Shipping reptiles is part of the business. Though we are many in number we are often far apart and it is a frequent occurrence that the person who has the snake you want lives somewhere other than across town. And so we ship. And it’s expensive. From FedEx to UPS to Delta Dash there is no inexpensive way to do it. And because it is expensive it is often a point of negotiation in a sale. Everybody wants the best deal possible when buying a reptile, myself included. “Give me the very best animal for the lowest price …shipped”, they say. And so the negotiation begins.
On higher dollar snake purchases it is easier for the seller to absorb the cost of shipping (within the United States). A normal ball python that weighs 500 grams costs just as much to ship as a 500 gram panda pied ball python. It is almost a foregone conclusion that more expensive snakes yield higher profits for the seller. And for this reason many sellers usually agree to pay the shipping when the dollar amount hits a certain point. For example, I pay shipping when a deal totals more than $1,000. For multi-thousand dollar deals it is often not even discussed, it becomes a service included in the sale.
Because I produce 99% of what I sell I am personally invested in the animal being shipped. I have a lot of time, energy and money invested in the production of my animals so I am powerfully motivated to not have something bad happen to them on the night they travel to their new home. For this reason (and because I don’t ship every day) I always take my animals directly to the shipper’s hub in my city. It’s about 20 miles each way (mostly highway miles) and it is usually a special trip made in the early evening. I do this to minimize the amount of time the animals will be exposed to sub-optimal conditions and temperatures.
So how much does shipping really cost? Well, it’s more than just the shipper’s fees (FedEx, UPS, etc.). Depending on how large a breeder you are, where your animals are kept and a variety of other factors you will have different costs associate with shipping. Some people have daily pickup’s scheduled with FedEx while others drive their animals to a local shipping drop-off.
In order to know how much it is really costing to ship that box you have to look at all of the associated costs. And here they are:
- Shipping material costs (insulated boxes, snake bags, deli cups, heat/cold packs, etc.)
- Travel costs to shipper drop-off location (or pickup fees)
- Actual shipper charges to forward the box the the recipient
- Payroll costs (time spent generating paperwork, building boxes, packing animal, etc.)
After factoring in all of the ancillary expenses I find that it costs me around $75 to ship a single 12x9x6 box. (assuming the shipper fee is $45). There are a lot of factors that can make this number go up or down (box size & weight, distance being shipped, other shipments being processed at the same time, whether you process your shipments on-line, etc.). The larger you get the more careful attention to you need to pay to managing these costs and implementing efficiency improvements when possible.
There have been times in the past when I posted a snake on-line for, say, $250 plus shipping. And it happens without fail that I get calls, texts and emails asking me if I will do “$175 shipped”. Knowing that it is going to cost me almost $75 to ship the animal what the person is really asking me is to do is to sell the snake for $100. If a buyer was face-to-face with me at a trade show I doubt he would try to negotiate a $250 animal down to $100 (it wouldn’t go well) so it’s borderline confusing to me that it happens on-line. To those kinds of price offers I usually nicely decline. I’m sure there have been times when I didn’t even respond.
In the end we are the same as when we started: we all want to get the best deal we can. I respect that because it’s what I also want. But as a person who spends an almost equal amount of time as the buyer and the seller of reptiles I am keenly aware of what is (or is not) being absorbed by each side during a transaction. When I spend a few thousand dollars with a fellow breeder, I expect him or her to pay the shipping. But no matter if I’m the buyer or the seller, if the deal is only a few hundred dollars, buyers should expect to pay shipping (even when it’s me). Keep that in mind the next time you make an offer on a snake you see on-line. You are more likely to make an offer that is agreeable to the seller when you take time to appreciate and respect the fact that there are a lot of costs associated with selling reptiles.
P.S. – A few notes:
- FedEx charges a $15 pickup fee unless you have pickup service with your FedEx account. If you ship regularly you can schedule a weekly pickup for less than $15/week. I personally don’t like the idea of pickup service because my animals have to spend the remainder of the day riding in the driver’s truck before ever getting back to the dispatch office. I know they will probably be fine but I don’t like the idea of it.
- Recycling old shipping boxes, deli cups and bags is a great way to save money.
- You can change your policy to state that you only ship one day per week in order to minimize the costs associated with driving to the shipper’s drop-off location.