they do not require a heat lamp or an ultraviolet light.

Leopard geckos are typically docile animals and, while they do not typically enjoy being handled, gentle handling is rarely stressful to them. One thing to note is that leopard geckos are nocturnal and are much more active at night. While this might seem to be a negative to some, this means that evenings can become prime gecko-watching or feeding time. Further, this provides unique opportunities in cage decoration and lighting. Many companies have begun offering LED lights to decorate leopard gecko cages, making for unique, interesting enclosures. ExoTerra, for instance, sells an LED light bar that automatically switches along a day/night cycle. Be aware, however, that lights that are too bright can cause a gecko stress or even pain, so inform your customers appropriately about their lighting choices.

Leopard geckos should be particularly appealing to retailers for one simple reason: their feeding habits. Like most lizards, leopard geckos have voracious appetites. While many debate the pros and cons of feeding geckos mealworms or crickets, both have their advantages for gecko nutrition and both can become more than adequate staples for a new leopard gecko pet. As a retailer, definitely consider stocking both crickets and mealworms, such that your customers can decide which is best for themselves. Leopard geckos can feed on waxworms and even pinkie-sized mice, though these should be considered as occasional treats, rather than a staple food.

We’ve noted this a number of times in past articles, but it bears repeating: providing a quality, knowledgeable customer-service experience and ensuring that you have necessary food items in stock on a regular basis ensures that a one-time customer becomes a repeat customer. That repeat customer may spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in your store after that initial animal sale.

Leopard geckos provide a great entry for both newbie reptile owners and for retailers seeking to break into the reptile sales arena. Start preparing your store and dive right in!

Beat the Heat

While many people can’t wait for summer to arrive, summer can prove to be a difficult time for reptile retailers. While kids are out of school, the lure of vacations, poolside lounging and amusement parks often supersedes interest in a new pet. However, that’s not to say that pet retailers are at the mercy of the seasons. In fact, there are many ways to bolster sales during summer slumps.

The largest inhibitor to reptile sales during summer is vacation planning. Simply put, many families simply don’t want to take on the additional responsibility of a new pet immediately before going out of town. As such, animal sales tend to slump across the board. However, as kids head back to school in August and early September, consider targeting these same families for promotions. As routine sets back in and children settle into a predictable schedule, families become more willing to take on a new member of their household.

Seasonally Abundant
Snakes, particularly, provide a viable point of opportunity for astute reptile retailers during the summer. Summer provides many snakes natural breeding time, which makes them more abundant and drives prices down. Further, snakes typically require fewer feedings than other herps. As such, consider bundling a snake with the necessary materials to care for it, offering the snake for free with the purchase of an appropriate enclosure. Doing so can motivate a would-be customer’s new reptile purchase.

However, snakes are not the only reptiles that are summer breeders. Baby monitor lizards and iguanas breed during the summer, leading to an increased stock from wholesalers. These lower prices can allow you to offer deep discounts to customers, ideally convincing on-the-fence customers to get a new pet. As with snakes, consider offering one of these animals as part of a package deal, with a complete setup.

A Hot Topic
One major thing to keep in mind as the summer months blaze on is the health and safety of your reptiles.
Josh Panos, a national sales manager with ZooMed, advocates using the summer months to provide specials on thermometers and humidity gauges, to better keep tabs on the conditions in a reptile’s tank.

“We always recommend having a couple in each enclosure, which will allow hobbyists to get the most accurate readings to reach the most ideal thermal gradient,” Panos said. “In the event that they need to make adjustments to reduce the temperature, lower watt lamps are always good to stock up on.”

Panos also suggests carrying humidifying devices such as ZooMed’s own ReptiRain, Little/Big Dripper, or ReptiFogger, as the drier months of summer and early fall roll on.

“Summer can actually be one of the busier times of year for retailers if they want it to be,” Panos said. “There are so many ways to make consumers feel like they are getting a value with little sacrifice being made.”

One of the absolute worst things a reptile owner can do is place their reptile’s tank in direct sunlight, even through a window. The direct sunlight can amplify the temperature within the tank to lethal levels within minutes via the greenhouse effect. While most reptiles can handle certain degrees of cold, extreme heat can kill an otherwise-healthy snake or lizard in minutes. Even a short time in such heat could be lethal for a reptile.

Similarly, while much has been made of keeping dogs and children in locked cars during the summer months, this advice goes double when dealing with reptiles, especially when transporting a newly purchased reptile from store to home. The small plastic containers so often used to transport reptiles between locations can often contribute to that greenhouse effect, leading to heat-sick or even deceased animals before even returning home. Be sure to tell customers to take their new pet directly home, keep it in the shade and keep the air conditioning on all the while.

Bringing in Customers
Summer can be a good time to hold events that draw in customers.

Panos offers up the idea of holding outdoor, family-style events, such as a terrarium building class. Students would have the opportunity to learn how to build a terrarium, which they could then take home at the end of the day. Not only would such an event allow your customers to learn about the needs and housing for a specific reptile, but it nearly guarantees repeat business.

Above all else, it becomes paramount that the lines of communication between your staff and your customers stay open and honest throughout the duration of these summer months. Ensure that your staff helps your customers make educated, sensible decisions.

