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Early Adopters: Kids’ Education Programs Drive Parents to Buy

Started with that one lucky python.

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ROBERT H. SMITH ACHIEVED cool dad status in 1996, when he brought an 11-foot Burmese python to his son’s school for show-and-tell. They were a hit! Several parents even asked Smith for his contact info, with the hope of hiring him for birthday parties and other events.

“I was just one of the dads at the time,” he says, “but I thought, ‘Maybe I have something here.’”

Smith did, and he has since put on 1,000-plus educational programs, first as an enthusiast and breeder, then from 2008 as owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World.

THE IDEATurn kids on to reptiles — and into customers. With his presentations, Smith has always aimed to clear up any misconceptions young attendees have and ease their fears.

“There is a need for people to better understand these animals,” he says of the not-slimy-at-all snakes, lizards and turtles he keeps as pets and sells at his store.

Smith now splits program duties with staff, and in recent years he has seen the importance of not just bringing showstoppers like the python and his now-famous Cuban rock iguana, Castro.

“We also introduce them to reptiles they can actually own. Like a bearded dragon, which doesn’t get too big and is naturally calm, or a corn snake, which makes a fantastic pet.”

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THE EXECUTIONCustomize and plan. Requests go to Jungle Bob Education Director Susi Resner, who helps to customize a presentation for the setting and audience. She then confirms that necessary licenses, permits and insurance are valid to transport and show the animals.

“Liability insurance covers us if someone gets injured,” Smith explains. “In all of these years, we’ve never needed it. We have had a few defecations gone wrong, though.”

Resner also outlines where to park and check in once at the location, important information when visiting schools in particular. Presenters have guidelines they follow, as well, to balance education and entertainment with safety.

THE REWARDSAdditional income, free advertising. Smith and staff put on around 100 programs a year, with rates varying from $300 for 45 minutes at a local birthday party to $1,000 for an entire day that also delves into geography and natural history.

After 20-plus years, word of mouth has long ago replaced the need to advertise Jungle Bob presentations. And the presentations themselves serve as free advertising for the store. Many an attendee has visited after with their parents in tow.

“We did a birthday party last month,” Smith says, “and then one of the families came in for a $500 bearded dragon setup.”

Do It Yourself: Develop 
Your Own 
Education Programs

  • OBTAIN any necessary licenses, permits and insurance.
  • CREATE a plan for presenters. Outline every step to ensure all goes smoothly.
  • DECIDE which animals will present best. Don’t sell reptiles, birds, hamsters or the like? Perhaps your store dog or cat could star in a presentation about pet care.
  • TAKE OUT ads in local newspapers and magazines, especially any for kids and families. Tout on social media.
  • HAND OUT cards with your store information and an incentive to shop, and have stickers on hand — kids love stickers.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

Pamela Mitchell is the editor-in-chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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