Selling Reptiles and Amphibians-A Guide for Pet Stores Part 2

Helping Pet Lovers Since 1999 Forums Pet Shop Selling Reptiles and Amphibians-A Guide for Pet Stores Part 2

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    The next thing you’ll need to address is caging. The primary rule to this, is never house different species together. They almost always have different care requirements, and can transmit diseases to one another even if they don’t show symptoms. If you are lacking in space, stock fewer species. Be sure you know the basic environmental requirements of the species you choose to stock–for example, are they from the desert, or from a humid tropical region? Improper humidity levels can cause respiratory infections and other problems in herps–easily avoided by spraying a humid tank with water a few times a day, and ensuring that desert tanks stay dry save for a small dish of water. Snakes should be provided with a bowl of water deep enough to soak in, and many lizards benefit from a humid hiding area, even if they are desert animals. This allows them to properly shed their skin without retaining bits of it on toes and tail tips, which can cause loss of digits and disfiguration. Placing a hygrometer in each cage will allow you to keep track of the humidity for whichever species you choose to put in it.

    Temperatures are also extremely important to herptiles. They should never be left without a proper source of heat–it is essential to their health and resistance to infection and disease, and for their ability to digest food properly. Place a heat source over or under one side of each cage, and use a thermometer in the cage to determine if the basking area temperatures are correct for that species. Some species require lower temperatures, and some require very high temperatures–incorrect temperatures can cause illness if the animals are too cold, and death by heat prostration or even burns in reptiles that become too hot. Setting up intitially with heating equipment and rheostats for each cage is a small initial investment that will allow you to forevermore adjust the temps to whatever species you put into that enclosure. Some species require UVB light for proper vitamin D metabolism. Any animal that you tend to keep in your store for more than a couple of weeks which has this requirement should be provided with it. Others may be all right for the few weeks before they are sold, particularly if you occasionally dust their feeder insects with a calcium/D3 supplement. Your green iguanas WILL need a UVB flourescent or one of the new mercury vapor UVB producing basking lights, particularly hatchlings which grow quickly. Remember that fluorescent lights further than 6 inches from the basking area provide no UVB benefits, and no glass or plastic may be between them and the animal–mercury vapor lights can be further away. So long as your shop temperatures do not fall below about 75 degrees at night, you can place all of these lights and heaters on a timer to switch off overnight. If temperatures do drop lower than this, some species will require overnight heating. Note that Jackson’s chameleons cannot long tolerate temperatures ABOVE 75 degrees Farenheit.

    Cleanliness is the third part in maintaining good health in these animals. Do not just clean, but STERILIZE each cage after its occupants are sold, before you place any new animals in the cage. A bleach solution can be used to soak the tank and the cage furniture very inexpensively–rinse very thoroughly with hot water, and dry completely to get rid of bleach residue. Do not order a new batch of animals before all of the previous occupants are sold, and clean and sterilize when your last animal is sold, rather than waiting until your new animals arrive. This way you don’t have to worry about having a tank ready for them. Replace any litter or bedding, or thoroughly wash cage carpets. Keep cages scrupulously clean while they are occupied–dishes should be scrubbed and refilled every day, or whenever they become contaminated with fecal matter or dead feeder insects. If you use cage carpets, plan to run a batch through the wash each evening. If you use litter, use a scoop to remove feces from cages, and change the litter at least once a week. How thoroughly you need to clean will also depend on how many animals are in the cage–of course, clean more often and diligently if the cage has a lot of animals in it. Not only will this keep your animals healthy, but the bit of extra elbow grease will really impress your customers, who pay closer attention to this than you might think.