A satisfied customer with a healthy, happy pet becomes a repeat customer. A customer that makes an impulse purchase and becomes unable to care for their reptile will never again visit your store. However, with a little care and great communication techniques, this summer can be one to remember.

Beat the Heat

While many people can’t wait for summer to arrive, summer can prove to be a difficult time for reptile retailers. While kids are out of school, the lure of vacations, poolside lounging and amusement parks often supersedes interest in a new pet. However, that’s not to say that pet retailers are at the mercy of the seasons. In fact, there are many ways to bolster sales during summer slumps.

The largest inhibitor to reptile sales during summer is vacation planning. Simply put, many families simply don’t want to take on the additional responsibility of a new pet immediately before going out of town. As such, animal sales tend to slump across the board. However, as kids head back to school in August and early September, consider targeting these same families for promotions. As routine sets back in and children settle into a predictable schedule, families become more willing to take on a new member of their household.

Seasonally Abundant
Snakes, particularly, provide a viable point of opportunity for astute reptile retailers during the summer. Summer provides many snakes natural breeding time, which makes them more abundant and drives prices down. Further, snakes typically require fewer feedings than other herps. As such, consider bundling a snake with the necessary materials to care for it, offering the snake for free with the purchase of an appropriate enclosure. Doing so can motivate a would-be customer’s new reptile purchase.

However, snakes are not the only reptiles that are summer breeders. Baby monitor lizards and iguanas breed during the summer, leading to an increased stock from wholesalers. These lower prices can allow you to offer deep discounts to customers, ideally convincing on-the-fence customers to get a new pet. As with snakes, consider offering one of these animals as part of a package deal, with a complete setup.

A Hot Topic
One major thing to keep in mind as the summer months blaze on is the health and safety of your reptiles.
Josh Panos, a national sales manager with ZooMed, advocates using the summer months to provide specials on thermometers and humidity gauges, to better keep tabs on the conditions in a reptile’s tank.

“We always recommend having a couple in each enclosure, which will allow hobbyists to get the most accurate readings to reach the most ideal thermal gradient,” Panos said. “In the event that they need to make adjustments to reduce the temperature, lower watt lamps are always good to stock up on.”

Panos also suggests carrying humidifying devices such as ZooMed’s own ReptiRain, Little/Big Dripper, or ReptiFogger, as the drier months of summer and early fall roll on.

“Summer can actually be one of the busier times of year for retailers if they want it to be,” Panos said. “There are so many ways to make consumers feel like they are getting a value with little sacrifice being made.”

One of the absolute worst things a reptile owner can do is place their reptile’s tank in direct sunlight, even through a window. The direct sunlight can amplify the temperature within the tank to lethal levels within minutes via the greenhouse effect. While most reptiles can handle certain degrees of cold, extreme heat can kill an otherwise-healthy snake or lizard in minutes. Even a short time in such heat could be lethal for a reptile.

Similarly, while much has been made of keeping dogs and children in locked cars during the summer months, this advice goes double when dealing with reptiles, especially when transporting a newly purchased reptile from store to home. The small plastic containers so often used to transport reptiles between locations can often contribute to that greenhouse effect, leading to heat-sick or even deceased animals before even returning home. Be sure to tell customers to take their new pet directly home, keep it in the shade and keep the air conditioning on all the while.

Bringing in Customers
Summer can be a good time to hold events that draw in customers.

Panos offers up the idea of holding outdoor, family-style events, such as a terrarium building class. Students would have the opportunity to learn how to build a terrarium, which they could then take home at the end of the day. Not only would such an event allow your customers to learn about the needs and housing for a specific reptile, but it nearly guarantees repeat business.

Above all else, it becomes paramount that the lines of communication between your staff and your customers stay open and honest throughout the duration of these summer months. Ensure that your staff helps your customers make educated, sensible decisions.

A satisfied customer with a healthy, happy pet becomes a repeat customer. A customer that makes an impulse purchase and becomes unable to care for their reptile will never again visit your store. However, with a little care and great communication techniques, this summer can be one to remember.

Chameleons: Colorful, Misunderstood and in Demand

While much of the attention within the reptile trade focuses on bearded dragons, crested geckos or any number of snakes, some of the biggest up-and-comers within the reptile family are chameleons. However, even as they grow in both popularity and availability, many consumers still hold misconceptions about these lovely lizards. Overcoming these misconceptions may provide new inroads for profitability and great pet-relationships.

Chameleons are members of the family Chameleonidae, which includes approximately 200 species across numerous continents in the eastern hemisphere. Chameleons are most often identified by their zygodactylous feet, prehensile tails, independently-moving eyes and long sticky tongues. The most common types of chameleons found within the pet trade are veiled and panther chameleons, with other species, including carpet, Jackson’s, and Fischer’s chameleons, being available.

Individual chameleon care varies from species to species, but most chameleons thrive in a relatively humid environment with a good deal of airflow. Most cages built specifically for chameleons feature mesh sides, rather than glass ones, to allow for better airflow and circulation for the animal itself.

Most chameleons are arboreal creatures, which provides unique opportunities for both displaying these reptiles and for sales of plants meant for their habitations. A well-decorated cage catches the eyes of customers, making them more likely to pursue decorations for their own reptiles. However, do ensure that you stock the correct plants. Veiled chameleons, especially, will tend to nibble or eat leaves from plants kept within their enclosure, so ensure that these plants are not poisonous or artificial.

