By Justin Kobylka
“The Ball Python craze is over! We all have all the same stuff… ” an industry-leading Ball Python breeder told me this over his table at a Reptile expo in 2014. “We have 1-2 years tops before all Ball Pythons are pet-store Ball Pythons.” The animals on his table were evidence. It was filled with the latest morph-of -the-year, a table full of animals that may well have halved in value before the next year’s show.
Today it would be too easy to say that breeder couldn’t have been more wrong. We have found that there is so much left to do and the business is as strong as ever. Instead of imploding, this market has seen an explosion of creativity. A new frontier of groundbreaking combinations and possibilities. Many breeders have embraced creativity in their pairings, with unimaginable results! Yet looking back at that breeder’s prediction, he was 100% correct about something: the industry as we knew it was coming to an end.
The early Ball Python market was built on a new-morph-of-the-year feeding frenzy. It was a closed loop of mostly the same few breeders. The first ones to invest in a new morph often did well, the middle investors had a dicey proposition, and the last ones in – regretful to say the least. The dream was sold – “buy this gene and reproduce it, the money would be there…” No experience or planning, no marketing or customer service required. Certainly don’t worry about collection building. You just need basic females to reproduce that new morph. Investors bought in fast and left the industry just as quickly.
In the end, there could only be so many hot new morphs and so many burned customers before the market became wise… This model didn’t make any sense and couldn’t be sustained. More recently we’ve seen the evidence – new mutation roll-outs that aren’t coming close to gaining full consumer confidence.
Seems pretty bleak, except what has taken its place is far better! A more vibrant, varied, and hobby-centric model. There is no less opportunity for the serious breeder and there is worlds-more potential for the hobbyist and pet owner. Like anything in this world, things change. To stay relevant, businesses must adapt as well.
What follows is a short primer – a few principles for the brave new world of Ball Pythons.
Quality: The new chapter of the Ball Python craze advantages those who build deep and varied collections. Breeders who have stocked themselves with unique and special animals. They “pay themselves first”, keeping the best quality and variety of their production. This is how excellence is built over generations and even decades. There is a widening gap between those who consistently keep their best and those who sell their best.
Variety: “Variety is the spice of life” and it may never be more true in our hobby. There may now be well over a hundred unique named mutations, with so many unexplored and untapped. Add to that over 10,000 known combinations, most of which even the most die-hard hobbies may yet be unaware of.
In the old market, a new morph would pop up and everyone swapped their breeding plans to it, hoping to hit it big or die trying. Many of these morphs of old which have never been combined with the more recent discoveries, were abandoned when they were deemed not expensive enough to focus on. Logically, just because a mutation was discovered years ago doesn’t mean it is any less “powerful” or “influential” than this season’s shooting star. Morphs were not discovered in order of importance.
Breeders of the future will not reject working with mutations that are off the economically beaten path but will reimagine how they can be used to create a completely new foundation.
A less understood strategy is that by maintaining variety, a keeper with vision is not railroaded into a specific direction, but can discover new paths and combinations. It has never been more important to maintain flexibility and the ability to pivot toward unique angles and follow your imagination, as well as be able to respond to inspiration from other keepers.
Uniqueness – To succeed you will need to place yourself where right at the place where the “chaos of art meets the disciple of science”. Unique projects, unsurpassed quality, bespoke pairings, it’s what is in your head that counts. When we work with the same paint, it’s the unique art we create that will determine success.
It’s been proven repeatedly that large financial buy-in is not a predictor of longevity in this market. Our hobby is a dizzying mixture of finances, math, imagination, art, and even courage. Nature has provided the paint, in ENDLESS supply. That means like any artist, you choose the pallet and envision an outcome as unique as your ideas.
Place yourself right where the “chaos of art meets the discipline of science.”
Reach – Even when you have your collection and goals right, breeding success and amazing outcomes will not translate to economic success unless you can share your work, vision, and enthusiasm with others. The monumental shift that shook our market came when Ball Python enthusiasts stopped being just a small, core group. We all knew each other and met at shows, and of course, the rumor mill was always rampant on message boards and socials.
Today the market has gone wide. It is increasingly diverse with nearly no centrality. Social media has driven our hobby to new heights and there’s no denying that most new people discover our hobby through social media to introduce them to these amazing animals!
You don’t have to be a social media “influencer” to participate, but you will need to be present and willing to share your enthusiasm. You will need to educate and share mistakes. You may even need to be your own cheerleader! Nobody will join in your journey and support you unless you can make your case and prove its value – going to bat for your vision & projects. Bring people into your world, inspire and help them, and they will listen!
Customer Care – No business can survive without serving people. A good customer relationship starts before the sale, by providing information and tools. JKR was built on serving customers and empowering them. My success and business grow only when I find ways to serve more people in better ways.
Customer service can take the form of actual advice, information, or inspiration through documentation of your journey in this hobby. There is so much amazing synergy that comes into play when you choose to empower your customers to meet THEIR goals whether it be that of a pet, hobby, or business.
Successful breeders collect happy customers with as much enthusiasm as the newest morph.
Passion for animals – From the beginning, this hobby has been my personal obsession and dream job. To be successful you must focus on excellence in your craft. So many other things will fall into place if you’re passionate about the animals and motivated to be the best and make the best. There’s absolutely no substitute.
Competition doesn’t even exist in this world… You’re only competing with what you are personally capable of (and it’s more than you know). Without this drive, any other thing in this article will just be going through the motions. For those who live and breathe the animals, follow your gut and don’t apologize for your unique perspective. In the end, it’s your inspiration and the ability to share it that will deliver exactly what you’re looking for!
Welcome to the brave new world Ball Pythons. It is full of more amazing morphs, more insane combos, and more MIND-BLOWING potential (even financially) than ever!