(FORTUNE Small Business) – Anita and Allen Salzberg HerpArts.com
MY WIFE, ANITA, AND I incorporated HerpArts.com to expand upon my love of reptiles and amphibians--together known as "herpetological creatures," or "herps"--and her love of photography. The website started as her way of posting photos of herps on the web, but is now an online store, carrying an assortment of items, including greeting cards, gifts, jewelry, books, and bumper stickers, but not live animals. The business has grown significantly since 2004, but it started as a hobby.
As a conservationist and a wildlife rehabilitator, I have a permit to care for unwanted herps before they are adopted, treated by a veterinarian, or donated to a zoo. When Anita and I married, I promised to limit the turtles in the house at any given time to a 15-foot habitat. Then, on our honeymoon in France, Anita found a piece of turtle jewelry in a store window. It was our first taste of the herp knickknack market.
Anita would often accompany me on trips to conservation conferences and met people who shared my affinity for herps. We became known as the "turtle couple" among friends. Admirers would ask us where we got a herp trinket or a piece of jewelry and then ask if we could get something for them too. Just as cat and dog lovers like cat and dog collectibles, we realized there was a market of herp lovers.
Eventually we were able to establish a network of herp enthusiasts by word of mouth. At gift shows and flea markets, we asked vendors for specific items and then bought the product outright. Since we could find no vendor who specializes in herp items, we developed contacts all over the world, including Australia, Peru, and Thailand. At least 10% of our products, such as the cards and prints, are created by Anita.
Our sales have doubled every year, to about $60,000 this year, and it has been difficult for us to stay ahead of the growth--more and more of our time is consumed by packaging orders and maintaining our website. In a few months we will reevaluate the company and decide if we want to let it grow or to keep it small. But for the time being, we will continue to search for unique items in anticipation of the Christmas season, while keeping our conservation efforts a top priority.