But why are chameleons experiencing such a meteoric rise in sales? Much of this increase comes down to simple availability. As veiled and panther chameleons have been becoming increasingly available throughout the year, prices have dropped significantly thanks to captive-breeding programs. National retail average for veiled chameleons has dropped by about $25-30, providing additional opportunities for customers to enter the world of reptiles.

However, this rise has occurred in the face of numerous misconceptions. One of the most prevalent of these misconceptions is that chameleons tend to be advanced animals, suitable only for experienced reptile owners who are already familiar with various procedures and protocols. Chameleons tend to be viewed as fragile, becoming easily diseased or injured, even under proper care. However, the exact opposite is true: veiled chameleons, particularly those that have been captive-bred, are among the hardier species of reptile out there.

Much of this perception tends to stem from another misconception that chameleons tend to be temperamental or aggressive. One of the basic defense mechanisms chameleons use against predators is to hiss, showing a widely-opened mouth and occasionally biting or snapping at any intruder. Captive breeding programs initially show this to be a genetic trait, which could slowly be bred out over time.

There is the fact that chameleons overall tend to dislike handling or petting. Doing so may lead to aggressive reactions, which would contribute to the perception of aggression or poor temperament. When suggesting a chameleon as a pet, especially for a first-time reptile owner, ensure that the customer understands the disposition and emotional responses natural to that chameleon species. A well-educated customer makes for a happy customer, and happy customers become repeat customers.

Those repeat customers, naturally, become key to establishing a continual cycle of food purchases. Chameleons typically thrive on a diet of crickets, mealworms or waxworms and require food every day. As we have emphasized in the past, this can ensure that a well-satisfied customer returns to your store on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, simply to purchase food for their reptile, which simply cannot be purchased at the local big-box store.

Ensure also that the food that you stock for your chameleons comes with all necessary supplements. Calcium dust and other supplements ensure chameleons’ continual health, providing the animals with necessary vitamins and minerals not available from crickets alone.

If you intend to stock chameleons in the coming days, one strategy you may wish to employ is to bundle the animal itself together with necessary caging and other elements. Consider even offering a reptile for free, with the purchase of an enclosure and other necessary caging elements. Not only does this foster both additional sales and good-will towards your new customers, but doing so also provides the opportunity to move stock and ensure that your customers have exactly the appropriate materials to care for those animals.

As you look at expanding your reptile repertoire, consider the chameleon as an alternative to the more typical snakes, frogs and lizards. Your bottom line just may thank you!

Amphibian Answers

While we often use the term “reptiles” as a catch-all category that includes amphibians—and even arachnids at times—amphibians by themselves are a large and popular category that provides unique opportunities for a canny pet store owner.

“Amphibian” refers to frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians. Within the pet trade, however, our discussion narrows to primarily frogs, toads and salamanders. Amphibians differ from reptiles primarily through their early life cycle—amphibians undergo metamorphosis, while reptiles do not—and through their general habitats. Typically, though not always, amphibians prefer moist environments, while most reptiles range more broadly.

While there is a plethora of amphibious options for an up-and-coming reptile retailer, certain species of amphibian are a better option as you start to stock these animals. We recommend the White’s tree frog, the Pac-Man frog and the fire-bellied toad as great starter amphibians.

Other good choices include barking tree frogs, Cuban tree frogs and green tree frogs. While many stores offer poison dart frogs and the easily recognizable red-eyed tree frog, we find that these amphibians require more care and may not be suitable for a store making early forays into amphibian sales.

The White’s tree frog (Litoria caerulea) is also known as the dumpy frog or the Australian green tree frog. White’s tree frogs grow to approximately four to five inches and can live over 10 years in captivity. They tend to do well as starter amphibians because they generally tolerate handling well, even becoming accustomed to being picked up. One of our former breeding managers, in fact, used to type at her desk with her White’s tree frog curled up at the nape of her neck!

Pac-Man frogs (Ceratophrys) are also a solid starter option. They take their name from the video game character due to their large mouths and round appearance. Again, their relative ease of care and hardiness make them ideal starter amphibians. Pac-Man frogs often bury themselves in substrate up to their eyes, waiting patiently for meals to come by. However, be careful when handling them—they have teeth.

Why stock amphibians in the first place? They appeal to a different segment of the reptile-loving demographic. While some might balk at the idea of keeping a snake or bearded dragon, the idea of housing a frog may be appealing. Further, the variety of housing and caging options for an amphibian provide opportunities for customers who enjoy decorating cages. Since most amphibians are semi-aquatic, an amphibian owner effectively designs two full ecosystems in each enclosure. Particularly creative amphibian owners make the most of this feature, creating eye-catching enclosures.

Amphibians nearly always require live food, whether that food manifests as fruit flies, crickets, mealworms or another insect. As such, a satisfied amphibian-owning customer will likely make weekly or bi-weekly visits to your store, providing you with residual income that greatly surpasses the profit made from an initial amphibian sale. By providing that pet owner with an exemplary experience during pet purchasing, you ensure continual sales for your business and word of mouth advertising for your store.

When stocking amphibians, take advantage of their unique characteristics while creating enclosures. Amphibians can be sensitive to climate and temperature, so a proper enclosure should include areas of shade, heat and water. They should also have both a thermometer and a humidity gauge, as amphibians require significant moisture due to their semipermeable skin. While most amphibians require at least a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with at least 75 percent humidity, be sure that your staff knows the requirements of each species and follows care sheets with precision.

