Q What’s the biggest obstacle for you in overcoming the many misconceptions about reptiles?
A The biggest obstacle to overcome in a word is respect, or the lack thereof. The average person has been so barraged by negative facts about reptiles they have a preconceived “I just don’t like them” notion. This is often due to “fake reptile news” that is pervasive. In natural history television shows, reptiles often get the same disrespect, with eerie music playing whenever a snake moves across the screen. In my career, I published a nature magazine and a reptile keepers’ newspaper, opened a reptile museum, delivered thousands of outreach programs, and finally opened Jungle Bob’s Reptile World (JBRW) where I, along with my two sons Tyler and Dylan, now provide in-store reptile encounters.
Q Having entered the pet industry as a wildlife educator, how have you seen reptiles benefit in both the pet industry and the wild?
A Years ago, reptiles in pet stores were 100 percent wild-caught. No one knew where most of them came from and had no idea how to keep them alive. With educational resources from shops like ours and certain areas of the media, we now have a dramatic shift in knowledge. Current husbandry trends are to keep animals in an environment that resembles their habitat in terms of decorations, humidity and temperature. Captive propagation of reptiles has skyrocketed. This trend has helped ease the strain on wild populations.
Q With this year marking the 10th anniversary of JBRW, how have your retail strategies changed?
A There wasn’t much of a strategy when I bought the local reptile shop 10 years ago. I followed the previous owner’s strategy, which was to have someone stand behind the counter dishing out crickets and mice to “herpers,” people who had reptiles and wanted to talk reptiles and to hang out all day in the store. As I found more time to spend at the shop, I realized the gold was not in the herpers who were our loyal customers, but in finding new customers— young families with children who want that first herp. Next, I realized we were grossly under stocked. Customers were shopping, but our inventory was inadequate and “dusty.” I fixed that by pouring profits back into more products. Our inventory is now 20 times larger than what it was then. Installing a computerized cash register/purchase order system was next and we were off and running with historical information about our customers. A website opened the door to a wider customer base and a brand was started in our name. Social media campaigns, although time consuming, have made us a name in the industry.
Our most successful strategy, though, is to change when necessary and sometimes on a dime, as not every strategy decision is a home run! This market is a whirlwind of change and if you are sticking to what worked years ago, you could be quickly swept away!
Q Why did you start the Jungle Bob product line, and where have you had the most success?
A The Jungle Bob brand was born for two reasons: number one was to offer reptile enthusiasts quality products. All of our products are tested 100 percent in our store, in a live situation, before we put our name on them and we amassed a catalog of over 200 items. Second was to combat the competition from the online and big box stores. With the branded products, we can somewhat control the price and the profit! Our first product was our Desert Sun light bulb, which is a UVB/Heat combination that rivals anything else on the market today for considerably less money. We launched Jungle Bob Aquatics division and are not surprised that it is quickly running neck and neck with our reptile line sales in online channels. Many of the items are similar, but ours are packaged with the appropriate reptile or aquarium label, so we are appealing to a wide variety of stores. QHow did Castro enter your life? ACastro was owned by a friend who, due to family circumstances, could no longer keep him. This is not unusual in our trade as illness, divorce, kids going off to college, etc., make reptiles the odd man out. All the animals in the presentation part of our business came to us in this manner. Castro was special. He was kept “free roaming” most of his life and is calm in his “territory.” He has been the star in over 300 lectures, multiple television shows, movie sets and film shoots.