An entire business focused on pet frogs may be the ultimate long-tail venture. Josh Williard’s company, JoshsFrogs.com, breeds and sells frogs and the products that support them. Founded in 2007, Josh’s Frogs has scaled to 90 employees across two Michigan-based facilities.
“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds,” he told me, seemingly in frog-speak.
Selling frogs, while unique, has many of the same challenges as other online merchants. Willard and I discussed those challenges and more in our recent conversation.
The entire audio of that conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Give us an overview of what you do.
Josh Willard: We’re an online pet store called Josh’s Frogs. We specialize in breeding exotic frogs. We also sell bugs, plants, and equipment to support the frogs. We ship and sell all the dry goods to care for those animals. We gain customers by getting a frog inside their house and maintaining that relationship by selling the supplies and feeders for the pets’ lifetimes. We sell directly to consumers via our website. We also partner with mom-and-pop pet stores and big box retailers such as Petco and PetSmart. Chewy is a customer, too.
I started in 2004 as a hobby by purchasing excess pet products, selling what I didn’t want and keeping the rest, such as terrariums. I had very little money. In 2007, I turned it into a business. I never imagined it would grow to where we are now.
We’re a one-stop shop for pet frogs. There aren’t many U.S. places where you can buy the animal, the food, and the cage from one place. Even the big boxes like Petco and PetSmart drop ship parts of that.
We have roughly 90 employees in shipping and receiving, customer service, marketing, animal breeding, plants, and insects.
Bandholz: Are your animals considered exotics?
Willard: Yes. Decades ago, pet reptiles were mainly imported. But it’s difficult for the animals and the industry to function in that manner. The industry now focuses on captive breeding.
We sell captive breeds. We partner with smaller breeders for lesser-known species. But mainly, we breed onsite here in Michigan. The vast majority of our frogs are not native to the United States. We also keep in mind that not all animals do well in captivity. Some need more space or diverse environments, although tropical-native frogs thrive in captivity. So we breed a lot of those. They come originally from South America, Africa, and Australia.
Bandholz: How do you manage supply and demand with live animals?
Willard: We forecast a lot, but not like many ecommerce businesses that project for the next quarter. We have a much longer time frame. Some species of frogs require four years to produce offspring and meet the demand. Some have explosive clutch sizes (i.e., numbers of eggs) — actually hundreds to thousands of animals at a given time.
Locating partners to get those frogs into consumers’ homes is critical. Big box stores help.
Overall, we’ve been growing by leaps and bounds. Pre-pandemic, about 3% of the U.S. population kept exotic pets. That jumped to 5% during Covid and afterward. Suddenly there weren’t enough animals for the demand.
Bandholz: So your revenue is primarily from selling frogs?
Willard: Nope. Surprisingly, less than 10% of our sales are the animals. Most of our revenue comes from products that support a frog’s life. Frogs need feeder insects, which are repeat orders for us. Smaller frogs can live eight to 10 years, while poison dart frogs can live 20 to 25 years. That’s a lot of insects. Once we sell a frog, we’ve got a long-term customer.
Bandholz: Where can people follow you?