And, of course, take the time to set up quality enclosures. Each should show off both the terrestrial and aquatic hides, plants and decorations available to amphibian owners. Attractive displays not only show your customers what is possible with their new pet, but also advertise the products you offer on your shelves. The best possible advertisement comes from your products in action. With every passing visit from an amphibian owner as they purchase crickets or substrate, the opportunity for new sales emerges.

Amphibians can truly provide unique opportunities for your store once you’ve gotten a handle on selling reptiles. Simply keep up the high standards you’ve established already and the world of amphibians is yours to conquer!

On a Roll

Growth in the retailer and breeder sales of ball pythons has been among the fastest of all reptiles. Once an expensive reptile found only amongst serious collectors, advances in breeding processes coupled with a massive variety in morphs and colorations have made the ball python a species that every serious reptile retailer should consider moving forward.

The ball python has been a massive beneficiary of captive breeding practices, which have produced upwards of 2,500 distinct morphs and colorations, ranging from the exorbitantly expensive black-eyed leucistic and albino piebald to the much more common and affordable spider and pinstripe morphs. Whether new to reptiles or a seasoned veteran, ball pythons have a wide appeal that can bring sales to your store and happiness to your customers.

Like all reptiles, ball pythons have specific care requirements that go into their daily keeping. While ball pythons do not require overly large tanks, they do tend to do best with a deep substrate that can hold moisture well. Ball pythons tend to prefer relative humidity between 60 and 80 percent, with warm temperatures provided by both an under-cage heating pad and basking spots.

Ball pythons also appreciate having hides and foliage, as they tend toward shyness. Because of this, consider housing your ball pythons in a place in the store that is not in a particularly high traffic area. As always, your customers should be made aware of ball pythons’ idiosyncrasies; responsible handling and customer education will ensure repeat business and turn occasional customers into lifelong patrons.

One of the ball python’s greatest evangelists has been Kevin McCurley, the owner of New England Reptile Distribution, one of the nation’s leading breeders of ball pythons. McCurley’s continued work is compiled in his recent book, “The Ultimate Ball Python: Morph Maker Guide.” His fourth book, it is a 700-page behemoth detailing the intricate genetics leading to unique ball python morphs.

McCurley spoke with us regarding the ball pythons’ ever-increasing popularity and his thoughts echoed our own. McCurley calls these snakes “an ideal species, due to their tractable nature, limited adult size and ease of care.” One of our own employees tends to refer to these snakes as “the golden retrievers of the reptile world,” citing their docility and gentle nature.

McCurley especially notes the python’s ease of care, particularly in feeding.

“As young snakes, they are easier to feed than smaller species,” McCurley said. “As babies, they can be fed a recently weaned mouse…as adults, they can be maintained on mid-sized rats.”
In a past article, we noted the use of ball pythons as an ideal classroom animal, as their docility and ease of handling can provide a perfect opportunity for students to experience their first reptile.

We asked Kevin about what he might foresee in the future for ball pythons. He noted that breeders “have an incredible selection available at this point, far beyond our expectations and what we can actually count. To continue the excitement, breeders must refine their combinations and choose combos that are the most extreme.”

As breeders continue to find base genes to mix with already existing breeding stock, the permutations of possible ball pythons are staggering.

However, the greatest benefit gained by a reptile retailer is not the sale of the original reptile, but rather the subsidiary sales that stem from that initial sale. By providing a quality customer experience and a unique variety of reptiles, you ensure repeat business when that customer comes back to purchase heat lamp bulbs, substrate and reptile food, none of which is typically available at a local big box store.

Ball pythons are constrictor snakes, meaning that their choice of food, rodents, will not be found at the corner grocery. And, with most ball pythons living for 20 or more years, your customer service and stock of reptile accessories will make all the difference in turning a ball python owner into a decades-long customer.

Kevin was quick to echo many of our sentiments in regards to repeat business. He encouraged reptile retailers to “price their reptiles to sell and get [the customer] coming back,” even encouraging more experienced reptile owners to consider breeding their pets.

“When you can learn about basic combination morphs, you can share in your customer’s excitement for ball pythons,” McCurley said.

Thanks again to Kevin McCurley for all of his insight and wisdom on these phenomenal snakes. If you’re interested in more information about ball pythons, we encourage you to check out his website at www.newenglandreptile.com or to take a look at his book, “The Ultimate Ball Python: Morph Maker Guide.”

Number One Sellers

Choosing which reptiles your store will provide to customers can be difficult. But, without any exaggeration, your store’s best chance at successful reptile sales comes from lizards. Lizards come in nearly countless morphs, colors, patterns and species, allowing for huge variation within your store’s selection.

Further, lizards have much less of a stigma than snakes. While a number of people still view snakes with fear or nervousness, those same people often show fewer reservations when viewing or handling lizards.

The Big Three

We have often advocated species of lizards as perfect starter animals, ideal for both a pet owner new to reptiles and for a pet store beginning to sell reptiles for the very first time. At the head of these is the bearded dragon, which outsells nearly any other reptile. However, the numerous varieties and morphs of leopard and crested geckos have skyrocketed these species into the upper echelons of reptile sales. In all three cases, these reptiles have proven to have the ideal combination of ease of care, voracious appetite and color/pattern appeal to make them perfect reptiles for a new sales display.

