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.
First, a disclaimer: I am in the early stages of starting a web site called ReptiTrack. www.reptitrack.com is not a competitior to kingsnake.com or faunaclassifieds.com or any other site that people use to sell their reptiles on-line. ReptiTrack is a complimentary site to those on-line sales locations. It will serve one and only one purpose: to be a centalized repository of price tracking for reptiles so you know a realistic price to put on your animals when you go to list them on the site of your choosing. The cycle of going to kingsnake.com to see what your animals are worth has to stop. It is destroying our industry. And no, that is not an overstatement. It is true. A multi-billion dollar industry is at the whim of the most recent stupid price advertised by some out-of-work house painter who breeds ball pythons on the side and just crashed his car while driving home drunk. The biggest names in our industry go to kingsnake to figure out what animals are worth. I won’t name names but you know who you are. I cannot imagine anything more silly. In the ball python world, the tail is truly wagging the dog.
Let me offer you a hypothetical scenario (or is it?) that illustrates why you should never again trust a price you see on kingsnake.com (or any other site of a similar ilk). For this illustration I am going to make up a ball python morph called the Phantasm Ball. Phantasms are co-dominant and currently sell for $2,500.
Larry, a small-time ball python breeder desperately wants a Phantasm Ball but can’t afford one. Unwilling to save his money Larry hatches a plan. And here’s how it goes:
Larry doesn’t own any Phantasm Balls but Larry posts an ad on kingsnake.com offering 1.1 Phantasms for $2,000 each or $3,500 for the pair. Individually that’s $500 less than the going rate and as a pair is $1,500 off the current market value. Naturally, Larry is going to get calls to buy the animals. “Sorry,” Larry says. “They already sold”. But he says he should be getting some more in the next week or two and he takes names and numbers to call people back. The animals never actually existed, of course, and the one’s he is going to get next week don’t really exist either.
A real owner of Phantasms logs in to kingsnake.com and sees Larry’s ads selling Phantasms for $2,000. “Crap!”, he says, “The price is already down $500 from last year.” Wanting to be competitive with Larry (the liar), the real Phantasm owner offers his on kingsnake.com for $1,800 each, $3, 000 for a pair. He sell them, happy for the $3K but disappointed because he thought he was going to get more for them.
Three weeks later Larry the Liar posts two more Phantasms on kingsnake.com for $1,500 each. In his ad he explains how much it pains him to sell the animals for so little but he was recently injured and needs money to pay medical bills. When the calls pour in he once again explains that they have already been sold. He again says that a fellow breeder is expecting some more Phantasms to hatch in the coming weeks and will post them up as soon as they are ready. In a few weeks, the cycle repeats again.
You can see where this is going. Larry, a guy who doesn’t even own Phantasms is able to drive the price down by more than 50%-80% in a matter of months. Now, with the prices at a level he can afford, he buys himself a pair of Phantasms. He is laughing his ass off at the rest of us as he does it.
Is this story true? I don’t know. It’s possible. The fact that it took me about zero seconds to think it up means that someone less ethical than me thought it up long ago. Never mind economics, supply and demand, the economy, falling home prices, unemployment, blah-blah-blah. Pinstripe ball pythons were more than $2,000 in the latter part of 2006. Now, at the beginning of 2009, barely 24 months later, people balk at paying $300 for one. That is false. Ball pythons lay an average of 6 eggs. Few to none of us have super-pinstripes (yes, I know there is no super-phenotype) so 3 of those 6 are pinstripes (maybe). I’m a small/medium sized breeder. I produced about 70 clutches of eggs last year. That’s about 420 babies. How many were Pinstripes? Less than 20. I kept 12 of them for myself, I sold 8. Multiply me by 200 similar-sized breeders and there are 1,600 Pinstripes for sale in 2008. Think there are more than 1,600 ball python freaks in the USA who want a Pinstripe? Uh yeah, there’s more than that in my little crevice of Virginia. If the market isn’t saturated how did the price fall by almost 90% in 2 years? I’ll tell you how: kingsnake.com and all of us going to it for pricing. Whether it’s people lying about animals they don’t have or every person posting just a little bit less than the person who posted before them doesn’t really matter. If we continue to use kingsnake.com as our source for pricing the market will not have longevity. We are ruining our own business and most of us are conscious of it.
