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.
Being in the ball python business is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I love the animals and I love the whole yearly cycle involved in breeding them. I have also developed some good friendships with other ball python breeders and that’s something I would not have been able to do if it weren’t for ball pythons. Our paths simply would have never crossed without these snakes as a binding agent.
But being in the reptile business doesn’t come without sacrifice. You give endlessly of your time and money. If you allow it to do so the constant demands of animal husbandry can put tremendous stress on other aspects of your life. I own more than one company and there is a constant struggle to split my time between the two enterprises. I also have a wife and daughter who want to be with me and nothing in life comes before being a father and a husband. Nothing. But being so resolute does not change the needs of my ball pythons. They still have to have fresh water, clean cages and food. And they never stop requiring it. By the time I finish cleaning, feeding and watering it’s time to start again. To successfully balance all of these facets of my life is almost impossible but I’m not willing to give any of them up. Something must be sacrificed. I sacrifice sleep. I seldom sleep more than four hours per night. I’m fortunate that I can still function very well on that little sleep. I’ve been doing it for years so my body is used to it.
Time isn’t the only thing that gets sacrificed in order to participate in the ball python business. Other things have to be given endlessly as well. Money is at the top of the list. To make a living on ball pythons you need a lot of them; a whole lot. While many ball pythons have become extremely affordable (their prices are falsely low, actually) it wasn’t always like that. Many of you know this all too well. An animal that cost multiple thousands of dollars a few short years ago is now in the low hundreds. Pinstripes, for example. I get a little sick to my stomach every time I think about their current price.
Breeders who have adult pinstripes, genetics stripes, bumble bees, black pastels, ghosts and albinos paid a lot of money for them. A LOT! Some of you who are relatively new to the business don’t fully get that. What have you sacrificed in order to be in this business? Anything? Everything? There may be a choice few who have jobs that afford them the opportunity to pay cash for their animals. But that’s a select few, I’m sure. Most of us have had to make many personal sacrifices of one type or another to build our collections.
The other day I was preparing to reinstall the operating system on my computer so I was moving my files to another computer so I could restore them after the rebuild. I always seem to come across interesting photos when I do that (I’ve got dozens of gigabytes of photos on my laptop) and it was these photos that prompted me to write this little article:
This was my 1996 Twin Turbo 300ZX. Most car enthusiasts agree that this is a very special car. I had wanted one for years but their $50K plus price tag back in ’96 put them out of my price range. It wasn’t until several years later that I could afford one. When I did get one I proceeded to put many more thousands into upgrading it; custom exhaust, upgraded computer, turbo timer, performance intakes, and beefier brakes. I waited for several years to be in a position to buy that car. And just after I got it to the the point that it was perfect for me, I sold it. Why did I sell a car that I wanted so badly for so long? I sold it to buy ball pythons. Building my collection was worth more than having that car in my driveway. The sale price wasn’t anything magical; somewhere in the $17K range. But that was back in 2006. $17,000 in 2006 didn’t go very far in the ball python world.
This isn’t the only big sacrifice I have made over the years to be in the ball python business. I haven’t been on vacation in almost a decade for example. I choose to take the money I would spend on a vacation and re-invest it into building my ball python collection. If I were to give it some more thought I’d be able to come up with a long list of personal sacrifices I have made to be in the position I am in today. When I look at the sacrifices I have made to have the animals I do I get all the more annoyed with people who say that all ball python morphs should cost $50 so everybody can have one. You know what I say to those people? Two words: “Pack Sand!” I gave up things that I wanted to get the animals I have and you need to do the same.
And it’s because of these sacrifices that I hold the line on ball python prices. I am not now nor will I ever be the guy who sells ball pythons for a bargain basement prices. I will never lead the way on decreasing ball python prices and I will fight against those who do. I have put too much of myself into this. I have made too many sacrifices in the form of time, money and personal relationships. I will not discount the value of my investment simply because some guy on kingsnake.com is freaked out over money and is selling his animals for $100 less than the going rate. I won’t do it and neither should you. I love ball pythons and this industry too much to do it. I won’t do it to myself and I won’t do it to my peers who have made many sacrifices similar to mine. I’ve got your back on pricing. You got mine?