Selling Responsibly

Selling herptiles comes with a burden of responsibility that retailers need to embrace.


Every year, thousands of people find themselves lucky enough to be introduced to the amazing world of reptiles and amphibians. As people’s interest in herps and other exotics continues to grow, so does the need for professional, responsible retailers and sales practices.

I have heard people say that it can take 20 years to establish a good reputation in the animal business and just five minutes to lose it. Retailers should always keep this mind when selling live animals. While it may be just another business transaction to the retailer, to the person or family taking home a new reptile it is often a household event. Taking extra care and time to ensure that customers are satisfied will result in good word of mouth for your business, as well as a higher likelihood of a return customer.

Know Your Clientele

Reptile customers tend to fall into two general categories: those who are new to herps and are shopping for their first cold-blooded pet, and those with moderate to advanced levels of experience. Typically, beginners will require more guidance as far as basic husbandry is concerned, however, hobbyists with years of experience will have questions as well.

Understanding your customers and their needs will help you determine what animal would be suitable for them. Asking basic questions about what a consumer hopes to get from the experience of herp ownership will allow you to better serve them.

There are many herps that are widely accepted as good “beginner” pets, and these animals can be effectively marketed toward first-time buyers. Other species have space or feeding requirements that put them in a different category and are best left for more experienced keepers. Retailers may consider offering these “advanced” species to advanced hobbyists via special order.

Whether you maintain an elaborate reptile department or dedicate only a corner of your store to herps, it is vital that you are familiar with the creatures you are selling. It is paramount that retailers represent their animals honestly to consumers. You, as the seller, should be familiar with the care requirements and physical characteristics of the animals. You should be familiar with the natural history of the species, its captive care requirements, and adult size and consequent housing needs. Telling a potential buyer that an animal grows to be smaller than it actually does or misrepresenting the space, time or cost associated with ownership is irresponsible and unethical. It hurts not only your business, but also the entire industry.

You should provide customers with all pertinent information regarding the type of reptile or amphibian they are purchasing. Books and detailed care-sheets are a great way to accomplish this, and their inclusion in every purchase will prove to only help you in the end.
It would be remiss to not mention the proposed legislation regarding pet reptiles and how these laws could potentially impact the industry. While there are national organizations working to protect the industry and the rights of reptile keepers, these proposed bans and changes in policy must be taken seriously.

The only way to prevent further negative impact is to ensure not only the highest level of responsible sales practices, but to encourage similar practices among customers. Retailers should stress the importance of never releasing a non-native or captive-bred reptile or amphibian into the wild. The consequences go far beyond the negative impact on the local ecosystem. These actions have directly resulted in further scrutiny of our hobby and such activities are in fact punishable by law.

Jonathan Rheins is an avid herpeteculturist whose interest in all things reptilian began at an early age. He is a manager at LLLReptile & Supply Co. in Escondido, Calif.

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