Snakes have been a source of great fear and anxiety for countless people worldwide for centuries. We, however, ask, “Why?” Snakes have proven time and again to be fascinating, unique creatures that can be ideal pets, which should help allay trepidation about these misunderstood animals. And, of course, snakes provide a unique point of sale for a pet store owner who can properly capitalize on our legless friends’ popularity.
The most common category of snakes seen within the pet trade today are known as colubrids, members of the scientific family Colubridae. Encompassing nearly two-thirds of currently known snake species, colubrids include corn snakes, milk snakes, king snakes, garter snakes and numerous other individual species. Corn snakes are often the most popular selling colubrid in stores nowadays, followed by king snakes and milk snakes. Within each species, however, numerous unique colors and patterns are available, providing a great deal of variety for your customers.
In terms of personality, the three most prevalent species of colubrids vary greatly, which may influence your choices in sales.
Corn snakes are often seen as fantastic beginner snakes. One of our former colubrid managers often referred to them as the “Labrador retriever of the reptile world” for their overall friendliness.
In contrast, milk snakes tend to be much shyer, often recoiling from human contact. In fact, a milk snake’s typical coloration greatly resembles that of the venomous coral snake, an evolutionary development meant to deter animals from coming nearby.
King snakes tend to walk the median between their compatriots, though they can be perceived as aggressive; however, in most cases, it’s just their natural feeding response.
One of the most overlooked strategies for stocking snakes, particularly colubrids, is to include picture tags of given animals next to their enclosures. An accurate picture can turn the shyest of snakes into an interesting “Where’s Waldo?” game for customers. This can be especially true if you position the hides within the snake’s enclosure such that visibility is oriented toward the customer. Done properly, your snakes can enjoy being hidden while still being visible to a would-be pet owner.
One thing to be aware of, though, in terms of feeding and care, is that many colubrids do in fact eat other snakes. King snakes and milk snakes, in particular, are known as opportunistic feeders and will attack other snakes (even those of their own species) if hungry. Always keep individual snakes in their own enclosures.
Your best bet as a store owner is to focus on the residual sales resulting from a given pet sale. While many retailers attempt to mark up a pet numerous times over in order to make a profit, more significant profits stem from the sale of subsidiary material such as substrate, heating elements and food. Colubrids fit this concept particularly well because snakes require significant investment in these items. Continual residual sales can easily provide the backbone of your store’s income, so ensure that you have a well-stocked supply of colubrid-friendly equipment.
That equipment should absolutely include food. A juvenile colubrid eats approximately twice a week. While adults eat less often, they do eat larger meals. All colubrids are carnivores, which means that this food usually consists of frozen rodents. Numerous companies now offer this food at very economical bulk rates. If you do decide to provide live food for your reptiles, ensure that your staff is trained in handling said food; left unattended during a live feeding session, there is always a possibility that a snake may be injured. Be sure to remove live food if not eaten after half an hour and always supervise live feedings.
Last, be sure to adhere to all local and state ordinances when stocking snakes. In Ohio, for example, sales of eastern milk snakes and black rat snakes are significantly regulated, as both are species native to Ohio. Be sure to do your homework before stocking colubrids to avoid any potential legal entanglements.
While the popularity of reptiles has boomed in recent years, the pervasive fear of snakes is still a widespread phenomenon. However, your efforts in providing quality, healthy snakes for your customers not only can earn you profits but can also help allay the fears of those who might irrationally dislike our legless friends.