Are you reptile ready?


WORDS: John Courteney-Smith MRSB

 Reptile keeping in the UK has a long and ever growing tradition. This has of course allowed a vast swathe of our industry to participate in some way inside of the trade at some time. There are now some outstanding reptile specialist shops operating in the country and many of these with international links. At home breeding is at an all-time high as we continue to grow in both species knowledge and of course access to the right products to be able to see such species truly thrive.

Yes, on the face of it the reptile hobby is ever growing and adapting to the change that is so badly needed. Yes, the recent national swing towards naturalistic systems, based upon the theory of Wild Re-Creation™ and Bio-Activity has caused even further growth as keepers seek to create stunning enclosures and to maintain and breed once hard to keep species. This move towards a more effective and I would say more ‘ethical’ level of care has bought keepers back into store to purchase the many more items that are needed to maintain such enclosures in their droves.

This in of itself is one of the keys to the continued survival of the UK reptile trade, getting our hobbyists back into store and subsequently providing them with the right information and the opportunity to purchase the correct products. The days of homemade systems and ‘DIY’ products could become a distant memory as we seek to give the correct advice with a common goal to spur on the hobby and to see a continuing and everlasting improvement to animal welfare, whatever the species.

As such when I am now asked if an existing or even new pet trader should include a reptile offering instore my answer will always be the same.  “Yes of course! the trade needs all of the help that it can get, but, to do it right will take a level of investment, dedication to standards and the ability to recruit the right members of staff to manage the section well”.

Yes there will always be a need for the small shop that maintains a small stock of livefoods and consumables but for those of us that wish to go beyond the norm and to offer livestock further thought is always needed.

This need not put you off! The reptile ‘trade’ is full of helpful and passionate people! The reptile goods wholesalers have a vested interest in seeing you yourself thrive and go onto bigger and better things. As such be prepared to listen, take notes and to take the good advice that they can give. Professionals from the trade should be a keeper themselves and have access to the knowledge that you will need to prosper and they will be more than willing to share it. Yes, there is more than enough support, both intellectual and in the form of product and POS to go round and if you have an open mind you will benefit greatly.

You should therefore make contact with the professional reptile wholesalers and brands and ask for their guidance before making any commitment to ‘go it alone’. You will find that between them that a plan of action can be formulated and tailored to the needs of your own geographical area and to the budget of your investment. It is vital that you start as you mean to go on, remember, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’ and it could be said that it is this first impression that will set the standard of interest into your business on an ongoing basis.

UK keepers on the whole have a high level of knowledge themselves and will have an expectation of a store and its own ‘ethics’. They will be looking to see a high level of instore care and staff knowledge and dedication and they will be looking to find the products that they need to support their obsession day to day. For this you need to have a good level of variety and you will need to have good stocks of the brands that they place their trust in. If you can offer this there is no reason at all why you will not succeed.

As you can see this is no longer a simple case of buying in a few products, putting them on display and hoping for the best. No, it will take a positive mind-set to ‘do it right’ or not at all. In all of this the greatest and most vital investment to be made is within your staff. If you yourself are not a dedicated keeper, up to date with the latest science and product/species information you will indeed need to find someone who is. The success of your ‘brand’ and yes, every good reptile store has its own ‘brand’ or way of doing things is very dependent on the quality of knowledge, manner and the dependability of the staff that manage it. Giving the wrong information to a knowledgeable keeper is now not easily forgiven but is easily and instantly shared via the internet around the world. This can be a constant frustration or reversely a benefit as a positive experience is just as easily shared.

This is the way of modern business and marketing. Our successes are wholly dependent on the services and the attitudes to the services that we provide. Maintaining a high level of service, having access to the correct advice and ensuring access to the right products will garner trust within the paying customers of your locality and will help to ensure the quick and long lasting success of your ‘brand’.

So what now? well firsts things first look at your store. Decide how much space is available to dedicate to a reptile offering, it need not be vast. Ascertain your set-up budget and make a few calls to the wholesale partners that will be supporting you going forward. Book some meetings with your agents and take the best advice. This is not all about numbers and margins but is also about dedication and conviction. An agent with passion will always put you on the right track. You will also then see very quickly what is available and be able to decide upon the correct course of action for your business in the unhurried and open-minded fashion that leads to long lasting success.


