Chain pet stores may be many people’s first exposure to reptiles.
Some of the many people entering one of the many chain pet stores will come out with a newfound interest in reptiles.
In the wake of a recent Facebook posting about Petco’s upcoming Reptile Rally on July 17, there was a flurry of messages in which some people made it clear that they were not fans of Petco. After reading them, I felt compelled to offer some thoughts on the subject of chain stores in relation to the reptile hobby.
I’m a big supporter of independent reptile stores – that’s why I began publishing the “Reptile Retailer Spotlight” column in REPTILES magazine – but I also consider the big chains an important part of the hobby. For one thing, there’s the money they bring into it. They purchase their animals from professional reptile breeders, including some you may see at your favorite reptile expos, and they purchase reptile products from well-known manufacturers who work hard to bring us the best things for our pet reptiles. Money going to these breeders and manufacturers is a good thing.
A lot of people go into the chain stores. If even a small percentage of the many people patronizing them discovers a newfound interest in reptiles, then that’s great, too. Consider the child who goes into a Petsmart with his parents, who are there to buy dog food. Maybe on the way to the dog food aisle, the kid’s eye lands on a bearded dragon, and a new reptile fan is born. Hopefully the bearded dragon is healthy and in a clean enclosure. I suspect many people, especially younger ones, are introduced to the idea of keeping reptiles by seeing them in a chain store. Maybe later, as they become more embroiled in the hobby, they will seek species that are only available at reptile-specialty stores or at reptile expos. This illustrates how smaller local stores, expos and online breeders may benefit in the long run after a newbie’s initial introduction to reptiles at a chain store. The spark of reptile interest may be ignited in a chain store, and blossom into a full-blown conflagration that can benefit a variety of reptile-related businesses later.
I have heard stories about store employees who seemed unconcerned about an animal’s welfare or a customer’s experience (e.g., a successful, happy experience vs. a miserable one resulting in a dead reptile). I’ve listened to complaints about store employees’ lack of knowledge, and I’ve seen my fair share of filthy enclosures and emaciated animals in store enclosures, chain and otherwise. Nobody likes to hear about such things, and it makes devoted reptile hobbyists fume when they do. All I can say is I hope this is not the case with the majority of store experiences. Remember, just because conditions may be poor at one store does not mean that is the case at all of them.
I will say that on the flip side, I have been to some perfectly admirable reptile departments in chain stores, with healthy animals tended to by caring and knowledgeable staff. A Petsmart I visit regularly appears to be taking good care of its reptiles, with accurate information about the species available, and the enclosures are never dirty and contain the proper substrates, hiding places, etc. I still remember, too, a very impressive reptile department in a San Antonio-area Petco; they had a very varied selection and a reptile-savvy employee in charge of the animals who took great pride in her work.
I’m not trying to be a shill for the chain stores, but some, too, seem to have recently recognized the important part reptiles play in the pet industry, and they are beefing up their reptile focus. I think the rally that Petco is having is one sign of that; it’s an eductational event, and it’s sponsored by Zoo Med, a very pro-reptile company. Petsmart, too, has been devoting extra attention to its reptile departments lately. Let’s just hope that this increased focus also means that the employees in the stores will receive, and pass on to their customers, a proper education in reptilekeeping. There is a posting in the ReptileChannel forums that offers some insight in this regard, from a Petco employee who was in the process of being trained when he/she posted in May. The training process and some of the procedures employees are supposed to follow is included, and judging by what’s written there are some good intentions at work. Of course, good intentions are useless if employees fail to follow procedures. If you run across a bad apple, simply don’t patronize it. If it’s a chain store, consider reporting what you witnessed to the store’s regional manager.
Of course, misinformation will always abound, whether it’s dished out by an ignorant store employee or an ignorant person who is posting “advice” online. This is why hobbyists need to conduct their own research and determine what’s best for their pets, as well as what pets are best for them. Seek knowledge from many sources. Nobody should base their entire reptilekeeping experience on a single store employee’s advice or online article.
In my opinion, any outlet that nurtures an interest in reptiles is a worthwhile one, whether it’s a chain store, a reptile expo, an independent reptile store, REPTILES magazine or a website such as ReptileChannel. Like any hobby, to survive, this one needs to keep veteran hobbyists interested as well as recruit new hobbyists. All the outlets mentioned, chain stores included, should do their best to meet these two essential needs to keep the reptile hobby strong.