Two More

Retailers may wish to pursue some additional variety in the form of the green and brown anoles. From a pet store perspective, anoles can easily become cash cows: they are inexpensive to stock, easy to keep, don’t require much in the way of care but are voracious in appetite. The two types of anoles differ most in their choice of habitat. Green anoles tend to be more arboreal while brown anoles are typically ground-dwelling. Both anoles tend to be highly active and can provide a great deal of amusement for owners.

Unlike most reptiles, anoles can be kept in a group. Typically, an enclosure of anoles should contain one male in the company of several females. Males may become quarrelsome if caged together.
An anole enclosure does provide a reptile owner with numerous options in terms of decoration and function. They appreciate numerous logs, branches and plants to crawl around on. Ensure that your store has ample options in terms of cage decoration. Anoles also require warm temperatures, so stock the needed heating and lighting elements.

Matching the Lizard to the Customer

One important factor to consider when stocking lizards is the activity cycle of the lizards in question. New reptile owners are often dissatisfied with purchased reptiles when those reptiles are not active while the pet owner is awake. This demonstrates a lack of education between the store owner and the consumer. When stocking reptiles, particularly lizards, make a concerted effort to display whether a given reptile is diurnal or nocturnal.

One of the reasons bearded dragons and veiled chameleons are popular is that both species are diurnal. They are active at the same time as their owners, making them more appealing as pets. Anoles are also active during the day which helps make them a perfect entry animal into reptile keeping.

Of course, any pet store’s ultimate goal is twofold: to match up would-be pet owners with an ideal pet while simultaneously making a reasonable profit. The core of that potential profit is subsidiary sales that accompany any initial reptile sale. The greatest of these is food. Most of the lizards in this article eat crickets and other live insects. A display of multiple lizards can be voracious, particularly considering the fact that lizards need to be fed daily. This equates to several dozens of crickets per week for an enclosure, which must be refreshed weekly at your store. Establishing a positive relationship with a new lizard owner can surely pay dividends for a well-stocked store.

One last item to be aware of when stocking anoles is their susceptibility to stress. Typically, this occurs when being handled, being threatened by a predator—perhaps a curious housecat—or when the environment changes—if the enclosure is too warm or cold. If stressed, an anole will change color. Green anoles will turn brown, gray or even black. Pay close attention any color change in your anoles, as they might indicate that something may be wrong. Extended color changes may indicate that an anole is sick or otherwise unwell, beyond the above stressors. Keep a close eye on your reptiles and ensure that your staff is well educated as to what your animals require in terms of care. And, of course, extend this knowledge to your customers; they will surely thank you for it.

Ethical Concerns

As a kid, ten-year-old Bill goes fishing with his dad. Dad loves fishing and wants to share his love of fishing with his son. That first time out on the water, Bill couldn’t be prouder as he nets his first largemouth bass. A successful first trip hooks Bill for life. Bill doesn’t catch another fish the next six times he goes fishing with Dad, but he remembers the thrill of that first fish—the glee of reeling it in.

In a parallel world, ten-year-old Bill doesn’t net that first fish. He spends six hours out on the water with Dad in bored silence. The next time Dad asks about fishing, Bill would rather fire up the PlayStation.

After two or three more offers, Dad simply stops asking if Bill would like to join him—that ship has sailed.
The story here illustrates a key concept: the first impression you make can turn a non-customer into a lifelong devotee. However, just as easily, that first impression can totally disinterest someone in patronizing your store.

At its core, the mission of every pet store comes down to a simple concept: ensuring that healthy, happy pets find caring, loving homes.  Foisting a pet onto a customer simply for the purpose of making a sale not only sullies a retailer’s reputation, but also casts a pall upon the entirety of reptile keeping.

Above all else, the sale of an individual reptile represents a thinking, feeling reptile entering a family’s home. That reptile deserves the best of care, which means that the animal’s owner must know exactly what purchasing that reptile entails. Many first-time reptile owners have difficulty understanding their actual wants and needs. A significant discrepancy lies between your customer’s view of what they want versus what they think they want.

Iguanas are one example. While many customers may enter your store wanting an iguana, the care and handling requirements are beyond what most first-time reptile owners are actually capable of providing.

What that customer actually wants is a larger, personable lizard. A bearded dragon is likely a significantly better fit for that customer. While the customer might think they know what they want, a careful inquiry by a knowledgeable staff member can get to the heart of what a customer actually wants and what that customer is prepared to handle in terms of care.

Consider adding an “experience level” to any displays meant to hold reptiles. A relative experience level can demonstrate to a would-be customer how difficult a given reptile might be when considering care, feeding, and other necessary items.

If you are able to go further in depth, you may even wish to include a “general” experience level, then couple that with individualized experience levels, delineated into more specific areas. A given reptile might be given a “Moderate” experience level, but be “Difficult” in terms of food or “Simple” in terms of caging requirements.

In addition, consider making care sheets available to customers. A care sheet can go a long way towards educating your customer on the finer details of a given reptile before they make a costly purchase.

Make use of your pre-existing relationships with your reptile wholesaler to establish a dialogue about the reptiles you choose to stock. By creating a face-to-face dialogue, you are much more likely to be privy to nuanced, accurate information than you would receive from a simple internet query.

