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Selling the Right Reptile

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Smart herp retailers know that a good customer/reptile match will lead to a happy, and repeat customer. They also know that where that reptile came from can make all the difference in the world.

And, it all starts with selecting trusted reptile breeders/suppliers, continues with stocking a suitable mix of species, and ends with providing quality customer service that involves pairing customers with the right pets.

Breeding a Good Reputation

“Buying a pet is, for most people, a decision based on emotion,” Ron E. Smith, owner of The House of Reptiles, a herp retailer in Jacksonville, Fla., said. “A happy, healthy animal from a reputable supplier or breeder could be the difference between a returning customer who leaves satisfied and a disappointed person who leaves with a negative experience. Providing quality animals increases the quality of the pet trade as a whole.”

Additionally, stocking unhealthy animals requires time, labor and other expenses to treat and bring them back to health, which is why partnering with a dependable breeder is crucial.

“Often, paying a bit more for quality livestock is more profitable in the long run than simply price shopping,” Mike Tuccinardi, marketing director for Segrest Farms, a wholesale pet distributor in Gibsonton, Fla., said.

Many retailers find trustworthy reptile purveyors via word of mouth from vendors they do business with, including dry goods and accessory suppliers. Others hunt online or at trade shows for worthy breeders.

Once you find a candidate, “make sure they are a licensed business,” Tuccinardi said. “There are lots of questionable garage, or basement, type breeding operations out there that can be a risk for retailers to buy from. Go inspect their facility if you can or ask for photos. Is it clean? Are all animals in visible health?”

Red flags include breeders who are unwilling to respond to emails or phone calls, are reluctant to disclose where their animals originated from, wild vs. captive bred, offer animals at too cheap a price, and don’t provide buyer protection, for example, a three-day money-back guarantee of health.

Stocking Smartly

Equally important to picking a reliable reptile provider is carrying the proper assortment of animals that your customers prefer.

“You need a good mix, not just one hot-selling species,” John Mack, owner of Reptiles by Mack, a Xenia, Ohio-based reptile breeder/wholesaler, said. “You definitely want to stock hardy animals that are priced affordably so they can turn over quickly. Price them too high and they’ll remain unclaimed, and you’ve got yourself a permanent store mascot.”

Paul Barclay, sales and marketing manager for Reptiles by Mack, said the current top six-selling species he recommends all pet stores should consider carrying are, in order, bearded dragons, leopard geckos, ball pythons, corn snakes, water turtles and crested geckos.

Smith also vouches for the popularity of blue-tongued skinks due to their docile, friendly dispositions.

“Although you might not be able to mark up a leopard gecko or corn snake the way you would a high-end exotic, what you lose in profit can easily be made back in volume,” Tuccinardi said. “However, there isn’t one profitable species or group of reptiles that will ensure successful [sales], instead it is your overall product mix that is most important.”

Smith suggests stocking captive-bred baby animals for better sales.

“People are just naturally attracted to babies, so they are wonderful investments,” Smith said, who adds that older adult reptiles are typically the slowest sellers and offer the lowest return on investment.

Additionally, talking to your customers about what species they like and conducting polls on the topic via your web or Facebook page can generate valuable feedback that factor into your stocking decisions.

Recommending a Good Fit

Successful retailers quickly learn that simply showcasing cute, colorful breeds in well-maintained habitats isn’t enough to excite patrons and ensure customer satisfaction. Working closely with the shopper to determine which species is the right purchase for their needs is strongly advised.

“Listen to your customer, and ask what they’re looking for. A pet? A display animal? A conversation piece? Then, show them the possibilities of what animals meet their criteria,” Tuccinardi, said. “A successful live reptile sale can mean years of food, lighting and accessory add-on sales. But if the customer gets persuaded into buying an animal that isn’t a good fit, it could wind up back in your store in a few weeks.”

Smith says the customer should also be a good match for the reptile in terms of being a reliable, responsible owner.

“If you think they won’t meet the animal’s needs, point them to a similar animal that will more adequately fit their ability to care for it,” Smith said. “Educate your customers. It’s our responsibility as retailers to ensure that our customers leave with a thorough understanding of that animal’s individual requirements.”

- Erik J. Martin

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