The ball python business, like all businesses, is evolving. I have seen a lot of changes and, through them all, I have endeavored to remain optimistic. That optimism has proved legitimate as the industry continues to be very good to me. Despite my love of the hobby (business) I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses; I regularly contemplate the negative aspects of being a reptile breeder and attempt to make sure I am doing what I can to mitigate them.
On a seemingly different note,
“Do something awesome …something amazing.”
That was the job description given to me a long time ago just before I accepted a position at a small start-up IT company. I was trying to break out of the life-drag called Corporate America and during the interview process I asked for more details on my potential job duties. And the quote above is was what I heard in reply. When I realized he wasn’t kidding I was …moved. I was so inspired that I wanted desperately to do something, well, awesome and amazing. It was everything I needed to hear at that point in my life. With that one sentence I had been both empowered and granted personal accountability. The trust coupled with expectation that was handed to me was nothing less than food to my starving motivation. In the year that followed I
Not really a tough question, I suspect. Money in-hand is tangible and usable; it represents capability. In order for me to convince you to wait for money in the future it has to be more than what you can have today. But how much more? If the offer was $5,000 today or $5,200 in four years I feel pretty confident that you would still reject the deal and opt for today as the payday. The capacity for progress created by having money in hand will trump the promise of a meager future return. What the exact future return needs to be in order to entice someone to take the deal is going to vary from person to person. But barring extreme and pressing financial need most people will eventually agree to wait for a future payday.
Every year I am fortunate enough to produce some absolutely amazing ball pythons. There have been a tiny handful of times when the animal I produced was unique to the world, the first combination of its kind. I admit, it’s a neat feeling. Being the first to make a particular morph and getting to name it is a goal for many in the business. The naming of a morph is your chance to become a permanent, albeit largely irrelevant, part of the industry’s history. It’s unlikely that anyone will remember that it was you who named it or that you were the first but you and a small group of others will always know. Die in a car crash tomorrow and you will soon be forgotten by most. But the name given to that designer morph combination will still have the moniker you decided. That small contribution to something that will outlast you is, well, …cool.
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.
Note: Before reading this you need to know a few things:
– Compared to the average blog post this is long …very long. It’s more like a chapter than a blog post.
– The purpose of this post is not to try and discourage ball python breeders. Quite the opposite, actually. I am enthusiastic about the prospects of this business and I want people who decide to be in it, myself included, to understand the consequences of their choices and adjust their behavior in order to allow an opportunity for profit.
– I am neither an economist nor an accountant. I’m just a guy with a spreadsheet and an opinion; a perspective for your consideration.
By my standards and expectations last year was a tough breeding season. In addition to losing a few key clutches during incubation I had an amazing number of clutches that bludgeoned me on the odds. At times it was depressing. But one thing that all breeders rely on is the fact that sooner or later the odds tend to swing around in their favor. It’s the nature of averages; sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Last season wasn’t all bad, though. I had a few moments that really stood out. My perspective is arguably tainted, mind you. With very few exceptions I do not try to produce single-gene carrying animals and producing things like black pewters, albino spiders, super pastels, and bumble bees has become business as usual. While I am certainly very glad to produce those animals I have my genetic sights set much higher. As I type two-gene animals are a common (but often still pricey) staple of the industry while the immediate future is in 3, 4 and 5-gene animals. To steal the words of a friend of mine, “I’m not in this for socialist reasons. In this business there will be winners and losers.
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.
“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden
I’m self-employed. I have been that way for almost a decade. In addition to my reptile enterprise I am a founding owner of a small information technology (IT) company. Because I have a passion for computer networking and information security I long ago decided to start my own business doing the thing I love. That is a theme familiar to a lot of self-employed people and if you are not currently self-employed I’ll wager that a good number of you aspire to one day be so. For those of you not currently at the helm of your own enterprise let me remind you of an expression I’m sure you have heard before: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Owning your own business does nothing to eliminate the stress and frustration you
Why do you do this? By ‘this’ I mean breed reptiles, of course. Is it a hobby? Do you do it for a living? Somewhere in-between? If you aren’t doing so already, do you aspire to one day breed snakes for a living?
Regardless of where you are in the reptile husbandry game, do you have a plan? Does it look a little like this?:
- Buy snakes
- Breed snakes
- Sell snakes
- Count crazy amounts of cash
What is the last snake you bought? Why did you buy it? Was it a smart buy or did you buy it on impulse? Did it fit into any current breeding project? How about the snake before that one? Did you buy it because of its price or because of what it was? How many times have you let your reptile purchases guide the direction of your reptile collection? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t your collection guide your purchases? Shouldn’t you have a plan; an honest-to-goodness business plan?
I’m not good at rationalizing things. I am flat-out awesome at it! In the game of rationalization, I’m a rockstar! When I set my mind to it I have yet to come across something I couldn’t talk myself into. My decisions are good. The are solid and they are just. I have rationalized my way into many, many snake purchases, each of them a brilliant, strategic and soon-to-be-profitable decision. With a punnet square, an Excel spreadsheet and available credit I can design a plan for world domination and financial nirvana within a matter of minutes. On paper I am well on my way to living the dream.
