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.

Stock Selection

One of the biggest advantages of all the travel I’ve been doing over the years is the sheer number of pet stores we see. In that time, I’ve seen pet stores who have done great things—and some that have made sizable
mistakes.

The largest of these mistakes? Store owners that choose the wrong animals to put in their store, often because of their personal preference for certain species. Picking animals suitable for your customers and your store’s bottom line is difficult to achieve, but your livelihood may well depend on divorcing personal preference from the animals that are stocked.

How to Choose

For an animal to be successful within a pet store environment, that animal must fit a series of relevant criteria. First, the animal you select must make a good pet. Consider the iguana. Iguanas sold particularly well for quite a while, but in recent years, sales of iguanas have dropped dramatically. Why? While iguanas are interesting animals, they grow fairly large and can be aggressive. Contrast these with bearded dragons, veiled chameleons or leopard geckos, and you’ll see that they can provide the same level of interest to a pet owner but stay much smaller and generally have a better temperament.

Second, you must consider price points, not just in terms of the animals themselves, but also their subsidiary sales. Currently, bearded dragons have a tight hold on the number one sales slot. Bearded dragons are typically priced right around $50, and do particularly well at that point. Further, bearded dragons provide great residual sales. While an iguana owner can pick up food for their pet at the local grocery, bearded dragons require a diet of insects that ensures the same customers return to your store. By selling animals that have specialized diets, you can guarantee repeat business at your store.

Third, you must choose animals that do well in captivity. The theoretical opportunities for sales stemming from rarely-seen, wild-caught species are often not worth the financial effort. Many wild-caught species often struggle to survive in a captive environment. Panther chameleons, for example, fall into this category. Wild-caught panther chameleons tend toward fragility, requiring significant upkeep in comparison to their captive-bred compatriots. Simply put, captive-bred animals will save your store time, hassle and overall cost.

The Master Six

For a store first venturing into the realm of reptile sales, focusing on the Master Six, or six animals that thrive in captivity, is a good place to start for new reptile owners. It also provides a solid baseline for a store’s reptile sales.

These are:
• Assorted colubrids (corn snakes,
king snakes and milk snakes)
• Ball pythons
• Bearded dragons
• Crested geckos
• Leopard geckos
• Veiled chameleons

If your store is able to devote a 4-foot section of space specifically to reptiles—about nine enclosures in all—these Master Six are about all that would fit. However, if you had a somewhat larger section, perhaps 12 to 15 enclosures, options expand significantly. Consider adding in a variety of turtles or small tortoises, as well as a rotating animal that you can change as you sell through your stock. Invertebrates and amphibians also can be a reasonable option in this larger scenario.

However, one key point remains regardless of which animals you choose to sell: if you carry it, you need to support it. If your store decides to sell iguanas, you need sell every product that goes along with owning an iguana: food, substrate, shelters, lighting, heating and more. In supporting that pet, you build residual sales. If you do not stock these, you are sending customers to other stores to find items for the pet they bought from you.

The single worst message that a pet store can send to a customer is “we don’t have what you need for your pet.” Successful reptile retailing does not focus on the reptile itself for the sale. It keeps a wider view on the full reptile business. A single reptile will live with a family for years. The family’s purchases of reptile accessories is where you’ll make your money. Build a program that supports that customer and their pet for the life of their pet, and don’t let them outgrow the goods and services you provide. In coming articles, we will be going into far more depth of these key areas so that you can hopefully master your reptile department and generate substantial revenue.

Next month: Inventory: how best to maintain the right number of reptiles in your store.

Back to Basics

For those out there that are relatively new to this column, the sheer amount of knowledge necessary to give reptiles a fair shake in the pet trade may be overwhelming. While the idea of adding in an entirely new variety of animal to your repertoire can seem daunting, reptiles should be no more intimidating to you and your staff than adding a new type of guinea pig or hamster.

However, if you are serious about including reptiles in your store for the first time, here are four major pillars that pet retailers should consider as they look to sell reptiles. These pillars are selection, inventory, presentation and pricing.

Selection

Select which reptiles you want for your entry into the reptile sales world. Choosing appropriate reptiles is key to establishing a solid sales base in your early forays in the reptile trade. As you train your staff and prepare displays, consider stocking reptiles that will both sell quickly and have relatively easy requirements for care. Bearded dragons, leopard geckos and corn snakes all fit these categories particularly well, which is why they’re so commonly kept in larger pet chains.

