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.
Not long ago I was browsing an on-line reptile classified web site and I came across the ad of a well-known reptile wholesaler. The ad was of the “want to buy” nature and he was offering to buy the entire breeding production that you have for sale. After saying that he wants your production he typed in bold characters, “WE ARE ONLY PAYING WHOLESALE PRICES.” Sadly, wholesale pricing in the reptile industry is often considered to be in the 50% off retail range (or more). As I finished reading the ad a few choice words came to mind regarding how I felt about its audacity. The brazen call for you to sell your production to someone else so they can make a profit equal to the person who did all the work (you) always gets me a little annoyed …almost as annoyed as I get at the idea that people regularly agree to the sale.
Do you have a male albino ball python in your collection? How about a male pastel? A male black pastel perhaps? I know you have a male pinstripe, right? How about a male piebald? Got one of those?
Many enthusiastic ball python hobbyists answer “yes” to at least one of those questions. If you’re a ball python breeder the answer to most or all of the above should be a foregone conclusion. For many breeders they are project staples. Considering only the single gene males for a moment, do you need any more of the same in your collection? Probably not. If you are not already doing so I’ll wager that you are focused on getting the existing males in your collection to the next level; albino spiders, black pewters, honey bees, etc. How exactly are you going about that particular process? There is a long road and a short road to getting there. Some of you are adding the next-level males to your collection by breeding your own (the long road) while others opt to buy or trade with someone to add them to the mix (the shorter road).
Sure, sure, many of us are still missing a wide variety of single gene males in our genetic armory. Champagne males, ultramels, lavender albinos, and candy/toffee ball pythons are still pretty darn desirable and highly sought after. To not have them means you know what it is to covet.
What is true for a majority of us is that we are actively producing single-gene carrying animals like spiders, pastels, albinos, black pastels, pinstripes and piebalds. Single gene females in your production output are always a valuable commodity because most breeders are glad to add more females to their breeding groups. Larger breeders may have dozens of females of a particular morph. But how many more single-gene males are they adding to their group? Of the more common morphs I’ll wager the number is close to zero. Since production efforts each season will certainly produce many single-gene males and neither you nor I need any more I have to ask the looming question: To whom are we going to sell them? The answer to that is simple: fewer and fewer breeders, more and more hobbyists & pet owners. Once the so-called ‘box’ is checked on a male for a particular morph (or two, I’m a big advocate of multiple males) the breeder need is satisfied. The desire to add more of a particular single-gene morph to a collection shifts to having multiple females. More males are no longer on the agenda. How much you might want to sell one to me for is not a factor. I don’t need them, regardless of how cheap you want to make them. On the other hand I don’t think I can have enough females. As the number of people who want to add single-gene males to their collection decreases I have to find my customers from an ever-changing pool of people. My clients, like yours, include:
- Breeders new to the hobby. Many single gene males have become very affordable and provide a quick and financially easy way to produce some very cool morphs.
- Long-time reptile enthusiasts who have recently decided to get into the ball python market. There is a steady stream of people who once focused on boas, colubrids or other types of pythons who are making their way over the the ball python arena.
- Other larger scale breeders/wholesalers. I can wholesale my single gene males out in large quantities for small dollars to a breeder with a larger client base than me. With a larger base of clients they can move them more quickly than I can. Granted, I will get quite a bit less money for them but they will all be gone instantly, no maintenance required.
- Pet owners. Some people just like to have beautiful snakes. They aren’t interested in breeding them. Because the single gene morphs have finally become affordable, they are much more attractive to pet owners. The pet owner/casual hobbyist need is an interesting one; many of these morphs cost several thousand dollars a few short years ago. They were fun to look at but owning one as a pet was a luxury afforded to only the more affluent herper. That is no longer the case.
Hang around me long enough and you’ll hear me say it: “Satisfied needs don’t motivate.” I regularly apply this to a host of scenarios in life. Eating at a restaurant, having a headache, propane sales, selling snakes, the list goes on. The food you eat is never worth as much to you after you have consumed it. Do you have a headache right now? If not, do you appreciate it? I doubt it. But when you do have a headache you are all too aware of how good it feels to not have one and you would be very grateful to return to that state. Do you remember when you wanted a male spider ball python really bad? Now that you have one how do you feel about them? If you have all the single-gene males you need in your collection I am are not likely to be able to sell you another one no matter what price I put on it. Imagine for a moment that I am a propane salesman. I show up at your house and offer to sell you propane. “No thanks”, you say, “I have electric heat. I don’t use propane.” I proceed to explain to you that my propane is the cleanest burning you can buy and it’s cheaper than everyone else in town. “Oh!”, you say, “In that case I’ll take a six month supply.” Ha! Yeah, right. You actually tell me to go pack sand. “Look, buddy. I don’t use propane. I don’t want to by any propane. How cheap you make it isn’t going to change my mind.”
Two items of interest arise when trying to sell propane to people who don’t need it:
- No matter how low you price it, they don’t buy it.
- Because you tried to lowering the price to entice non-propane users into buying some you will find that those with a real need for propane now expect it for less.
What do you do if you go to a trade show with a pinstripe ball python to sell and nobody buys it in the first half of the show? Do you lower the price? What if the animal doesn’t sell at all? Do you lower its price at the next show? Industry-wide the answer is often a resounding “yes”. How about on-line? If you list your pinstripe in a classified ad and it doesn’t sell after two weeks do you lower the price? Again, the industry seems to say “yes”. But it’s silly. The reason you didn’t sell your pinstripe probably wasn’t because it was too expensive; it’s because the people who came by your table (or read your ad) didn’t have a need for the animal. Lowering the price does nothing to make them want it more. It’s the same with propane; people who do not use propane do not suddenly become interested just because it is cheap. The only thing it does is set the expectation in the minds of your table visitors that pinstripes are now cheaper than they were last week. When the time comes for them to sell their own pinstripes they think back to the price you had on your table and they offer theirs for the same or less money. And so the cycle begins anew.
I’m not writing to suggest that male pinstripes should still be $2,500. There is an ever-expanding and viable market for animals as their prices drop. Finances keep many of us on the sidelines when it comes to high-end reptile purchases. It is a fairly small subset of the reptile community that will drop several thousand dollars on a single animal and a whole new crop of customers begin to appear when prices come out of the stratosphere. Today, albino ball pythons are in the realm of affordability for the reptile connoisseur who has no particular need to build a breeding colony. In practical application it is the single gene male that is leading the way for the ball python morphs to become a staple of the pet trade.
On more than one occasion in the past I have lamented the downward spiral of ball python prices. Regardless of how much you initially pay for one they will be worth quite a bit less by the time you are producing your own. Opinions regarding the nature of the free market and an individual’s right and/or responsibility to price animals in a certain way are as diverse as the community itself. Prices will fall. Nobody can stop that. I wish they would not fall as fast as they do but I can’t stop that, either. The Internet economy has taught us that there is always someone cheaper out there, another seller who is willing to undercut your price in order to sell the animal. This is the nature of competitive business.
The ultimate point I want to make is that price matters. It is not, however, the sole factor in the value of an animal. Increasingly, price has less and less of an impact on the ability to sell an animal. But this is true in more ways than one. Buyers are always looking for the best animal for the smallest price. This is a universal truth. As a buyer myself I do the same thing. But once the need is satisfied, price no longer matters. Remember that the next time you put a price tag on one of your snakes. Are you taking the lead on the downward spiral? Do you think that lowering the price is really what is going to make the snake sell? It might be. Or maybe not. Maybe all you really need is some extra patience.