While we would love to see reptiles in every home, the fact remains that some homes are simply not well-suited to housing reptiles. Homes with young children, elderly people, or those with weakened immune systems are not recommended for reptiles, as those persons are more susceptible to salmonella and other diseases that might reside dormant upon a reptile’s skin.

In addition, a person who frequently travels probably should not own a reptile such as a chameleon, which requires daily feeding. When a customer enters your store, your staff should have the sense of mind to ask about elements that might interfere with their ability to care for their would-be pet.

In the end, we must always keep in mind that the pets we sell are just that: thinking, feeling creatures. In some cases, a non-sale may be the best thing that can happen to a reptile, if the person who intends to buy them is unable to care for them properly. As retailers, it benefits the whole pet industry to maintain a high ethical standard. Doing so is the best way to ensure that customers become repeat-customers and that the reptile trade continues to grow.

Supplemental Sales

Over the course of past articles, I have emphasized the importance of subsidiary sales to any retailer’s bottom line. Much of this sales revenue comes from reptile food, which is not carried by most big box stores.

However, reptile food is not the only point of subsidiary sales for enterprising entrepreneurs. Reptile supplements and vitamins also provide easy ways for stores to increase sales while fostering positive interactions with customers.

Just like humans, reptiles often require vitamin supplementation to offset deficiencies in their diet. Most artificial supplements are tailored to lizards, turtles and tortoises. While snakes can benefit from vitamin supplements–particularly if a snake is ill or refusing food–most snakes are able to derive all necessary nutrition from their food.

Calcium Is Crucial

The largest deficiency in captive reptiles’ diets is calcium, which is often not included in their food. In addition, reptiles are often unable to process calcium on their own. They lack the natural ability to produce vitamin D3. The easiest way to remedy this deficiency is exposure to ultraviolet light–specifically the B waves of ultraviolet light known as UVB.

“Exposure to UVB helps animals produce vitamin D3 in their skin, while some animals obtain vitamin D3 from their diet,” said Josh Panos, national sales director for Zoo Med Labs, Inc. “UVB, vitamin D3, heat and calcium and are dependent on each other for balanced nutrition. Supplements play an important role by offering a bioavailable source of calcium and other vitamins.”

According to Panos, Zoo Med’s own supplement line is among the first to include “the complete amino acid complex, an essential component in protein digestion,” and does not contain artificial additives or fillers.

When stocking shelves, consider placing ultraviolet bulbs with calcium supplements. The most common calcium supplements on the market are Reptivite and Rep-Cal, two powders that are available with or without supplemental D3. When bulbs and supplements are together, employees can make joint sales while displaying knowledge of reptiles and encouraging repeat business. When employees accurately inform customers about animals they are buying for, they are likely to return with further questions and more revenue for your store.

Feeding the Feeders

As an alternative to vitamin and calcium dusts, there are techniques involving “gut-loaded” insects. When reptiles eat these bugs fed with nutrient supplements, they also ingest some of the nutrients within the insect itself.

Calcium supplements and gut-loaded insects are not the only vitamin supplements for reptiles.  Timberline, a supplier of live reptile food, has experienced great success in creating a line of Vita-Bugs, which are insects raised and grown with a diet that naturally enhances the insect’s nutrient content when fed to reptiles. According to sales manager Andy Pettit, the company spent nearly 10 years researching to create their Vita-Bugs, hoping to “find a way to better the growing process from start to finish.”

“We want to put a better bug on the market. We feed the insects better food from the moment they hatch,” Petit said. According to him, this provides keepers with “a scientifically proven, peer-reviewed better bug.”

Getting Specific

In addition to providing general supplements, companies are creating foods specific to individual reptile species.

Repashy Specialty Pet Products and Pet Pangaea LLC both carry species-specific foods, such as varieties for crested geckos or tortoises, that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. If you find that a type of reptile sells well in your store, you may wish to carry species-specific items. However, be sure that if you are carrying species-specific food items, you also have all other subsidiary products for that pet.

It is crucial to remember that when stocking vitamin supplements for reptiles, your staff must be trained to understand those reptiles as well as the necessity of vitamin supplements. Your floor staff represents your closest link to customers; they must communicate these needs to your customers effectively.

You can ensure this communication by providing accurate and up-to-date care sheets. List animal-specific needs and product recommendations on clearly posted labels near the reptile in question. They will provide a quick reference to your staff and serve as a starting guide for would-be reptile owners.

The Price Is Right

In our last three articles, we’ve looked at the basic elements of incorporating reptiles into your pet store. In our final installment of this “back to basics” series, it’s time that we examined what we consider the nuts and bolts of including reptiles in your sales: pricing.

Properly pricing reptiles in your store means a significant reevaluation of your revenue streams. A traditional thought is that reptiles should be priced to provide direct net revenue to their sellers. With this in mind, a seller may not sell many reptiles, but the reptiles that are sold will make significant profit for their seller.

We, however, believe that there is a better way.

Selling more animals at significantly lower price points brings in a higher amount of net profit, based on the subsidiary and background sales brought in by the higher volume of reptiles overall. Our research demonstrates that a good profit margin to work on would be to set at a maximum gross profit margin of 40 percent. This allows for large discounts in comparison to your higher-priced competitors while still allowing plenty of room for aggressive promotions and sales within your store.

