Poop on the Shelves

Poop on the Shelves

Written by : Posted on July 7, 2010 : 8 Comments

Ball python enthusiasts often ask others for advice while trying to determine which ball python investment is the best.  Unfortunately, questions such as these don’t come with straight answers.  The best response is different for each of us and it is only after a bit of self-assessment that any of us can really hope for useful conclusions.  In the end the only person from whom you can get a complete answer is yourself.  Despite the very best advice from others you ultimately have to figure it out on your own.  It’s your motivations that lead toward the best answer.  Is it money that moves you?  Recognition, perhaps?  Or is it the challenge?  A sense of accomplishment, maybe?  A little bit of each?  Knowing the answer will take you closer to making the best decision about which morph is the best investment.  Experienced ball python breeders can offer knowledge on specific morphs but they can’t interpret your intentions.

An easy angle on choosing an investment is price.  How much can you afford to spend?  Perhaps a better question is how much can you afford to spend on a single animal?  And an even better question is how much can you afford to spend on a single animal and lose it all?  Investing in high-end ball pythons is highly speculative.  Prices fall, animals die and economies fluctuate.  If you spend $20,000 on a single ball python there is no guarantee that you will ever make your  money back.  There is a lot of opportunity but no guarantees; this is the live animal business and prices are often set with whimsy.  Understand your own financial tolerances before you even begin to think about morphs.  Once you come to terms with where you fall on the risk-versus-reward scale you’re ready to start looking at specific projects.

Whether this is supposed to be a business or a self-sustaining hobby the ingredients of a successful breeding project are two parts personal preference, one part economic reality, and a healthy dose of marketing.  If you are 100% dedicated to money you have to breed animals, regardless of what they are, that will provide the best return on investment.  This makes it highly probable that you are going to produce some animals that bring you little joy.  And if  profit truly is your only motive I suggest entirely different lines of work.  When money is the sole objective breeding reptiles is not the right enterprise in which to be.  This planet offers plenty of ways to make great money with products that don’t poop on the shelves.  Ball pythons are depreciating assets that eat.  What other business can you be in where the value of your investments spirals rapidly downward, the costs of production continue to increase, and every ‘unit’ you sell produces a future competitor?

I suspect that all reptile breeders, even the most financially motivated of them, started doing this out of love for the critters.  I recommend finding the animal(s) that you like working with that also have a market capable of providing a return.  Easy to write, difficult to do, I know.  Animals you love that don’t have much commercial value are good to keep around in small quantities (to satisfy the soul) but most of us need to focus on animals that ride the line between joy and profit.  It’s okay to lean more to one side or the other but this business doesn’t really support going all in on one while ignoring the other.  Dedicate too much to the joy of husbandry and you’ll find yourself living in a money pit that grows continuously deeper.   Focus too much on profit and you’ll be mentioned in the same breath as other less than stellar names in the business.  Neither is desirable.

Unlike many other business ventures the world has to offer, reptile breeding requires that you derive some joy from the product making process.  I’m not talking about the so-called flippers, importers and large-scale wholesalers here; I’m talking about actual breeders.  Being a breeder and being in the reptile business are not always the same thing.  There are many shades of grey.  There is a big difference between a person who breeds reptiles to sell and the person who sells reptiles so he can buy and sell even more.  Both are in the same business but in very different ways.  In many ways breeders are idealists while flippers, wholesalers and importers are more pragmatic business people.  I know a few people who do well at both.  Breeders tend work with animals they like.  Businesspeople work with animals that make money.  The best of us attain an equilibrium between both needs.  And in this aspect of the business I continue to search for balance.  I am a steadfast idealist emulating a profit-oriented businessman.

Anybody who regularly reads what I write knows that I frequently reflect on the financial aspect of being a reptile breeder.  I think about it often which is interesting because I don’t live a life with money as the central point of motivation.  I like and want money, of course.  Almost all of us can say that.  But despite my frequent contemplations I’m not obsessed with making it.  And for lack of better words, that is a problem.  When observing other people and how they make money I have come to believe that those who are usually the most financially successful are the one’s who have a certain …ethical flexibility.  They put profit above all.  Those are dangerous words as I do not intend to imply that successful business people do things that are illegal, immoral or even unethical; they are just more likely to do things that are single-sided and exclusively profit-oriented.  Financially aggressive people see angles and take opportunities that I don’t.  From time-to-time my lack of this particular type of vision frustrates me.  And here’s the rub: even if I did see the opportunities I can’t say that I would always leverage them.  I am too well equipped to see and respect the others person’s needs.  And from a single-minded, make-all-the-money-you-can, business perspective this is a potentially fatal flaw.  In the eyes of some this dooms me to a life of comfortable modesty.  Impressive wealth is not likely in the cards.  I don’t tend to participate in “I win / you lose” business arrangements.  To steal words from author Stephen Covey I’m very much a “win/win-or-no-deal” type of businessman (and I am certainly not afraid of ‘no deal’).  This type of business means I actively trade some of the money I could be making for other, less tangible, things.  Fans and deriders of this business mentality are probably equal in their distribution.  But don’t take me wrong; it is not bad to be more aggressive [than me] when making money.  I applaud and occasionally envy the people who are better at it than I am.

Despite not taking excessive advantage during business transactions I am strongly driven to make a profit from what I do.  This only makes sense.  I am not an altruist.  Other people do not pay my mortgage.  Moonbeams and warm fuzzy feelings are not currency.  I do not give the product of my efforts without appropriate compensation; we must all work for what we have.

