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September 1, 2015

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.

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