    To avoid stress and injury to the animals, do not excessively overcrowd them. It’s better to have 3 or 4 animals available at a time, rather than 10 of them all crowded in one tank. Keep the temperaments of the species in mind as well when you place your orders. Chameleons should never be housed together, as they are extremely aggressive animals. Males of many species will fight if housed together. In short term situations some may tolerate this, but try to avoid it to prevent your animals from injuring one another. And of course, never house much larger animals with smaller ones. Some species of animals are more aggressive than others, and the risk of fights (which can lead to wounds, loss of toes and tails, or even death) increase when these species are housed in groups. Day geckos are one example of this. Provide hides for your animals…the downside is that your patrons will have more trouble viewing them, but the stress of not having one is not worth the extra visibility. You can select shelters that people can peek into more easily, as a compromise. Again, keep different species separate at all times, and always keep captive bred animals separate from wild caught animals–do not transfer any materials between enclosures, including cage furniture, or bedding scoops, without sterilizing them first. Don’t offer food items rejected in one cage to another. At the end of the day, before you close up, ensure that all uneaten food has been removed from the cages. In particular, track down any live feeder insects that may have escaped in the cages of diurnal herps, as these crickets can chew on and injure herps while they are sleeping at night. Herps will not defend themselves from attacking insects. All of this requires nothing more than a bit of cheap bleach and small bit of time and effort on the part of your employees or yourself. The rewards will be apparent within months.

    Now you have done the best you can to offer healthy animals for sale….people will need the proper equipment and information to keep them that way.

    Some essentials to stock:

    Care books for every species you carry.

    Tanks in various sizes and shapes and/or reptile cages such as Exo-Terra, ZooMed, Zilla, Vision, or Neodesha. Be sure that you carry cages for adults of any species you stock–stock high aquariums if you have aboreal species, and long aquariums if you have terrestrial species. Stock very large cages if you stock species that will require them as adults.

    UVB flourescent lights in a variety of sizes.

    Overhead heat lamps, and bulbs for them. You may also offer ceramic heat emitters.

    Undertank heaters

    Rheostats and thermostats

    Thermometers and hygrometers that stick inside the cages.

    Calcium, D3, and vitamin supplements

    Cricket and mealworm gutloading formulas, including moisture sources like “cricket water” gel cubes.

    Bedding, and cage carpets in a variety of sizes

    Screen tops for aquariums

    Reptile cages such as those made by Exo Terra, ZooMed, Zilla, etc.

    If you carry chameleons, stock mesh cages.

    If you carry turtles, turtle tubs (such as Waterland tubs) are a good idea.

    Humidifiers or misters for tropical cages. Drip systems for water are also useful.

    Feeding bowls, basking branches, and decorations which are easy to clean and sterilize.

    Cricket keepers which make it easy to gut load and feed crickets to reptiles.

    Feeder insects in appropriate sizes. 1/4 inch crickets if you carry small herps, and larger ones for the adult insectivores.

    Mealworms. People would rather spend slightly more for healthy and vigorous worms than less for half-dead ones, so keep that in mind when you do your ordering.

    Feeder mice. If you carry hatchling snakes, or stock a lot of snakes, a small freezer in your shop to keep frozen rodents is a great idea. You will be amazed at how many of these you sell, in all sizes. Many people will use frozen mice to supplement everything from leopard geckos and bearded dragons up to large monitor lizards, as well as feeding them to their snakes. Your live feeder mice and rats will probably still sell just as well. If you buy frozen rodents individually vaccuum packed, your customers can purchase the exact quantities they need, and they’ll appreciate this. If you get enough requests, you may even wish to stock frozen rats.

    Some items not to bother with:

    Hot rocks. Cheaper than an undertank heater, and just plain bad for the animal, reptile groups have been attempting to get stores and manufacturers to stop selling these things for years. Simply don’t offer them, and explain to customers why, if they ask. Risks for burning the animals are extremely high, and many have been injured or killed by them. They have even started fires and burnt down houses. They do not heat the air in the enclosure, forcing the animal to sit ON the rock to receive heat. Encourage use of overhead or undertank heaters instead–you will make more money on them, anyhow.

    Sprays or creams that claim to help animals shed or provide vitamins when you spray them or spread them ON the animal. These are smelly, messy, and not particularly good for the animals.

