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Reptile University

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We recently received an interesting post on the Reptiles by Mack Facebook page.  An individual who had read one of our previous articles attempted to make the claim that most pet stores simply do not have the expertise to keep reptiles safely and effectively.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a somewhat pervasive opinion amongst the reptile-owning community. The long-standing belief is that typical pet stores simply aren’t qualified to handle reptiles, or simply don’t have the expertise or desire to do so.

However, we take the opposite viewpoint. Any pet store can potentially provide high-quality, healthy reptiles. However, the key to doing so revolves around having properly trained staff. Regardless of size, stores that teach their staff well provide a better experience for their customers, keep healthier reptiles, and achieve more sales overall.

The most successful retailers not only have a thorough understanding of the reptiles themselves, but also have a concrete training regimen for their staff, regardless of how long a given staff members has been on board. In truth, reptiles aren’t the hard part. The hard part is establishing best practice procedures coupled with the expectation that those procedures must be followed every time.

When training staff members, consider a holistic approach. Educational theorist Lev Vygotsky emphasized an approach known as scaffolding, in which a potential learner progresses through a four-step relationship with their educator. Put simply, this relationship can be represented as such:

1.    I do; you watch.

2.    I do; you help.

3.    You do; I help.

4.    You do; I watch.

When training a new staff member, ensure that they get plenty of time  to observe proper protocols in animal handling, cleaning, feeding and other basic routines, while your staff trainer thoroughly explains the expectations.  From there, consider the new hire as an “apprentice,” assisting with various duties and growing accustomed to your store’s procedures.

Once your staff trainer feels that the “apprentice” is ready, the pair should effectively switch roles, allowing the new hire to take the lead in basic routines while the trainer offers assistance and backup as needed.  By the end of a training cycle, the new hire should be able to proceed through all necessary protocols, with the staff trainer acting only as an observer.

Also, consider implementing a series of “cheat sheets” or “care sheets” for your staff. These sheets should include all necessary information for any given animal and be written in a way that staff can easily discern differences in care at a glance. A good care sheet should include: the name of a given animal (both common and species name), acceptable temperatures for housing, feeding requirements, compatibility with other animals, overall size of the animal (when fully grown) and general ease of care (perhaps on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale).

Accountability is your highest asset in teaching your staff how to care for reptiles. You must absolutely let your staff know that your animals are utterly dependent on them to do their job correctly every time.  Every corner cut, every feeding missed, means that an animal suffers.

Commitment to providing a good experience for your customers begins with providing a quality staff, as your staff will always be the first point of contact between you and the consumer.

Our next article: The Ball Python. From ancient Egypt to your local pet store, the evolution of this fascinating snake will amaze you and your customers.

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