Though it seems to go without saying, as you select animals, resist the urge to buy animals because they look “cool.” While your personal tastes may be suitable for you, purchasing animals purely based on your own aesthetic is a near-guarantee that the animal will be languishing in a display for months, rather than in someone’s home.

However, this is not to say that you shouldn’t include higher-end animals in your store’s displays. Keep them to a minimum and understand which animals will make up your bread and butter revenue.
Inventory

Inventory is the ability for your store to always provide a number of different animals for your customers to choose from. Ideally, your store should be able to stock at least two to three variations for each reptile species. Consider stocking a baseline animal, as well as two different morphs or color variants of that same animal. Providing your customers with those additional options will result in both increased sales and in turn, happier repeat customers.

Presentation

Presentation may be the most important pillar, as how you display the reptiles and their enclosures directly impacts how well those reptiles will sell. If you plan to carry reptiles and accessories, you must show off those items in your own displays.
Make use of the items you already have within your store to create vibrant habitats for the reptiles. If you have a waterfall display for sale at $150, it does you customers no good for that display to sit in a box on a shelf. You’ll sell more of those features if you have one operating within one your reptile displays.

Pricing

Many pet store owners erroneously believe that the majority of their profit margin comes from the sale of the animal itself. In our experience, this is rarely the case. Highly priced animals often simply do not sell, taking up precious display space and resulting in greater losses. By pricing animals at a more economical price point, you ensure that your store sells more animals overall, resulting in more profit overall, even at a lesser price point.

We recommend that you price the reptiles at no more than twice the wholesale price. If priced higher, the likelihood that a given animal will not sell increases significantly. If a given animal has been in your store for several months, consider marking it down significantly or even giving the animal away. Providing a giveaway of this sort can provide great goodwill for your potential customers and ensure repeat business—a customer who wins a free bearded dragon or corn snake from your store will surely be back!

The majority of that profit, however, does not come from the animal itself. That profit comes from subsidiary sales for items necessary for proper reptile care. Reptiles and amphibians require a significant investment in enclosures, substrates, lighting, hides, decorative items and food. Unlike their feline and canine compatriots, reptile pet supplies are rarely available at the local big box store or grocery.

In our experience, the amount that your store can make from subsidiary sales can grow over the first year to up to 40 times the price of the animal that triggered the sale. By providing a positive customer service experience coupled with solid variety in both animals and in products, you can ensure that a single animal results in continual sales from that customer for years to come. By focusing on “the long haul”, a single sale can become tens, if not hundreds, more. Without the spark of that initial sale, though, the blazing inferno of subsidiary sales can never exist.

In coming articles, we will be going into far more depth of these key areas so that you can hopefully master your reptile department and generate substantial revenue

Upcoming Reptiles

With Reptiles by Mack at the forefront of commercial-level reptile breeding, many within the pet trade ask us what’s on the horizon. They want to know, “What’s new? What’s coming down the pike?” Having been involved in the reptile trade for 30 odd years, we’ve seen a great deal of evolution in the roles of numerous species as they transition from rare collectors’ items into everyday pets.

One great example of this is the current status of the ball python. Just 15 years ago, a spider ball python sold for a whopping $17,000 and a pinstripe ball python could run more than $20,000. Now, these ball python morphs are staples in pet stores across the country, selling for only around $100. What were once highly specialized, rare morphs available only as a breeder’s investment have become an attractive, reasonably-priced option for reptile enthusiasts everywhere.

Three key factors determine the potential success of a species in reaching the wider reptile sales market: the animal must live well in captivity, it must have ease of care at the consumer level and it must sell at an affordable price. Without those three criteria, there is little realistic chance that a given morph or variant will reach the mass market. If an animal cannot be kept well in captivity, its ability to breed nosedives. Without ease of care and affordability, the average reptile enthusiast will not make the initial purchase to justify an investment at the corporate level.

Now, when we speak about what’s new in the reptile world, we really have to look approximately two to three years into both the past and the future to get an accurate glimpse at which animals may be heading to stores soon. Because reptiles must be bred and grown to proper size, there is a significant delay before a new morph or variant breed hits stores.

Further, reptile breeding requires frequent, continual testing. Quality breeders keep genetic maps for their animals to better determine which morphs, colorations and variants are viable and what elements are necessary for a specific variety to do well in a captive environment. These tests take time, which can add to that two to three year window of what comes next.

A Few Predictions

As mentioned earlier, specialty ball pythons represent transitioning demand for particular species particularly well. Morphs, colors and patterns of ball pythons that sold for thousands of dollars a few years ago are now well within an affordable price range, making them easily accessible for reptile-loving consumers. These variations will only expand and increase as time passes and breeders continue experimenting with new genetic strains. Keep your eyes peeled for some of these exciting new ball pythons in the coming months.