    Complete diets for insectivorous animals (with notable exceptions!). For example, there is a type of “leopard gecko food” which is nothing more than dried flies impregnanted with some vitamins. The vast, vast majority of geckos will not touch this with a 10 foot pole, and you’ll make more money selling live crickets anyhow. Whole freeze dried crickets or canned crickets occasionally will be accepted, perhaps with that new vibrating food dish to make them look alive. If you’re in doubt, offer it to your own animals in the store. If they turn up their nose, don’t bother to stock it. The same thing will happen to people at home–they may buy it once, but they won’t buy it again, and it will sit on your shelves taking up space. Omnivores and herbivores are a bit more tolerant of unusual non-moving foods, so a few bearded dragon, iguana, or monitor/tegu foods will most likely do all right. New meal replacement powders are available for fruit and nectar-eating insectivores (such as crested geckos, day geckos and some other geckos, and green anoles)–these diets are acceptable choices. Some are intended to be used alone (crested gecko diets), and some are meant to be used along with insects (day gecko nectar powders).

    Some suggestions for setups and displays:

    Place delicate or shy animals higher, and in more out of the way places in your store to help avoid stressing them from the continual commotion and attentions of children. Place smaller animals at eye level in preference to larger ones–people can look up or down and see a larger animal easily, but smaller animals will be more likely to catch their attention at eye level. Group enclosures that have animals with similar requirements–all the desert animals in one area, tropical next to that, and so on. Post the basic care requirements and adult sizes of animals on or by the cages, as well as the prices. Good basic information would be temperature range and basking spot temp, humidity level, and snout to vent or total length of the animal when it is a fully grown adult. A small note on what it eats would also be helpful (ie, insects, vegetables, mice, etc). Be sure to inform customers that wild caught animals will require a vet trip and deparasitization right away, and that most herps should be given a checkup at a vet once a year, like any other pet. It’s better to discourage a person from buying an animal they aren’t financially prepared for than to allow them to purchase it and have it die in their home of neglect. A person who truly wants a good reptile pet can often be directed to a species more appropriate to their level of experience and pocketbook. They may be paying you a bit more in order to pay a vet a lot less. They’ll always be more likely to return if they have a good experience with their animal.

    Complete cage setups:

    Some stores choose to offer complete reptile setups for new pet owners, to make it easier for them to see what a total purchase will cost them, and ensure they have all of their equipment. However, many of these stores sell setups that aren’t REALLY complete. Here are a couple of designs for TRULY complete setups:

    Leopard Gecko:

    20 gallon long aquarium with screen top.
    Overhead heat lamp with day and nocturnal heat bulbs.
    Rheostat or Thermostat
    Cage carpet for 20 gallon long.
    2 Hiding caves.
    2 shallow dishes, one for food, one for water.
    Powdered calcium/D3 supplement
    Powdered multi-vitamin supplement
    Long, low branch for climbing.
    Plastic desert type plant.
    Stick on thermometer and hygrometer set.
    Book on leopard gecko care.

    Green or brown anole, or house gecko, green or gray treefrog:

    10 gallon aquarium with screen top, or 12X12 or 12X18 tall reptile cage.
    Undertank heater
    If you stock it, a base for the aquarium designed to provide air space and a cord exit for undertank heaters.
    Rheostat or Thermostat
    Flourescent light fixture with UVB reptile bulb.
    Humidifying reptile bedding, shredded bark, etc.
    2 shallow dishes.
    Climbing branches with smaller thinner branchlets (must reach up near flourescent light, preferably within 3 to 4 inches of it).
    Plastic plants for decoration and cover.
    Powdered calcium supplement.
    Powdered vitamin supplement.
    Stick on thermometer/hygrometer set.
    Automatic drip system or mister.
    Book on green anole care (or house gecko, or green tree frog care).

    The above setup is also appropriate for tiger salamanders or fire-bellied toads (remove climbing branches, and add a hiding cave of appropriate size).
    Switch to a 20 gallon high aquarium (or Exo-Terra or ZooMed cage of similar size) for a setup for multiple anoles, tree frogs, or house geckos, or gold dust day geckos. Switch to a 30 gallon high (or extra large Exo-Terra, ZooMed, or similar cage), and slightly thicker climbing branches, for a grandis day gecko.

    Bearded Dragon:

    30 gallon regular or tall aquarium with screen top (yes, even for a hatchling–they grow very fast).
    Flourescent fixture with UVB reptile bulb.
    Overhead heat lamp with daylight bulb.
    Rheostat or Thermostat
    Sturdy, thick climbing branch that goes up near the top of the cage (large enough to support an adult bearded dragon).
    Cage carpet for 30 gallon tall.
    Hide cave large enough for an adult bearded dragon.
    1 shallow dish for food.
    1 larger, slightly deeper dish for water (large enough for an adult to soak in).
    Plastic plants for decoration.
    Powdered calcium/D3 supplement
    Powdered vitamin supplement
    Stick on hygrometer, and 2 stick on thermometers.
    Book on bearded dragon care.

