The ball python market
A mature market
Many articles have been written on the ball python market and I want to state that we're definitely no experts on this matter. We’re hobby breeders and are planning on continuing to do so. Here I will try to give an overview of the evolution of the ball python market based on ‘expert’ opinions we’ve read elsewhere.
The first ball pythons morphs that came in from Africa started a craze never seen before in the reptile industry. Single gene snakes such as pastel or spider sold for over $25000 in the early days. This is a ridiculous amount of money for a snake with no intrinsic value. The highest ever spent on a ball python is $125000! This was for an Ivory, a white snake produced by pairing Yellow belly to Yellow belly.
Luckily, prices have come down significantly since then and made it affordable for the masses. This was the results of a maturing ball python market. In the early days however, supply was low and controlled by very few breeders but demand exploded. The ‘problem’ with ball pythons is that customers become competition. They can breed themselves and usually have a lot of (combo) females laying around, making it no longer necessary to buy the combo you’re selling. As a result, demand has decreased and prices have dropped.
Finding your niche
Does this mean you won’t be able to create value? Of course you can. A mature market means you can still make some money, but only on the long term. The answer to a mature market is specialisation. You need to create a niche for yourself. You need to create snakes that everyone would be willing to buy. A great example are double recessives: Albino Piebald, Desert ghost Clown and Ultramel Genetic stripe are all great examples of snakes even the big breeders would be interested in. Making them takes time and investment and one way to finance such an investment is by selling ‘low end’ snakes. Coral glow, Enchi Fire and Bumblebees are examples of snakes that are loved by pet owners. They are cheap and pretty, but produced in huge quantities. Solely building a business from such snakes would be a bad idea.
Another niche you can fill is quality. Almost everyone has tons of Pastel in their collection and none would be interested in buying your Pastels, unless you have extreme quality. Even the biggest breeders would potentially be interested if you have the nicest pastels in the world. This means you would have to line breed pastel for many generations. Again, this takes time and money to raise all your holdbacks.
Finally, you can chase the snakes no one else is willing to make. This means taking risks, as no one would want to buy your snakes. You would have to proof that they do have tons of potential. A great example is the champagne clown. Champagne washes away most the pattern and most people didn’t want to ‘waste’ clown on champagne. Remember that economics is based on mass psychology. You need to convince a lot of people your snake is still worth buying. The best way to do so is by showing incredible combo’s. A champagne clown would probably not look spectacular, but a leopard champagne clown might! Some breeders excel in this strategy and only show a certain animal if they have the ‘base combo’ available and some better combo’s to show the potential. A great example is the leopard clown, not a spectacular animal in my opinion, but when Justin Kobylka showed the first leopard clown to the public he also showed the first Pastel lesser leopard clown that sparked the leopard clown craze!
Marketing in the 21st century
A lot has been said about ball python auctions and I will not go into detail about them. However, I do believe you don’t need to auction off your animal. I’ve never seen the most successful breeders auctioning animals, simply because they have a large audience, are patient and follow the above mentioned strategies. Of course this takes time, but building a valuable collection also takes time.
Finally I would like to discuss the role of shows. Most beginners go to shows and expect to sell tons of animals. This is no longer the case. We live in a digital world where you can buy pretty much anything online and customers expect it to be delivered the next day. The ball python market is no exception. Online advertisements on Facebook, specific websites or even YouTube should not be underestimated. Building an audience and reaching out to people has never been easier, and hence should not be taken lightly. Shows remain important, but as the word implies, only for show and pick-up reservations. This is a place where you can generate interest for your snake and show off your amazing holdbacks. This in turn attracts potential future buyers to your Facebook page or website. Shows remain a place to build your network, meet new people and generate excitement.
The ball python market is still very much alive and money can be made. However, if you want to turn this into a business you’ll have to follow some specific rules. Create your own niche, build your audience, but most of all be passionate about it. Do it only for the love of the animals, do it because you want that next amazing morph, never for the money.