Exotic is something of a relative term. For many people, the very idea of keeping a lizard, a snake or a frog as a pet is a strange, unorthodox pet choice that is well outside their comfort zone. For those people, a bearded dragon or a leopard gecko is as ‘exotic’ as they might possibly consider. And, for older generations, that may well be true.
But with more and more millennials establishing homes of their own, the number of individuals willing to consider a pet outside of the typical dog/ cat/hamster paradigm is rapidly increasing. And with the massive growth currently found within the pet reptile owning population, those pet owners are increasingly looking to find companions that are a little bit outside of the norm. For these customers, exotic reptiles might be your answer.
To be clearer, what we term “exotic” reptiles is something of a catch-all category; these are reptiles that might not necessarily be a part of your usual stock and rotation, whether due to care requirements, availability, price or some other outside factors. Exotic reptiles could range from an expensive-range python, a dwarf monitor lizard, tortoises (especially those that grow to particularly large sizes), and even poison dart frogs.
Ken Foose of Exotic Pets Las Vegas notes that “humidity, temperature gradients and water features” also make for points of difficulty because they can be challenging to maintain. As a general rule of thumb, consider an “exotic” reptile to be one that is either too rare, too expensive, too large or too difficult to care for to provide as a regular purchasable pet.
Loren Leigh of LLLReptile and Supply Company gives his perspective on so-called “exotics,” as well. He cites a number of “different factors depending on who the animal may be intended for.”
“Some animals we would consider much more entry level, like a bearded dragon or leopard gecko; mid-level, like specific spider types, giant day geckos, Jackson chameleons; and difficult or just not figured out yet, like Mellers chameleons, emerald tree boas, certain frog species,” Leigh said. “We look at factors such as disposition, environmental needs/husbandry and availability and, in the end, what information is out there already. From there, we try and match the animal to the right per – son but also offer species that hopefully, through our own guidance, will be able to make them a more commonly avail – able animal in the future.”
Exotic reptiles should absolutely be the exception, rather than the rule in your store. It’s not fair or reasonable to a would-be first-time reptile owner to be railroaded into a choice between high-maintenance, high-cost animals. Never sacrifice the basic, beginner reptiles in your store in favor of exotics. Your bearded dragons, your leopard geckos, your corn snakes, your ball pythons—these are your bread and butter. Exotic reptiles target the pet-owning demographic who are experienced reptile owners and who are looking for a pet that’s interesting or different. They’re the splash of lingonberry jelly across that bread and butter.
But if that’s a smaller demographic, why stock exotic reptiles at all? Exotic reptiles provide you a chance to be unique, to set yourself apart from all the other pet stores within your regional market. Providing variety, choice and a new experience: these make your store into a destination for reptile owners, rather than simply the place they go to pick up crickets on Monday night.
“Let’s face it, is there any reptile that does not have something awesome and unique about it? We use as many products available to make the environments mimic their natural habitat,” Leigh said. “People will focus on a vivarium and plants first and then consider the frog for it, not the frog first… People will pick out an animal in three minutes but take 20 minutes to find the perfect colored cave and water dish.”
Education is particularly important here. As you expand the depth and breadth of the reptiles carried within your store, the level of expertise required by your staff and the effort necessary to maintain those creatures increases. The onus falls upon you to ensure that your staff is not only capable of caring for any reptiles in your store, but also capable of educating your customers on that very care. This means holding proper staff meetings, maintaining and providing care sheets, and ensuring that your staff members follow through on your instruction.
Given this, you may wish to examine your current staffing before placing any orders for exotic reptiles. Once you know that your staff has been trained up, your store is increasingly able to take on creatures outside the norm.
“[Within our company], we focus a lot of our efforts on teaching husbandry and a better understanding of what UVB is, what it does, how heat is utilized by an animal and the importance of foods,” Leigh said. “When you have a better understanding of the environment, you have a better understanding of animal care.”
Similarly, the physical care requirements for exotic reptiles can vary drastically, which leads to new stock in food, caging, lighting, heating and other care elements. If you’re just starting into reptiles, you may wish to hold off on stocking exotics; instead, focus on your basics and build up your proverbial arsenal of reptile supplies first. And, as always, if you’re stocking an element, show it off. The more unique your caging can look, the more your animals will draw the customers’ eyes.
“As you advance your own animal assortment, you can advance the supplies you carry,” Leigh added. “Start with a simple mister for chameleons and frogs and move into more advanced systems as your assortment increases.”
While stocking exotic reptiles might not yet be suitable for all stores, as you advance in your reptile sales, try to explore new vistas and new creatures that might provide a suitable pet within your market.
“Do your research, and make sure that it’s something you can pass onto your customers,” Foose concluded.
Your education is their education, and your animals will surely become their animals.