I used to email people who put up really low prices asking them why there were doing it. Most of them didn’t offer valid reasons other than, “I really need money”. One guy told me he bred his own food and wasn’t able to produce enough to feed his ball python production so he wanted to sell them as quickly as possible so he didn’t have to feed him. He admitted he knew he was selling them for a really low price compared to what they were worth but you know what? I never again saw them for more than his admittedly low price. His two weeks of low posting brought the price down nationwide by over $150/animal.
Kingsnake.com allows a breeder with a single pair of animals, say one bumble bee male and one normal female to control the price of bumble bees for every producer in the country. I’ve heard breeders say, “let them sell theirs for those low prices. After they do, they’ll be gone and prices will return to normal.” But they don’t. Prices go back up once they go down. NEVER!
I have more to say on this topic. A lot more. But I’ll save it for another day because if I don’t, this will turn into a book and no one will read it. I also don’t want to rant. I want to come across as a lucid, sane person.
In the meantime, please, please, please stop going on-line to figure out what your animals are worth. Call Brian Barczyk. Call Kevin McCurley. Call Bob Clark. Call Adam Wysocki. Call Pete Kahl. Call Kim Bell. Call Colette Sutherland. Call Tracy Barker. Call an established and respected breeder in this business and ask them what the realistic price should be. Don’t look at kingsnake.com anymore.
If you agree with me, even a little bit, please get other people to read this. We’ve got to start preserving our industry. Prices will fall, they always do. But prices shouldn’t fall they was they have been.
As a final thought, let me explain prices to you. There are four different types of prices in the ball python industry. They are:
- Retail prices – This is the price that should be listed on kingsnake.com or at a trade show. You should be relatively serious about this price. If you negotiate on this price it should not be by more than about 10%. Pricing an animal for $1,000 and selling it for $500 ruins the credibility of all other prices you advertise.
- Sale prices – These are “weekend special” prices or “Santa Claus Specials”. These prices should be a reasonable discount (10-20%) off your normal retail price. Don’t get crazy. Sale prices damage the market long-term. For instance, pastel clowns were selling for $12,000 last year. One weekend someone put them up on kingsnake.com for a “weekend special” of $6,500 (because he needed money). The price never again went above $6,500. All it takes is one stupid person to ruin it for everyone.
- Wholesale prices – Jesus, don’t get me started. Somebody conned the world into believing that wholesale prices are 50% off retail. That’s crap! Wholesalers DO NOT DESERVE 50% MARGIN. You know who decided that it should be 50% off retail? The wholesalers!!! Quit buying into their crap. Demand more money for your production. You do all the work, ALL OF IT, and the wholesaler gets to make the exact same amount as you??? Seriously? Think about it. You think the rest of the world (outside the reptile world) has a 50% margin on their products? Nope. Try 15-20% on average. If you sell an animal at 50% of its retail value you give the person buying it 50% of margin to ruin the going rate. Why wouldn’t he sell it for 80% of the current retail prices? He only paid 50% so he’s making 30% for absolutely nothing. STOP WHOLESALING YOUR ANIMALS FOR 50% OF THEIR VALUE!!! YOU ARE DESTROYING THE MARKET IF YOU DO IT.
- Friend prices – These are whatever you want them to be. Hell, I’ve given extremely valuable snakes to good friends for free. These deals should be secret, between you and your friend. Don’t go on a forum and tell everybody that you just got a bumble bee for $300 and leave out the part about how the guy who sold it to you has been your friend since birth and you gave him one of your kidneys last year. Someone hearing that you got a bumble bee for $300 makes them think that they deserve one for that much, too. Deals made between friends in back rooms need to stay there.
Let’s get a collective clue, people. C’mon. We’re smarter than this.
Until next time,