Reptile expos are a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of species and morphs, meet breeders who may otherwise be only a name on a website and, most important, to buy some new pets. At the early stages of our reptile keeper “lives”, we endeavor to learn how to vend at a show and how to effectively attend one. As we gain experience, we continue to challenge ourselves to become even better vendors and customers.
These issues were very much on my mind as I prepared to vend at the first show of my season, the Portland (Maine) Reptile Expo, organized by the Maine Herp Society. The Portland Reptile Expo was the first show where I ever vended, in 2006. It’s a small show with approximately 25 vendors and is less overwhelming than some of the regional extravaganzas.
During the show, I kept a journal of what was going on at my table in 15 minute increments in order to give those who attend and those who vend a perspective about what sitting at that table for 7 hours is like. I was also hoping to gain insight about a few other issues:
- What’s an appropriate pricing strategy for shows? Some people feel that pricing on the high side encourages people to buy because they feel they’re getting something valuable. Others feel that the prices should be low in order to move the geckos. There’s also the issue of pricing geckos so low that the average prices decline and it gets harder for breeders to cover expenses.
- What’s the proper balance between being a good salesperson and supporting potential customers’ decisions and needs? When someone is wavering about a purchase, does encouragement help them to make a good decision, or push them into purchasing something they will ultimately neglect? What’s the proper way to respond to a potential customer who asks extensively for care details and then proudly comes to show the vendor the reptile they’ve bought . . . from someone else?
- Last year I sold about 55 leopard geckos, but only 9 of them sold at reptile shows. Is this a trend, or an exception?
Diary of a Reptile Show
7:45am Arrived earlier than expected, following a 5am wakeup and 6am departure, and set up my table; sold 2 Coleonyx to a former customer/current vendor before the doors even opened!
8:15 Took a picture of Maine Herp Society table; bought a hammock for my bearded dragon from a table near me
9:03 It’s 3 minutes after the advertised show beginning time and there’s no sign that the doors have been opened. Everyone walking around the show seems to be other vendors. I’m spending my time playing Words with Friends and filling in my morph sheets to give to each buyer so they know what they’re getting.
9:15 The doors finally open and a small number of people (would you want to be up on Labor Day Sunday at 9:00am?) mostly families with kids, enter.
9:30 Had 2 conversations with former and prospective customers. The show is starting off slowly but people are able to take their time and talk which is an advantage over some of the really busy shows.
9:45 The first customers in the door are leaving now, though I haven’t seen anyone leave with reptile purchases as opposed to supplies. Two people have come by the table for a second time. There are a lot of kids who like to look at the geckos. The people who came by 15 minutes ago looking for a male and 2 female leopard geckos (I have only females) have left with 3 geckos sold to them by someone else
10:00 One family took a caresheet from me. I’m getting lots of compliments, but no sales.
10:15 The person who had arranged earlier to purchase one of my retired breeders came to pick her up and was suitably impressed.
10:30 A family came and consulted at length about specific geckos before disappearing in the direction of the other geckos for sale.
10:45 It’s getting a little more crowded. There are many window shoppers with young children stopping by. The guy who almost bought a gecko from me came by with the gecko he actually bought to show her to me and tell me about her. Part of being a good salesperson is showing joy at a purchase that the customer didn’t make with me.
11:00 When people stop by and say “These are geckos, right?” you know that won’t result in a sale.
11:15 More people cooing over the cute little geckos (especially the Coleonyx, which are only 2-3 inches long) and moving on.
11:30 Sale! Someone bought one of the fat tails. The leopard geckos still go highly complimented but unsold.
11:45 My first leopard gecko sale! One of the slightly pricier ones — $45
12:00 Lots of interest in the bold-stripes but no sales yet
12:15 Someone has come to look at the best bold-stripe 3 times now. I sold a ceramic snake water dish, my first pottery sale in awhile.
12:30 No attention from anyone for the last 15 minutes
12:45 A few more families with kids have appeared to ask questions
1:00 It must be lunch hour because things have emptied out. People are still cooing over the little Coleonyx geckos, and some even realize they’re not leopard geckos. Visit from someone who has kept Coleonyx with scorpions. There may be a Gecko Time article in there some day
1:15 Same as before
1:45 It’s not over but it feels as if it’s over. The crowds have thinned out and some people are already packing up. The bright promise of the day is ending. I can’t complain; I sold $205 worth of geckos which is quite good for this show, but it highlights the difficulty of selling leopard geckos at shows these days.
3:15 people are packing up, the place is emptying out. Nearly time to go
The Issues at Hand
Leopard gecko sales and pricing:
I surveyed three other vendors who primarily sell leopard geckos about their pricing and sales (of leopard geckos only):
Geckcessories (that’s me): price range $20-75 (including two cheap leos with minor deformities); sales during the show – 3.
Gruesome Geckos: Price range around $55 (personal observation); sales during the show – 1.
Loki Reptiles: Price range $30-$200; sales during the show – 2
Delaney’s Geckos: price range $20-160; sales during the show – 8
The figures don’t shed any light on whether pricing had any effect on leopard gecko sales. This remains a question for consideration and thought. Based on what I saw of the geckos for sale among all of us, our geckos were generally similar in morph and quality.
I continue to feel that the most important service a vendor can provide for the customers that visit the table is to plant the seeds of responsible reptile ownership and good service. This may mean not pushing a parent who’s on the fence about buying a 10 year old her first reptile. It may mean being gracious when a customer learns about gecko care and then buys a gecko from someone else. Since these are living creatures, it’s crucial that we foster the best environment for someone to become a gecko owner, even if it means that they choose not to become an owner at this time, or to become an owner of someone else’s gecko. This leads to some demoralizing moments, but they are often counterbalanced by better experiences, such as when someone who took my card at an expo contacts me months later, ready to buy a gecko from me.
I’ll close with one of my favorite experiences from a different reptile expo: after a long day of being open an polite at a large reptile expo, a customer came up to me and explained that although he wasn’t ready to buy a gecko at the show, he had been impressed enough with my geckos and my demeanor for him to have decided to buy the gecko from me. It took months, due to the bad weather, but eventually he chose his gecko and it was shipped to him.
4:15 Head out for the 1 1/2 hour drive home, thinking about the next show and ready to do it all over again.