Natural solutions for habitats

Victory's range keeps reptiles happy

Victory's range keeps reptiles happy

 The specialist lighting company Victory Lighting has announced a new range of heat and light lamps for reptile care. Called Made For Reptiles, the range comprises UVB lamps to simulate natural daylight, and ceramic heat lamps for warmth.

The UVB lamps are available with either 5 or 10% UVB content, to suit different species’ habitat requirements, and there is a choice of two lamp formats: T8 tubes as 15, 18, 25, 30 or 36 Watts, and compact fluorescent (CFL) lamps with an ES/E27 screw cap, as 13, 23 or 26 Watts. The CFL versions are highly versatile, as they can be installed in standard light sockets and require no control gear.

The heat lamps emit longwave infrared and are designed as a safe, simple heat source. They produce no visible light and are enclosed in a durable, moisture-proof ceramic casing. They are available as 60, 75, 100, 150 or 250 Watts and, like the CFLs, have a versatile ES/E27 screw cap.

Made For Reptiles lamps are designed to create an environment as close to the animals’ natural environment as possible. Reptiles often originate from climates with higher levels of sunshine, and higher temperatures, than can be simulated by ordinary heating and lighting. It is therefore important for their wellbeing that they receive appropriate amounts of UV light, and heat.



Ethical and effective sales

WORDS: John Courteney-Smith MRSB

I recently spent some time advising UK stores ‘out in the field’ as it were in terms of either including live reptiles into store for the first time or with regard to a re-build or re-brand of an existing or tired in-store system. Firstly, I must state once again just how an exciting period it is in which we trade. Never before has there been such a wealth of accurate and well-designed product available to us. Marry that with a deep passion within keepers that wish to enter the retail sector and the availability of high quality and diverse captive bred animals. As such we have the beginnings of yet another reptile keeping ‘revolution’.


I just love Reptiles, Amphibians and Inverts. I love everything about them and their lives. I am totally fixated with all aspects of their care and propagation, likewise I am obsessed with the recent move towards more natural systems that really do go a long way to providing for the actual needs of a species in a safe and measurable way.  The best news is that I am certainly not the only one!

“Man I wish I had one of those, but I couldn’t build it, I wouldn’t know where to start”.


I smiled, to be fair I know what he means. I couldn’t build a shed or a Kit Car nor could I walk into NASA and advise them on the mechanics of rocket engines. No, a new thing always has a sense of mystery.

The recent worldwide shift towards to Bio-Activity and the doctrine behind ‘Wild Re-creation’ per species is a real godsend for us as traders. Not only does this concept help to greatly increase welfare but it also provides us with more inspirational displays. These displays become our shopfront, the aspirational aspect of the hobby. They become a focal point and a badge of honour within the locality and within the trade. In reality keepers and potential keepers will travel great distances to see a bank of stunning and well thought out displays, word spreads quickly now and you can use this, if you maintain high standards to attract people into store.

Ok, so let’s say that you now have a stunning and well thought out array of vivaria, all of them live planted and with all of the bells and whistles that are needed to sustain an enclosure of this type. Let us assume that people are now visiting you to appreciate the systems that you have created, the one thing that can be guaranteed is that a percentage of them will instantly suffer with the open wallet blocking curse of ‘I can’t do that’.

So, how can we overcome this problem in an effective way that ensures high levels of welfare? The answer is very simple; we have to re-learn the processes to sale.

Firstly, we must always access and ethically encourage a customer. If they say “I just love that system, I really wish I could have one, but there is no way that I could build it”

You can formulate an effective answer with a few basic statements. Firstly, always thank the customer for taking an interest but be realistic. A simple “thanks, I’m glad you like it, it took a lot of time and effort” is a good place to start.

You must then access their ability to care for the system. You should find out if they have kept exotics before and if they would be willing to put the hours in to learning and maintaining the system. Always be honest, you need to weed out those that simply can never or should never have the responsibility of pet ownership. Tell them about the time frame needed to care for the system, the cost of buying and maintaining the system and of course the likely lifespan of the species. If we are always honest our customers will trust us and stay loyal.