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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

June 7, 2013

Snake Oil

By Elizabeth Creith

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Before we got into the pet trade, I never thought about how pet stores got their stock. I certainly never imagined a whole show in a huge arena dedicated solely to reptiles and supplies for them. Clearly I lack imagination, because every year Toronto has not one, but two reptile sales.

Because we’re a day’s drive down to Toronto, we usually order our reptiles from a list and get them shipped in from suppliers south of us. But then there’s Brandon, the travelling reptile salesman.

Snake Oil
A salesman is a salesman, even if his wares are snakes. Hemera Technologies/
PhotoObjects.net/Thinkstock

You might think that reptile salesmen are different, but a salesman is a salesman. When Brandon last arrived, we spent the requisite few minutes in the opening chat about weather and business. Then he unsnapped his sample case, neatly packed with the latest in reptile couture.
 
"Look at this beautiful opal,” he said, draping an iridescent white corn snake over his sleeve. "It’s the new trending color in corn snakes and comes in three sizes.”

The snake curved over his dark jacket, and the light flashed off the edges of her scales in little slips of pink, green and blue.
 
"She really is gorgeous,” David said. "Ow!” I smiled at Brandon while David edged his shins away from my toes.
 
"We could really use some a-mels,” I said. Amelanistic snakes are brilliant orange and red, with no black. "Our customers love them. What have you got in those?”
 
"A-mels are so last year!” he said. "Nobody buys a-mels any more. They don’t go with anything. Everyone’s switching to opals. All the big stores in Toronto are selling them like hotcakes.” Or maybe he said "like hotdogs”--snakes are long and thin, after all, not round and flat.
 
I saw David’s hand edging toward the opal snake. Uh-oh.
 
"This isn’t exactly Toronto,” I said, hoping Brandon hadn’t noticed David’s motion. David glanced at me and pulled his hand back.
 
"That’s right,” he said. "Our customers are more conservative, you know? Are you sure you don’t have an a-mel or two?”

Brandon glanced from David to me. I smiled at him.
 
"Even a couple of little ones,” I said. "It’s a big risk for us to make such a drastic switch all at once.”

For a few seconds Brandon and I had a battle of smiles. Then he caved.
 
"Okay, I can see you’re a bit hesitant here,” he said. "Let me check the van--I might have a couple of a-mels left in an old sample case from last trip. Just hold this baby while I look, okay?”
 
He slipped David the opal and headed out to the parking lot.
 
"She’s a lovely calm snake,” David said. "Nice skin.”

She oozed gently in his hands, flashing colour. She was obviously flirting with him.
 
"We’ll never sell her,” I said. "You know we’ll still have her next year.”
 
"Ye-es,” David said.

But he was stroking the snake’s head. If snakes had eyelashes, I swear she’d have been batting them at him. I could see I was fighting a losing battle. Brandon knew that old sales trick; get ‘em to hold the merchandise and it’s three-quarters sold.
 
"Hey, you’re in luck!” Brandon came through the front door waving two bright amelanistics. "I had these left over. Look, try a couple of the opals, maybe one in each size, and I’ll throw these little guys in. If the opals don’t sell for ya, I’ll take them back next year.”
 
He put the a-mels down on the counter. They looked up at me with little puppy eyes.
 
"Save us,” those faces said. "We can’t go back to that sample case again!”
 
"Oh, all right,” I said. I scooped up the forlorn little a-mels.
 
"You won’t be sorry,” Brandon said. The opal snake cuddled against David’s neck. I swear the b*tch smirked at me.


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