In May 2010, I did an interview with the Herp Daily blog about how a small breeder can successfully market themselves in the current reptile industry climate. Unfortunately the blog is no longer available, here is a copy of the interview.
Marketing yourself to Reptile Business Success
“Hello again reptile hobbyists around the globe! As you may have noticed, Herp Daily has been on a short hiatus due to time constraints on the part of our editors. Joining us today is non other than Justin Kobylka from www.jkobylkareptiles.com ! Mr Kobylka is another celebrity in the reptile industry and will offer us insights into the world of reptile marketing
CHRIS: To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your background in the hobby? How did you get involved in the reptile businesses? What prompted you to transform from normal hobbyist into the celebrity breeder you are today?
JUSTIN: I never considered it as a career until my sophomore year of college. Even then, it just seemed like a pipe dream! I was keeping a couple carpet pythons and my first kingsnakes, in my dorm room… hiding them from the dean and RA’s. That worked for about a year, but eventually the school caught me. They were really cool and gave me an entire room of their Biology department to keep my growing collection! Shortly after that I started have success in producing my first clutches of colubrids and Ball Pythons. Everyone who knew me back then will tell you that all I ever talked about was being a professional reptile breeder someday.
CHRIS: Was it your childhood dream to do what you are doing today?
JUSTIN: Oh not really, I had no idea such an opportunity existed…
CHRIS: On your website you mention that you are a director of marketing for a medical group, Are you a full time breeder that works part-time as a marketing director or is it the other way around? How do you manage both lives all while having a family at the same time?
JUSTIN: That’s one part of my website that needs to be updated… I actually resigned my position as marketing director in Nov. 2009 to focus full time on J. Kobylka Reptiles. Now I do a very limited amount of freelance work for several companies.
But I did juggle it for years – full time job, family and growing reptile business. It was a challenge, but not something I minded. The snakes have never felt like work and it was very relaxing to clean cages at the end of the day! I had to quit the day job when I felt that there was no way I could continue to offer my JKR customers world-class service.
CHRIS: Does your job as a Marketing director help you with your job as a reptile breeder? If so, how?
JUSTIN: Absolutely. The techniques were different than what I use with JKR, but it reinforced the need for good marketing as well as giving experience in creating materials, taking good pictures, etc.
CHRIS: What advice would you give to a struggling breeder having difficulty marketing his/her quality animals?
JUSTIN: A reptile breeder is an entrepreneur and small business owner; although the product is very unusual, the same marketing rules apply. Your customers have to know who you are, that your business is trustworthy and that your snakes are of the highest quality.
You can choose to run your business locally or worldwide via the Internet. If you’re focusing on local shows, you need a quality booth, good business cards, etc. Everything from how you dress to how your snakes are displayed is crucial to making your customer feel that investment in your animals is a good choice. Many breeders make incredible animals, but don’t package or present them well.
If you want to ship your reptiles to customers throughout US or internationally, you are now have an Internet-based business and need a top-notch website. Since you’re removed from your potential clients, pictures that look as good as your animals are a must. “Looks better in person” just doesn’t cut it any more!
CHRIS: For your own business, do you have a marketing plan laid out on paper or do you just go with the flow?
JUSTIN: I go with the flow. Always looking for new ideas or rejecting ideas that just don’t work. As soon as you’ve found something that works, you need to be looking for another way to connect with new customers, breeders and hobbyists.
Personally, I like email… but I try to connect with people wherever they are, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, forums and text messaging. These sites are not about marketing to me, it’s about a relationship and interaction. That is why I’ve started my Pro Tips video series on YouTube. I would have loved to have had some of these tips when I was first starting out. Hopefully other hobbyists can use this information and when they are looking to purchase a new animal, I won’t be too far from their mind.
CHRIS: What kind of tips can you give our readers about marketing themselves online? How about marketing themselves in real life?
JUSTIN: Forums is a great place to start. Most people hang out on forums and other online places while they are learning and building their collections. Like I said before, forums are not about marketing, but they are a crucial place to show other hobbyists that you are a sane, normal person who is interested in furthering knowledge within the hobby. If you are selling a snake later on, there is a relationship of trust already established there and hundreds, if not thousands of people who will attest that you seem like a “good guy”.
The same thing goes for face-to-face encounters. I remember early on when I first met several of the “big boys” of the industry. What was amazing to me, was that some of them acted dismissive and even unfriendly until you got to know them better. That was fine back then, but as more and more people are working with these sought-after animals, those who are helpful, friendly and have excellent customer service are catching up quickly.
CHRIS: What are your future plans for J. Kobylka Reptiles?
JUSTIN: I’m not looking to be the biggest out there. For me it’s all about quality and creating new combos with these awesome Ball Pythons. I’ve been fortunate that a lot of hard work has paid off with some amazing snakes hatching here. Hopefully in the next few years I can branch out into a couple other species that interest me personally. I’ve always wanted to give geckos a go, but I want to do it right, so I’ve tried to be patient.
CHRIS: How big is your ball python collection? Do you keep any other types of animals?
JUSTIN: Smaller than you think! I like to think I’m the smallest, well-recognized breeder, that’s a good spot for me. I’m focusing on quality, cleanliness and techniques to ensure solid production. I have a growing number of blood pythons and I’m loving them too.”