One notable amphibian that pet store owners should keep tabs on is the White’s tree frog (Litoria caerulea). While the White’s tree frog has been a staple in pet stores for many years, breeders have been experimenting with different colorations and variations in the species, which are slowly coming down in price. As the price falls, these morphs and colorations can provide a great addition to a well-tended frog display.

Two reptiles that will likely be in high demand once they’re more available are the giant day gecko (Phelsuma grandis) and the panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis). While most reptile-selling stores are intimately familiar with leopard and crested geckos and with veiled chameleons, day geckos and panther chameleons provide unique variations in color and pattern that appeal greatly to reptile enthusiasts.

However, while these animals have done well in captivity, there are simply not enough of them being bred currently to make them economical for resale in most retail environments. That said, as more day geckos and panther chameleons enter breeders’ genetic pools, their availability will increase and their cost decrease, making them more attractive for store owners.

As humans, it’s in our nature to always look toward the future and to think about what comes next and what we can do with that knowledge. While it’s always exciting to investigate which reptiles you may be able to sell in coming years, don’t allow that anticipation to blind you toward creatures that are currently available. Just as you look for which reptiles will be bred in coming years, keep an eye on the morphs and variations that are available now. After all, variety is a crucial asset for any store.

Vet Policies

It’s an unfortunate reality that, at times, pet reptiles can become sick or injured. Just as we get sick or have accidents, sometimes our animals may follow suit, despite our best precautions or preventative care. Having an expert in veterinary care at arm’s reach provides you with the best possible way to ensure that your animals are the healthiest they can be at the time of sale.

Many of the larger pet store chains have established positive working relationships with both individual veterinarians and veterinary chains; some of the larger chains even have multiple vets on staff. While allying with such a large veterinary chain may be out of your reach, that doesn’t mean that establishing a relationship with a vet is just a pipe dream. In fact, reaching out to a solitary vet or an individual veterinary practice can provide a much more reasonable, cost-effective solution.

First, and most important, your vet needs to have expertise in the animals you carry. Given our particular focus on reptiles, this can prove difficult. The majority of vets have no issues treating cats, dogs and some of the other more typical pets. Reptiles, due to their differences in physiology, can make the job challenging for veterinarians who lack specialized training. When researching vets in your area, look for those with a background in herpetology and experience treating our nonstandard pets.

Just as important as finding a vet that caters to the animals you sell is finding one with whom you can establish a symbiotic working relationship. In an ideal scenario, the relationship between your store and your vet should represent a beneficial feedback loop. As you receive shipments, your vet should be available to provide a standard checkup for the incoming animals and vouch for their health and well-being if required. Reciprocally, when animals and supplies are purchased in your store, you can easily refer your customers to your chosen vet for any post-purchase care they might require.

This mutual feedback loop can even be extended beyond the bounds of your store. If you can stock vitamins and other nonprescription medications that are commonly recommended by your vet, he or she can refer customers back to your store to purchase them. In doing this, you ensure that both you and your vet maintain and grow return business in an ethical and positive manner.

Regardless of which vet you choose, two primary objectives are of paramount importance. First, you must keep the lines of communication open at all times. As you begin working together, try to set aside a day every week or two during which he or she can come in, establish a relationship with your staff members and provide treatment or checkups for your animals. During these visits, you can go over any time-sensitive items that may need to be discussed. Ultimately, your vet should feel as comfortable in your store as you do. If you can provide him or her with a specific treatment area, or even a spot to store supplies and other items, do so. Just a small amount of designated space can help your vet feel at home and welcome.

Second, ensure that both you and your vet establish a set of protocols for standard operating procedure. If your vet visits once a week, how long will each visit last? Is he or she going to check every animal in your inventory? Will animals be taken off-premises for treatment or for normal checkups and vaccinations? All of these are questions you should consider as you negotiate terms with any veterinarian. While the answers may change over time based on how your working relationship evolves, establishing those protocols provides a concrete methodology with which you can both depend.

One final note: Be sure to respect your vet’s expertise. As a pet store owner, you surely know a substantial amount more about animals than the average person out there. You demonstrate that desire for knowledge with each issue and article you read. That said, your vet is a medical doctor, with eight to ten years of school plus post-doctoral practice. While you may be able to identify a disease or malady in one of your animals, a good vet can certainly ascertain a solid plan of treatment that may be beyond your own abilities. Keep mutual lines of communication open and your animals will surely benefit.

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