    Caution customers who buy hatchling bearded dragons with this setup that the water dish should not be completely filled, to prevent the hatchling from possibly drowning. He will grow into his dish within months.

    Basic Snake:
    (good for corn snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes).

    20 gallon long with a locking screen top.
    20 gallon long cage carpet OR reptile bedding which can retain moisture.
    Large hiding cave (big enough for an adult to coil up in).
    Large deep water dish (big enough for an adult to soak in).
    Undertank heater
    Rheostat or Thermostat.
    Humidity and temperature gauges.
    Book on corn/king/milk snake care.
    If you include an overhead heat lamp, a low, sturdy climbing branch may also be added.

    The above setup can also be sold for ball pythons by switching the 20 gallon long for a 30 gallon long tank. If this is sold with a hatchling snake, be sure to caution customers to avoid filling the water dish completely, to avoid drowning. You might also wish to provide a small hiding cave, as well as the large one (necessary for ball pythons), and that some hatchling snakes require a lot of cover to feel secure in a big cage.

    The only animals which will TRULY require the customer to buy more than one setup are green iguanas and green water dragons, and boa constrictors. The boas can be sold with a 30 gallon long setup as above. The other two animals start out as small hatchlings which can be housed in a 50 gallon aquarium until they reach a larger size. At this point, they must be moved to a very large sturdy reptile cage, such as a large iguanarium. A setup like that used for the bearded dragon will work, but the tank size should be increased to 50 gallons, a damp reptile bedding should be provided rather than a cage carpet, and the water dish can actually be replaced with a small cat litter pan. The large reptile enclosures seldom are designed to contain small hatchlings, unfortunately, making this transitional cage necessary. Let customers know that the setup IS transitional, and that a larger cage will be required. The 50 gallon setup should last about 1 or 2 years for these species, but no longer than that.

    Boa constrictors will require either a custom built cage, or a very large commercial cage (such as Neodesha or Vision) of a good 4 feet in length. These snakes can reach 7 to 12 feet long. If you choose to stock these very large reptile cages, be sure they are locking, and offer them to people who come in to buy juvenile boas. These types of cages will contain small boas as well as adults, so if the customer chooses to purchase a setup like this, they will not need a transitional cage. Furnishings for the cage should be just as with the basic snake setup, but scaled up in terms of heating fixtures and bedding quantities. These cages will also work well for rainbow boas.

    Selling complete setups ensures that customers have everything they need for their new pet, and it’s CONVENIENT. The price need not be anything lower than the combined retail value of all the components–the convenience alone will sell the setups. Knowledgeable buyers will appreciate that the setups are truly complete, and beginners will appreciate what you’ve done even more as they learn more down the road. Obviously stocking all of these setups would be space prohibitive, but you can offer one or two of the ones which go with the animals you tend to sell the most of, or you can offer the setups and assemble them at the customer’s request. As well, you will also be selling more items with a complete setup than you would with a partial one…some customers may be reluctant to purchase additional items that would be needed to round out a partial setup, but offered in one package, they’ll be buying everything they need.

    Now, there always comes a time where a customer will argue with you about what a reptile requires. The best policy in these instances is to simply say “There have been a lot of new advances in reptile care recently, and a lot of the care guides and books have been updated and changed. We know a lot more now about how to care for reptiles, and keep them healthy.” Then, direct them to a book or other resource on the care of the species they’re arguing over. (Of course, if they can prove themselves right in the very references you direct them to, it’s best to be gracious and thank them, and act accordingly). I recommend not selling an animal to an individual who remains insistent that they are going to provide incorrect care for an animal. Quite apart from the ethical considerations, the person is likely to try to blame you when their pet dies (after all, it could not have been their incorrect care that did it–it must be that you sold them a sick animal, they will assume).

    © Eclipse Exotics, 2003.

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