With all that goes on during any given day in the pet trade, it can be very easy for a store owner to get into a mindset where their nose is always to the grindstone, finding ways to make their store better from within that store. Juggling day-to-day duties like animal care, scheduling, shipments and more can really wear on a person. However, getting out of your store can be just like coming up for air after a deep dive. And truly there’s no better place to do this than to head off to a reptile trade show!
The Show’s Starting
Reptile shows are held all across the U.S., with nearly every weekend filled with events for reptile lovers. Kingsnake.com, in fact, lists approximately 150 events for 2017 alone. ReptiCon, the largest reptile show organization, holds 36 of its namesake events during 2017, scattered primarily across the American South, with a few additional northern shows in Baltimore and Chicago. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there is literally a reptile show each and every weekend across this country of ours!
But why should you attend these? Traditional wisdom has often put pet retailers and reptile shows at odds, each viewing the other as a competitor. However, the benefits of attending reptile shows as a retailer cannot be overstated. They do, though, have to be split into two primary roles: that of you as an attendee and that of you as an exhibitor.
As an attendee of a reptile show, you gain two primary advantages. First of those advantages is the ability to network. While attending a reptile show, you gain the opportunity to interact with a number of exhibitors and other reptile enthusiasts at your leisure. While doing so, you are free to examine prices; check out new species, morphs, and colorations; and talk to reptile retailers and breeders, suppliers and wholesalers.
Any good exhibitor worth their salt always carries business cards or other promotional items so that visitors will remember their store in the future. If you are looking to change suppliers or add new reptiles to your store, a few conversations with the exhibitors at a reptile show may give you the information you need to make an informed decision as you move forward.
Secondly, as an attendee, you gain the ability to mine for ideas. Wandering around the floor of a local reptile show, you can see what other retailers are holding in stock, what attendees are buying and what new housing and feeding materials are on the market. Online research is all well and good, but the best way to determine what sells in your area is to actively take a look around outside of your own store. While your evidence may be colloquial, there’s no better way to understand the customers in your area than to watch them as they shop, especially with the amount of variety found at a reptile show.
An Inside Look
Want to see what’s selling? Keep your eyes open and talk to some of the other exhibitors. See a new morph that you’re not familiar with? Chances are that the people who breed that very morph are on site. Need to find a new supplier for colubrids? Reptile shows are your chance to find someone who specializes in those very snakes in your own backyard.
While there is much to be gained from attending a reptile show, you may gain even more by acting as an exhibitor at such a show. Loren Leigh, the owner of LLLReptile and Supply Company, has taken this concept to be part and parcel with his normal business practice. In addition to his five brick-and-mortar stores, Leigh regularly attends reptile shows as an exhibitor, often attending two or three shows per month.
“I personally find visiting trade shows really opens my eyes to the pulse and direction of our industry and the networking has always proved to be valuable in all aspects of our business,” Leigh said. “I have been in this industry for 23 years and have personally attended almost every show we do (over 30 a year) for this entire period of time. I find reptile shows to be the most valuable source of information for the success of our business.”
Exhibiting at a reptile show can have some difficulties attached to it. Firstly, there are the issues of staffing: while you could close down your store to attend a reptile show, a more likely scenario would mean having staff cover the store while you attend the show, or vice versa. This means additional manhours and additional payroll expense.
Further, exhibiting at a show means overcoming several logistical hurdles. In all likelihood, you will need to transport a significant portion of your reptiles and other materials to and from the show. In extreme weather— the heat of summer or the sub-zero temperatures of winter—this adds additional problems, as you will need to ensure that your reptiles arrive in prime condition.
While exhibiting at a reptile show, be sure to care for yourselves as well. Hours at a show can run long, with little opportunity for breaks or refreshment. Ensure that your booth has comfortable chairs and easy-to-transport snacks and drinks to keep yourself and your staff members ready to go throughout the show. Also, you’ll need to ensure that you have everything you need to effectively run your store from this remote location. If you don’t have an easily transportable point-of-sale system, you may need to set up a cardreader device so that you can take credit card orders from your booth.
Leigh actually suggests new retailers try setting up their booths outside of the convention atmosphere, just to “insure you have everything covered.” This can often trigger smaller items in your mind, such as table covers, power strips, or other necessities for exhibition. He also notes to “make sure to understand details of setup times, load-in locations and location in the hall. Set-up can be hectic and overwhelming; the more prepared you are, the better the set-up will go.”
In the lead-up to your exhibition, make sure that you have an active sales strategy and have the materials to execute that strategy. Be sure to have promotional materials—business cards, flyers, care sheets and other information—ready to hand to your potential customers, and be sure that your brand and logo are easily visible to anyone passing by. Consider also offering coupons, both for those who make purchases at your booth and for those who just stop by to browse. A coupon for a free pack of crickets or mealworms for those who visit your brick-and-mortar store can go a long way toward establishing a great relationship with a group of engaged, knowledgeable reptile lovers who may just become your best new customers.
“Any snake sold in that show could be a weekly customer to your shop for a feeder, not to mention the bedding needs, light bulb needs, just to name a few,” Leigh said.
While both attending and exhibiting at a reptile show can be an exhausting affair, the benefits of even a one- or two-day show can truly pay dividends in your store’s overall strategy. Sponsoring the show may also pay big dividends as all these reptiles will need food, habitats and accessories. Check around for a show near you and see what’s going on in your area. The sky’s the limit!