Arizona internist puts on a show that welcomes hisses

Buyers and sellers come to the annual event "to promote reptiles throughout the community."

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Feb. 6, 2012

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Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
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Name: Mark Wolfson, MD

Specialty: Internal medicine

Location: Tucson, Ariz.

Company: The annual Tucson Reptile & Amphibian Show & Sale features dozens of vendors from around the United States and thousands of buyers from Arizona and neighboring states. Dr. Wolfson breeds variable kingsnakes and leopard tortoises in his backyard and then sells them

Annual revenue: Numbers were not made available.

Why he started the business: Dr. Wolfson has been fascinated by reptiles since he caught lizards and snakes as a boy, keeping many as pets. About 25 years ago, he started breeding snakes as a hobby. "Just small, friendly snakes -- nothing venomous," he said.

Dr. Wolfson sometimes would sell the reptiles at shows around the country. About a decade ago, he decided to try the same approach in his hometown of Tucson.

"A friend and I decided to go ahead and start our own reptile show," Dr. Wolfson said. "We found a hall for rent, and went in and rented it. We had about three months to set up."

The first show hosted about a dozen vendors. "We really did no paid advertising and were surprised when about 2,000 people showed up."

The event has since moved to a 50,000-square-foot venue and expanded beyond live reptiles into related supplies as well as jewelry and T-shirts. The next event is scheduled for Oct. 6-7.

"The goal of the show is to promote reptiles throughout the community, and we have done a very good job of that," Dr. Wolfson said.

Why he still practices: "I don't make a whole lot of money breeding animals. It's not enough to sustain me. It's a hobby, but it's a hobby that makes some money."

Words of wisdom: "You don't want to get into something you don't enjoy."

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