Reputation. Reputation. Reputation.

Albino Reticulated Python - Serious Stock!

Albino Reticulated Python - Serious Stock!

A good reputation can take years to build, but can be destroyed in seconds.  Reptile keepers are particularly enthusiastic about their hobby and quick to judge if their expectations are not met, but getting it right brings big rewards.  Good reptile retailers can recruit a loyal customer base that is eager to spread the word, and news travels fast in the reptile world.

Getting the basics right, day in and day out is the key to good reptile retailing.  It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t even require much hard work.  It simply requires vigilance and consistency.  As with all businesses, good performance is about consistently getting the basics right, rather than focussing on the spectaculars or the extremes.

Here’s a checklist of Key Performance Indicators.  How does your herp store score?


  • Only grade A1 healthy animals are on display.

It is inevitable that occasionally an animal will become ill despite our best efforts.  These animals should be off display or, if this is not possible, at least an explanatory sign attached to their enclosure.  Regular checks should be made throughout the day to ensure that this remains the default standard and immediate action is taken when necessary.

  • The vast majority (if not all) livestock is captive bred.

As a rule captive bred reptiles make much better pets than wild caught animals for a multitude of reasons.  Sure, those cheap wild caught geckos can turn a quick buck, but they don’t make great pets and usually discourage those who buy them from purchasing anything else.

  • Wild caught stock is housed separately from captive bred specimens and is not overcrowded.

Wild caught reptiles carry a parasitic load that can de particularly detrimental to captive bred specimens.  These parasitic problems are exasperated by overcrowding and so avoid this at all costs.  (Otherwise it will end up costing you!) If you must stock wild caught reptiles, at least keep them away from the quality captive bred stuff.  And use separate tools for their maintenance too.


  • Faeces and other soiling are removed immediately.

On sight.  Without fail.  Every time.  Zero tolerance.

  • Glass is cleaned of smears and fingerprints.

Dirty glass is unsightly and will always affect the perception of your customers.  Again, it is a zero-tolerance KPI.  A good, cheap and easy way to clean glass is to use a slightly soapy scouring sponge to clean the surface of the glass before buffing with dry crumpled newspaper or kitchen towel.  No chemicals required.

  • Water-bowls are clear of any contaminants including faeces, substrate, live-food and lime scale stains.

Water bowls are the number one cause of infection transmission.  A regular disinfection protocol will help enormously, but only if you keep on top of the daily zero tolerance protocol.  See it – Sort it.

  • Enclosures are maintained in good repair and ensured escape proof with regular checks.

Check the ventilation gauze is fine enough to prevent escapes and that it is securely attached to the enclosure.  Check that the back panel of the enclosure is securely attached.  (These are often made of hardboard and frequently become detached.)  Check any holes where cables enter the enclosure afford no route for escape.  Check that glass runners are securely stuck down.  I would want to do these checks at least weekly.

  • Sliding glass doors are well fitting and of the correct thickness glass for the runner.

Ill fitting glass can easily fall out of the runner, or, if it is too tightly fitted you run the risk of breakage and cuts whilst trying to force it open.  I have seen snakes flatten themselves enough to enable them to slither between the overlapping panes when thin glass is affixed to wide groove runners.

  • Each enclosure is thermostatically controlled.

There’s no excuse not to do this considering the risks and benefits.  Besides, how can we promote thermostats to customers without actively following our own advice?

  • Each enclosure has sufficient hides, climbing opportunities, burrowing opportunities or bathing opportunities for the species it houses.

Make sure you offer the correct vivarium furniture for the species you are housing.  Animals should not need to choose between their heating and their security needs so be sure to supply a selection of hide options along the entire thermal gradient of the enclosure.  Hides will reduce or eliminate stress and so help to keep your stock in tip top condition.

  • Enclosures are correctly labelled with at least common name and scientific name.

As well as being the most fundamental piece of information a customer needs, stating the scientific name also demonstrates a level of knowledge and expertise.  The correct way to write scientific names is to capitalise the genus and use lower case letters thereafter.  Rhacodactylus ciliatus.  Python regius.  Heloderma suspectum. I also like to include feeding dates, the country of natural origin and the sex of the specimen on ID labels where these details are available.  Another tip is to include the contact details for your shop as hobbyists will often transfer feeding records with the animal if it changes hands again, thus acting as free advertising.


  • A minimum stock of essential equipment is available at all times.

If the customer can’t get what they need from you, right there, right then they are likely to spend their money elsewhere.  The abundance of cheap, expansively stocked internet suppliers means that just getting customers to visit your shop is an achievement.  Don’t blow it by not having the products they need; after all, getting the goods right there and then is one of the advantages real-world retailers have over internet stores.  The most important products to stock consistently are the food items that your customers return for week after week; keep them coming back by ensuring you consistently have what they need.  Of course it impossible to stock every herp product on the market but there’s a basic range you should have consistently available.  Your supplier will be able to advise on the most popular products.

  • An extensive collection of books are available to cover the most popular pet species, particularly if you currently stock these animals.

The reptile hobby has seen two recent revolutions.  One was the introduction of electronic thermostats and the other was the availability of species specific care manuals.  Sure, much of the information can be sourced online, but the internet is a virtual mine-field with plenty of duff and dangerous advice out there too.  Your supplier can recommend a range of affordable books written by experts, chock full of the important info your customers need.  If you sell a leopard gecko to a beginner, sell a book.  Sell a beardie, sell a book.  You know it makes sense!

One Step Beyond

Having mastered the art of consistency you may want to take the next step and offer a more specialist service.  It is important to gain expert tutoring under supervision before offering services such as claw clipping or snake probing, but once mastered, offering these services will do much to enhance your reputation as a specialist store.

Boarding services for reptiles whose owners are on holiday can be profitable for those stores with the space, facilities and expertise.  Such expertise can only be gathered through personal experience and it is important that you have sufficient knowledge of the species you will be caring for before taking responsibility for someone else’s pet.

Stocking more unusual animals will also attract more specialist customers, but again, only those confident enough should consider taking this next step as many species require slightly more specialist care.  Researching the husbandry requirements and consultation with a breeder will make for a smooth transition, once you have mastered the standard pet species.

“Of course leopard geckos and corn snakes are the most popular purchases, but the real herp lovers come to see the Blood Pythons and the Panther Chameleons.” says Richard from Predators in Shipley.  “We work hard to attract hardcore herpers as well as investing time in the nurturing the newcomers.  Our reputation depends on it.”

In order to specialise and cater for more advanced herpers you will need to invest time reading, researching and gathering advice from specialists.  Most experts are only too eager to share their knowledge and will enthusiastically nurture people who display a similar passion.  Reptile societies are a good starting point and an excellent place to meet with experts.  In my experience, one of the best defining features of a good reptile specialist is the active promotion of their local reptile society.  Make sure you have contact details and membership application forms for your local society.  It displays a level of enthusiasm and responsibility, and there can never be too much of that on display.

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1470 words

Published PBW News October 2009


~ by Tony's Desk on October 24, 2009.

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