Just Ants Founder Quit His Job To Set Up A Shop In Yishun Selling Ants
When the subject of pets is brought up, we will probably be referring to images of dogs and cats, or rabbits and hamsters.
However, the founder of Singapore’s first physical ant shop, John Ye, has a different take on what he would have as an ideal pet.
The 41-year-old is a huge ‘anthusiast’ – so much so that he quit his full-time job in 2017 to found Just Ants.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, John shared that he used to have a “regular job” in sales at a wholesale electronics distribution company.
He quit because he wanted to follow his passion, instead of getting caught up in the “9 to 5” rat race and “hitting targets”.
He realized that Singapore did not have a physical ant shop and that there was no one stop shop where enthusiasts could come together to exchange comments, share and spread their passion.
After “a lot of discussion” with his wife, he decided to open Singapore’s first anthill.
The paradigm shift ”
John’s passion for ants started when he came across a popular Canadian YouTube channel that documented stories about ants.
He was “blown away” by all the species of ants and how much he could learn from a “humble tiny ant”.
We have so much we can learn from them [ants] in terms of life lessons, how persistent they are in nature – that was really a really big paradigm shift for me.
John Ye, Founder of Just Ants
According to John, when he started Just Ants, it was a “very, very specialized” hobby, with few interest groups.
It didn’t start to bloom until around 2019, when other ant enthusiasts began to hold ant exhibitions.
John said the general public has become more receptive to breeding ants as pets now, and he has also used Just Ants as a way to educate people from all walks of life on the subject.
The ins and outs of running an ant business
In addition to selling materials for ant owners, Just Ants also stocks around 30-35 ant species in its physical store in Yishun.
For example, he sells various types of formicariums or ant farms, which are primarily designed for the study of ant colonies.
At Just Ants, prices for a formicarium can range from as low as S $ 6.90 to S $ 169.90 for a very large formicarium with a built-in thermometer.
Just Ants also sells already established ant colonies for around S $ 20, while rare ants can go up to S $ 50 to S $ 60.
In the past, Just Ants ditched ants “for adoption,” and the store only charged for equipment purchased by customers.
However, due to growing demand, John felt there was a need to give ants value, much like one would pay for any other pet.
Also, “it’s only fair” to pay a fee for the ants, as John had to spend months cultivating them and making sure his ant colonies are healthy.
He explained that it takes between five and six hours to feed all of his ant colonies daily.
Besides ants and ant farms, the store also sells hunting gear for customers to head out into the wild and cultivate their own colonies.
John shared that acquiring an ant queen is most important, as they are fertile and are the “founder of colonies”. That is why he is constantly on the lookout for ant queens.
The ant enthusiast shared that queen ants in Singapore typically fly around lighted areas after a heavy downpour.
So, after a storm, John headed out to the outskirts of his neighborhood, armed with “hunting gear” to acquire ant queens.
Often, he spends nearly four hours hunting because ants are very easy to ignore.
He even takes his son with him as part of a bonding activity. The young boy is now able to easily identify ant queens – sometimes even faster than John himself.
Build a community of ants
At Just Ants, we don’t just pay for a new pet, but also for community, advice and experience.
Customers will be educated and counseled on how to care for their new pets, as each species of ants has its own requirements.
They will also be added to a WhatsApp group chat of all former customers, where they can ask questions and share their knowledge within the community.
We don’t want our business to be a one-way street – they leave after buying the ants. We want to engage our customers.
Keeping ants out is not a one day affair, we want to grow with them along the way.
John Ye, Founder of Just Ants
John’s clients come from all walks of life and all demographics, with “more and more adults” interested in ants.
He animatedly shared a story about how a young child entered the store with his grandfather at the toll booth, but at the end of the day the old man ended up becoming “obsessed” with the ants.
His ultimate message: ants aren’t just pests
“Frankly, business in the ant region isn’t great,” John said.
Even though business has been stable, the store has been “pretty badly” hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it hasn’t been able to operate for three months.
After the resumption of operations, business slowly picked up, but “the fact is, a lot of people aren’t as keen on keeping ants as pets,” John said.
As for future projects, John hopes to be able to evolve in the field of education. His priority is to visit more schools and partner with various educational institutes to share his knowledge about ants.
Even though he has been approached by some institutes, he has not yet been able to enter into a partnership as he does not have the resources to conduct educational conferences for free.
“It’s a labor intensive process. I have no vehicle and we will have to bring down large tanks of ants on the site, ”he lamented.
“If we have the resources, I don’t mind doing it for free.”
Despite this, John is still encouraged to have succeeded in changing the mindset of the general public who come to his store every day.
He usually takes the time to share with passers-by about ants, so they’ll end up seeing ants differently, not just as pests.
“Business can be tough, but we are fulfilling our passion.”
Featured Image Credit: Just Ants
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