Why would we encourage this? Simply put, the best source of net revenue for a pet store owner is not the sale of an animal itself. There is more money to be made through residual sales: the components necessary for the care of that reptile, including caging, lighting, heating elements, substrate and food. With these elements only rarely available in mass market venues, a canny store owner can leverage a reptile owner’s basic needs for continual, evergreen profit.

Based on our observations of stores throughout the nation, we’ve assembled a baseline scenario that demonstrates the profitability of our pricing methodology.

Let us consider Pet Store A and Pet Store B. Both stores start to sell bearded dragons, purchased at wholesale for $35 each. However, these stores begin selling with one very distinct difference: Store A prices bearded dragons at $77, while Store B prices them at $55. Based on our observations, we can assume that Store A will sell approximately 50 bearded dragons in a year, grossing $3,850, while Store B will sell approximately 84 bearded dragons, grossing $4,619. By pricing reptiles at a lower price point, Store B ensures that it moves more animals, which more than makes up for the discrepancy in pricing.

However, the fiscal benefits of capping your pricing extend much further than the animals themselves. Consider that each bearded dragon also requires a cage, substrate, an under-tank heating element, an overhead heat lamp and regular food, most of which cannot be purchased at local big-box stores. If Store A sells only 50 animals, their gross revenue from these items will come to a total of just over $31,000 yearly. However, Store B’s increased number of reptiles sold equates to an increase in subsidiary items sold; Store B’s 84 bearded dragons means a gross revenue of nearly $51,000, approximately a $20,000 increase in gross revenue for Store B over Store A.

The differential in profits does not end there. Consider that 77 percent of reptile owners own at least one other pet, which also requires supplies, food and other materials that may not be available at local big-box stores. Each time one of your reptile customers picks up kitty litter at your store, each time your selection of leashes and collars catches a customer’s eye as they wait on a bag of crickets or mealworms, you’ve made a sale that would have normally gone elsewhere. These incidental sales can make up for a sizeable portion of your net profit margin, potentially increasing the differential between our sample stores from $20,000 to a whopping $70,000.

Savvy retailers not only know this information, but they maximize it to significant advantage. Coupled with well-timed, targeted sales, reptiles can form a solid foundation upon which your store can be built. Once you’ve established a baseline price for reptiles, stick to that price. However, don’t be afraid to offer specials, incentives or other deals to would-be reptile owners. As we mentioned in our inventory article, if a given animal hasn’t moved from your stock, consider lowering its price. In some circumstances, offer the animal for free with the purchase of an appropriate cage or tank. Again, the most important point to remember is that the animal itself is not the focus on your profits. The reptile in question is the key that opens the vault of follow-up sales of numerous, reptiles-specific equipment and supplies.

Starting new endeavors can be challenging in any business. Within the pet trade, it is easy to rest on one’s laurels. Time and again, though, we have seen stores that cater to their customers’ needs and wants succeed. Stores that don’t go that extra mile to meet customers’ needs fail. As you put forth your first reptiles for sale, keep our four keystones in mind: selection, inventory, presentation and pricing. Choose your reptiles carefully; keep them well-stocked in attractive, clean displays; and price them reasonably. Do this and you’ll earn customers for years to come.

It’s All in the Presentation

Over our past two articles, we’ve taken a look at the first half of the four basic concepts that drive a successful reptile retailer. With this article, we move from selection and inventory to our third concept: presentation.

In our observation of pet stores throughout the nation, we’ve seen some phenomenal reptile displays and some displays that simply defy all sense of professionalism. Your ability to create, maintain and present attractive reptile displays has a direct effect on your ability to sell those reptiles.

A well-presented reptile section can easily draw would-be customers into your store. Even those that aren’t necessarily interested in reptiles can find themselves making their way through previously-unexplored aisles of your store if they see a display that’s pleasing to the eye. By putting in some extra time and effort on preparing your reptile displays, you ensure that your store has its best face forward.

Form and Function

Your displays need to provide three primary functions. First, reptile displays must be attractive. Basic glass cages with little decoration will not capture the eye of potential customers. Fill your cages with light, attractive substrate, hiding places and decorations that not only provide your animals a quality home, but also look great to your customers.

Based on your reptiles’ individual needs, you may be able to create themed enclosures. One such cage might be based on the American Southwest, while another might resemble a tropical rainforest. These varied, colorful displays catch the eyes of customers and immediately start them thinking about potential displays of their own.

Second, the location of these cages should factor greatly into your decision-making. Consider placing these displays to the center or even the front of your store. If you’re going to invest the time and effort to make your displays impressive, show them off. That set of eye-catching displays will encourage your customers to move deeper into your store, especially if the elements used to make that display are on sale nearby.

You should show off the products for sale in your store within the displays for your reptiles. If a hide, a water bowl or a type of substrate is on sale within your walls, your customers should be able to see that product in use. In fact, consider utilizing the very cages you already stock for sale when preparing reptile displays. Commercial caging from brands like ZooMed and ExoTerra provide a solid baseline from which you can create those attractive, striking displays.

Think of these in the same manner that you might think of displaying aquarium display elements. When your reptile display can prompt a customer to think, “That would be neat to have in my turtle’s cage,” it’s likely that you’ve just made a sale.

