BY LIZETT BOND
For many, “climbing the cor- porate ladder” is a term that denotes effort, grasping each
rung in pursuit of wealth and
fame. A few fortunate souls “
follow their passion,” a term that
brings to mind a joyful, visionary
quest with a fulfilling destiny.
“Jungle” Bob Smith, owner of Centereach, N.Y.’s Jungle
Bob’s Reptile World, which is
Pet Product News International’s
Retailer of the Year 2015-2016 for
Outstanding Specialty Store, can
speak to both journeys.
“For 20 years, I sat in a suit and
tie, selling computer systems in
the New York financial market,”
he said. “I was a reptile hobbyist,
but I dreamed of owning a store.”
When his oldest son, Tyler,
was in preschool, Smith brought
his animals to class for his son’s
show and tell.
Afterward, a parent approached him, asking if he would
be willing to give the same presentation at her child’s upcoming birthday party. Requests
snowballed from there to include
camps, libraries and schools.
“I have no idea how many
lectures I’ve done overall—more
than 1,000 in just the past eight
years,” he said. “I think I was P. T.
Barnum in another life.”
During this time, Smith pub-
lished Fauna Magazine.
An inveterate world traveler,
Smith conducted eco travel tours
to far-flung tropical climes, where
visitors witnessed the beauty of
amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates in their natural habitat.
When his favorite local reptile
store became available in 2008, he
“The rest is history,” he said.
“I dropped the magazine and we
went forward with this avenue to
convey how cool these animals
Shortly before opening Jungle
Bob’s Reptile World, Smith ad-
opted the Jungle Bob persona.
“A friend told me that with
the hat and vest I wear, I look like
Jungle Bob, and the name stuck,”
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
A visit to Jungle Bob’s Reptile
World is an at-home tropical
“It’s like a little adventure to
get here; there are rope-handled
stairs along a wooden bridge to
enter the store,” Smith said. “And
we are stocked. We have more
than 2,000 SKUs and around 120
Castro, a large Cuban rock
iguana, roams the store in his ca-
pacity as mascot and greeter.
Children often enjoy an “An-
imal Encounter” as they learn
about the animals they have se-
lected to hold.
“It’s really popular with
grandparents and grandkids,”
Awaiting aficionados are
reptiles, amphibians and inver-
tebrates of all types, displayed
in natural habitats. In addition,
all requisite foods and supplies
Smith prefers to purchase
animals from customers and pri-
“We cherry-pick all of our
vendors and breeder friends,”
Key considerations for Smith
are placing animals in a suitable
home and alleviating impulse
“You’re not buying clothing,”
he said. “These are live animals.”
Customers envision their
own home systems by perusing
displays of 2-gallon to 10-gallon
tanks, replete with waterfalls, ex-
otic driftwood, plants for every
environment, rock formations
All materials are available
for do-it-yourselfers; however,
Jungle Bob’s also creates custom
“We can walk a customer
through the selection of each piece;
everything seen in our display
tanks is available,” Smith said.
With approximately 40 per-
cent of the 2,000-square-foot store
devoted to animals, Smith noted a
focus on good housekeeping.
“The store is organized, clean
and neat,” he said.
THE REPTILE GURUS
Staff members, or reptile gurus,
are key to keeping Jungle Bob’s
spotlessly clean and running
He noted that staffing is the
biggest challenge in his business, and he looks for drive, a
passion for the animals and a
strong ethic for cleanliness. In
fact, associates begin their training by cleaning tanks.
“I have them in a class and
on the cleaning crew; they’re not
feeding or doing husbandry—
keeping up with poop is para-
mount,” he said. “I can tell when
I walk into my store if someone
didn’t do their job. I’m very sen-
sitive to that.”
As understanding and exper-
tise grows, associates progress to
husbandry, studying the needs of
The final pieces of the staffing
puzzle are Smith, his two sons
and senior staff members, offering about 148 years of experience,
collectively. These go-to people
assist in the training process and
help newcomers in answering
“One of my guys is an arach-
nid expert; another is an am-
phibian person,” he said. “We
all have our knowledge base,
The objective of all this
training is a reptile guru
able to share a wealth of
knowledge in support of a
“That’s a difficult person to find,” Smith said.
THE PRODUCT LINE
With so many Internet out-
lets available for supply
made the decision
in 2015 to counter
offering a line of products under
the Jungle Bob brand. Offerings
include decorations, handling and
husbandry supplies, hides, light-
ing, water bowls, medications and
These items are available
in-store, at reptile shows and
on the Jungle Bob business-to-business and business-to-custom-er websites.
This year, aquarium products will join the Jungle Bob
“It all dovetails nicely,”
he said. “For example, tur-
tles are aquatic and they
are reptiles; customers need
pumps, filters and plants.
And we’ve always used fish
In addition to the pond
plants already offered, pond
supplies, pumps and building
materials will join the Jungle
Bob mix this spring.
THE OUTBACK ADVENTURE
When it comes to tourists visiting
the store, Smith said the warm
summer months outpace the holidays in activities and sales.
Sightseers and locals alike
are drawn to the 2,500-square-
A New York Jungle Expedition
Specializing in reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, Jungle Bob’s Reptile World is
a full-service retail store, unique destination and community center all in one.