The reality? I have lived in the same house and driven the same truck for the past eleven years. Neither are impressive (but I’m not complaining). Year after year I’m a year away from making good money. More than once I have run up to the precipice of profitability, stared longingly and lovingly at it, and then turned and walked back down the trail. By my definitions I am not yet successful. Some people who know me would argue otherwise. If three years ago I had the reptile collection I have today I would have said that I am very successful. But today I want the collection I will have three years from now. I just can’t seem to get my reptile collection and my timeline to sync up. I wonder if it’s because I don’t really have a plan any better than the one above. Who am I kidding? Step #4 doesn’t exist for me. After step #3 I jump straight back to #1. That’s me: buy, breed, sell. Repeat. Snake rich, cash poor.
Because ball pythons are so diverse there is an underlying and [perhaps] unconscious drive to have all of them. Your collection must have pastels, spiders, pinstripes, black pastels, albinos, mojaves, clowns, piebalds, ghosts, lessers, butters, yellow bellys, fires, axanthics and cinnamons. Right? But that’s just to start. With all the ingedients you can make all of the magic! But is that really the most profitable way to go about it? Maybe for some. I’m not sure it’s right for all of us, though. I think you need to explore your motivations before you buy any more critters.
Why do you breed ball pythons? You probably fall into one or more of these categories:
- For the love. Making money isn’t that important to you. You just like to breed snakes. You love the whole process and derive joy from successful husbandry.
- If this is you, congratulations! Your desires are pure. Please collect your group of normal ball pythons and make your way to the back of the room. From there you can listen at a distance, safe from getting any of my capitalism on you.
- To be the first to produce a new morph, to be a recognizable name. A pioneer in the ever-emerging ball python genetics/morph game.
- Bring your wallet. You will need it. If your wallet is mighty and equipped with sufficient stamina, we will all one day know your name.
- Fame in the ball python world is real but small. While I know the names of the big breeders, my parents do not. Nor do my friends and neighbors. Being a big name breeder makes you look cool in only the smallest of circles. Keep your ego in check when you get there.
- To produce a diverse and eclectic array of ball python morphs while making a profit.
- While the profit part may be elusive these days I suspect that many of us fall into this category. As your collection expands it becomes more diverse.
- To produce the animals that will make you the most profit, regardless of how you feel about them.
- You are a pure capitalist. Whatever sells is what you are selling. Some may call you a heartless, money-hungry bastard. Me? I admire your motivations and envy your lack of personal attachment.
- Some other motivation. There may be some other category into which you fall so put yourself here if that’s true.
So who among this list is in the worst position? It’s the people who want to ‘produce a diverse and eclectic array of ball python morphs while making a profit’. Why? Your motivations are at odds with each other. A diverse ball python collection of 100 animals (or 50, or 25, whatever) will allow you to produce a good number of morphs. It’s exciting and cool when you open the cages and see all the colors and patterns. But stop for a moment and really think about what’s happening with your collection. For ease of discussion I will talk about Clown Ball Pythons. Clowns are not cheap but they are within reach of many breeders. The most common gateway into breeding clowns is to buy a male clown and some female het clowns. So let’s say you buy 1.2 (one male, two females). Chances are good that you buy them as babies. In about 2-3 years you will have raised your females and are now producing clown babies for the first time. What are you going to do when they come out of the egg? Sell them? Really? Don’t you remember what you just went through to produce these? You just spent almost 3 years of your life raising these things up and now, there they are: baby clown ball pythons produced by YOU!!! If you sell them you still only have your breeders. How are you going to grow AND refine your ball python collection if you sell them? You gotta’ keep some. And as soon as you decide to do that, you’re screwed. The cycle has you. But if you do sell them you’ll still only be producing a few clowns the following year (you are breeding het females after all). You will never get any bigger and your collection will never get any better than it is today. That’s the rub. Keep your production and you’re screwed. Sell your production and you’re screwed. Neither is the end of the world but neither is getting you to the world you worked up on your Excel spreadsheet a few years earlier, either. What to do?
I know it’s easy to write this and not have to talk about the money behind it but if you are going to breed clowns, BREED CLOWNS. Don’t buy 1.2 clowns and 1.2 albinos and 1.2 ghosts and 1.2 mojaves and 1.2 spiders. Buy 2.8 clowns instead. No, it’s not as exciting but when you do produce clowns you are more likely to produce a bunch of them. When you have 25 clown babies to sell it is A LOT easier to sell them without emotion AND keep a few back to raise up. When you are only producing a few clowns you often can’t bear to part with them. Because they are few they are precious to you; a cherished commodity. And they are the source of your problems.
So into your business plan you need to integrate VOLUME when it comes to a particular morph. Resist the desire to expand both size and diversity. If you are expanding the size of your collection do it with a morph you already have. Don’t add new morphs to the collection until you have a sufficiently large production capacity with one of your other morphs.
This philosophy holds true when you start producing multiple-gene animals. How are you ever going to bring yourself to sell that silver streak when you only produced one of them? If you want to produce silver streaks, go all in. Produce them by the dozens. Two black pewter males and a slew of pastel females is a very affordable project (relatively speaking, of course). Don’t even get me started on white snakes. I’m sick of hearing people refer to them as being “just another white snake”. You know the one thing that is always 100% true of white snakes? They sell like you wouldn’t believe.
If you continue to insist on building a diverse collection of animals without focusing on building a larger production capacity for specific morphs then you are acknowledging that making money is secondary to your love of ball python diversity. And that’s a tough thing to realize about yourself; what is more important?
In summary, if making money in this business is important to you: Have a plan. Produce any particluar morph in sufficient quantity that you can sell them and keep some without being conflicted. Focus less on diversity, more on quantity.