Third, you must keep the needs of your individual reptiles in mind. While this starts with the basic care requirements of a given animal, think of the animals’ habits when placing the display itself. Turtles and tortoises, for instances, should generally be placed closer to ground level. More arboreal creatures, such as tree frogs and chameleons, should occupy higher shelves. Your biggest selling reptiles, such as bearded dragons, are typically best placed on middle shelves so that they can be easily seen.

Your staff should be involved in creating these displays from their very inception. By including your staff in display planning, you gain two vital benefits. You ensure an immediate buy-in from your staff as you grant them a degree of creative control over the displays. Also, you ensure that your staff is educated about the animals in your care and the items you have for sale.

Maintenance Is Key

Once you’ve set up your spectacular reptile displays, the difficulty then falls to maintenance. Daily keep up should be part of your staff’s protocol, but reevaluate what the word “daily” truly entails. The best, most successful pet stores never allow their displays to fall into disrepair or filth. If a cage is dirty, it gets cleaned instantaneously. If a water or food dish is dirty, it gets scrubbed out and refilled.

Animals in dirty cages are animals that don’t get sold. Keep those displays spotless and your sales will stay significantly higher. Again, your willingness to go above and beyond in maintaining your displays can be a make or break factor in selling animals and getting your customers to return.

Signs of Success

Finally, don’t forget about signage. Many retailers experience difficulties in selling elements like live food because they don’t advertise the fact that they have live crickets, mealworms or the like. Be sure that both your reptile displays and your subsidiary materials have clear, focused signage that directs customers toward those items that aren’t available in your local big-box store. When you can clearly dictate the message that your store carries items unavailable elsewhere, you ensure that business returns to your store time and again.

The Magic Number

In our last article, we discussed the concept of reptile selection as one of our four keys to beginning a quality reptile trade within your pet store. Our second key, inventory, builds upon that concept.  The number of reptiles you stock is just as important as the types you stock.

Too Many

Often, retailers new to the reptile trade make the mistake of attempting to stock too many reptiles, over-ordering lizards and snakes that do not move fast enough from the shelf.  This is detrimental for numerous reasons.  Overcrowding of cages can result in the spread of disease and even the potential injury of reptiles.

Further, overcrowding creates a problem that we lovingly call the “hungry little mouths” issue.  As we’ve extolled in the past, much of your net revenue from the reptile trade does not come from the sale of reptiles themselves; rather, that revenue comes from sales of reptile accessories and food, which cannot be purchased at a local big-box store.

However, if you stock more reptiles than you can successfully sell, those food costs come down on your own bottom line. After all, you do have to feed your stock. Having too many animals that aren’t moving can result in a continual, exponential loss in terms of food and supplies over time.

Too Few

Stocking too few animals results in empty cages. Empty cages become a two-fold issue. The first half of the issue is simple:  you cannot sell an animal that isn’t there.  If your cages are empty, there’s no telling how many sales are being lost on a daily basis.  If those cages aren’t full, you’re losing money.

There is also problem of the few animals you do have. Let us consider an example:  a new pet store has nine reptile displays, with only two animals remaining.  The owner wants to make one order instead of several, so they decide to hold off on ordering more reptiles until those two sell.  However, given that lack of selection, public perception of those animals tends to skew negatively, even if the animals themselves are healthy, attractive and otherwise perfectly fine.

In their 2004 Harvard Business Review article, “Stock-Outs Cause Walk-Outs,” Daniel Corsten and Thomas Gruen cite a series of studies which found that between 21 and 43 percent of consumers will actively seek out another store if they cannot find an item that they want.  In this case, the pair state that 72 percent of these walkouts “were due to faulty in-store ordering and replenishing practices—retailers ordering too little or too late, generating inaccurate demand forecasts or otherwise mismanaging inventory.” Few and far between are the pet stores that can afford losing a third to a half of their business due to lack of inventory. You simply must ensure that both animals and the materials needed to care for them are on your shelves at all times.

Both the cases of too little and too much inventory creates the problem of the “store mascot.” The more that an animal grows, the more expensive it becomes to care for and the less likely it is to sell. Many retailers erroneously believe that such an animal should have a higher price, given that it’s a bigger, adult animal.  This could not be further from the reality of the situation.

Rather than raising the price on an animal that has been in your store overlong, consider dropping the price significantly or even offering a package deal for that animal. This simultaneously gets an older animal out of your display and introduces a customer to your selection of reptile accessories.

Guidelines

So, what’s the magic number?  How often should a pet store order reptiles?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all answer here.  Obviously, you need enough reptiles for customers to feel that they have a significant choice in their selection.  Many new retailers tend to be “freight-phobic,” trying to save on shipping by making one, larger order, letting cages lay fallow during that time.  However, the longer a cage is empty, the more cost is being eaten out of your pocket.  One lost customer could mean losing literally thousands of dollars, while you’re only saving a few dollars on shipping and handling.

In most cases, reptile orders should be placed every 7-10 days, once you’ve determined the right amount of animals for your store.  This means taking a critical look at your sales averages, your internal costs and the amount of space you’ve allotted to reptile sales.  Retailers with high reptile turnover may receive up to two shipments week.  Certainly, don’t wait until you’re out of animals—it’s too late, then. Always make sure that your customers have enough reptiles to feel like they’re making an active choice in their new pet.

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