Allow me to offer you a scenario for consideration.  It’s comes from a business deal, but not a reptile one.  Imagine you are a professional speaker.  People come to you from all walks of life to hear what you have to say.  You charge $2,000 per person for a 5-day seminar.  There are 12 people enrolled in your next offering.  Most of your seats were sold at full retail and there were a few businesses who bought multiple seats so you extended them a modest discount.  The night before the seminar begins a colleague comes to you and says, “I have a friend who wants to take your seminar but he only has $550.  Will you let him attend for that amount?”

What would you do?  Would you let him attend at a 73% discount?  Most people can answer immediately.  It requires little thought or contemplation.  And your answer, I believe, tells to which side of the ball python business you lean.  If your answer is “yes” your primary focus is profit.  If you say “no” your focus is more idealistic.

Taking the money makes sense from the following perspective:  The seat is empty.  It is not going to sell at the retail price.  The course is going to run regardless of the someone sitting in that  13th seat and it won’t cost you anything extra to let them attend.  His attendance is $550 of pure profit for no additional effort on your behalf.

Taking the money does not make sense from this alternate perspective:  You have assigned a value to the product you provide.  Twelve other customers have paid full (or close to full) price to be there.  This lends credibility to the value of your product at the price being charged.  It is also disrespectful to those twelve if you take the $550.  Why was their seat not $550?  Are they somehow different?

That is not a make-believe scenario for me.  It has happened more than once in my ‘real job’.  As you might suspect my answer has always been “no”.  I have never even hesitated.  I didn’t even hesitate in the early days of my business when things were financially tight.  To my occasional financial detriment I have always had a principled approach to making money and that approach sometimes takes away from maximizing profits.  I had (and still have) an obligation to my customers and to myself that prevents me from taking every dollar possible.  It would have been catastrophic to my business if I had taken that money and my other customers found out.  It would also have been an admission that my product was not worth the retail price I was charging.  The friend who first approached me with the proposition stared at me in disbelief when I told him no.  To this day he thinks I’m crazy.  Who in their right mind would turn down an additional $550 when they didn’t have to do anything more to make it?  Well, …me.  Profit takes a back seat to ethics.  People who let profit ride shotgun are laughing at me right now… and  I’m cool with that.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

8 comments

  1. J-Nic on said:

    I wouldn’t have take the 550 either but not cause it’s ethic etc….
    It’s cause in the long run, the 550 would have cost you way more.
    If you do another conference, who will want to pay 2000$ ? Won’t they try and wait at the last minute to get in for a 75% discount ? Will you really be able to get them to join after that ?
    Meaning 12 x 1450 = 17,400$ loss.

    Doesn’t make sens in the long run.

    I think it more depends if you think of the short / medium / long time to make profit.

  2. J-nice,
    Kinda’ like dropping your prices at the end of a trade show. People wait until the end of the show and try low-ball pricing. Guess I can’t blame them because it works all too often.

    Colin

  3. nick on said:

    I’m making the assumption if you are a paid public speaker, then you have some sort of products; i.e. books, underlying business opportunities etc. What if that person goes on to be a huge success because of something he gained in your seminar. Well, surely he will be the biggest advocate of your products, and when word of mouth is so important, he or she could be an impetus to future and greater successes. Many of these types of seminars are paid for by corporations and they are mandatory for a few of the executives to meet their required yearly hours of continuing education.
    If the above is correct, then the majority of the people in the seminar are less likely to get something out of it then a small business man paying the $550 out of his pocket. All that being said, I do agree that consistently offering deep-discount could be detrimental in the long-run.

    With the scenario of lowering your prices at a show, this is very different, because you have spent X amount of dollars to produce that product. While marking things down 5-10% may be a good marketing strategy, any thing more than that would in fact be very short sided and hurt you in the long-run.

    I consider myself a very ethical person, and I do believe in win-win, but there are many variables to consider when making these types of decisions.

    As always, thanks for the articles and the general insight into the breeding business.

  4. Nick, thanks for commenting.

    For me to get caught up in the “what if” scenarios of every customer going on to be a huge word of mouth advocate is a gateway to being able to rationalize anything and everything solely on what might be. That’s too slippery a slope for me. If I lamented the missed “what if’s” I would soon find myself stressing over every lottery ticket I didn’t buy and perhaps worse still, buying every lottery ticket without thinking of the consequences.

    Colin

  5. Joanna on said:

    First of all, thanks for writing! I’m reading through your page with great interest.
    Now for the idealist/profit maker division. I think that you missed one category – super altruist. In the situation you presented I would let that person come in, as it is a friend of a friend. Money would not be involved in my decision making process. I guess that with this test I shouldn’t even think of opening my own business… ;)

  6. Hey Collin! I am a new breeder I have 2 Gravid females on my first season! (A normal and a pastel)(both bred to bee’s) and I just want any advice I can get! Do you think my odds are good even though I’m only 17 and I only make 2-300$ every 2 weeks? I have owned and loved ball pythons my whole life and just wanna get into breeding! Thanks in advance! ~Josiah r~

  7. Hi Josiah, Congratulations on your clutches. Incubate them well and you’ll be just fine. I can’t say much about your odds. While statistically consistent over time they are seemingly random when looking at a single clutch. Let me know if you have specific questions; I’ll be happy to answer them. – Colin

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