On the Web - It is wonderful to see one of our own recognized for their amazing contributions to the reptile community. From National Geographic: Herpetologists in a zoo setting often...
A Blessed Life
The Reptile Report - Few people are born into this world with the calling of their life already burned in their heart. Brian Barczyk is one of those few.
He was born the youngest of three in a low-income, single-parent family, with a mother that disliked pets of any sort and siblings that were indifferent to animals. And yet, the very first clear memory of his life, at the age of two, was seeing a ball python at the Bell Isle Zoo in Detroit. Throughout his childhood, he would beg his friends to set aside their bicycles and baseballs to go tramping through the woods looking for snakes with him. There, he would catch Dekays and garters and bring them home in a paper sack. By the end of the summer, he would have 25-30 small snakes hidden away in his garage that he took great pleasure in feeding and caring for. In the fall, he would release them back into the wild and start all over again the next year.
It wasn’t until he turned fifteen that his mother allowed him to buy a snake and keep it as a pet, so long as it stayed in the basement where his bedroom was. From that day forward, his mother never again set foot in the basement until Brian was grown and moved out. Even today, she is still afraid of snakes and his siblings have no pets of their own. Love of animals in general, and reptiles in particular, was not something Brian was taught, but something he was born with.
That first snake was, of all things, a Burmese python. In the course of the next eighteen months or so, Brian went from keeping one snake in his bedroom, to spilling out into the rest of the basement with over a hundred!
At the time, Brian worked in a local pet store and became friends with Mark Bell, who helped supply the store with reptiles. Back then, the Bells had about 200 animals and bred them as a side-job while Mark worked full time at a “real” job.
When Brian was seventeen, the “albino burm craze” hit the world. With single-minded grit and determination, Brian scrounged up every penny he could—from his paper route, birthday gifts, pet store paycheck, his college fund—and bought a pair of het albino burms from Mark for $3000. That first clutch, hatched in his mom’s basement, earned him $40,000. Heady stuff for a young man not even twenty years old!
Right about that same time, Bob Clark quit his day job in order to breed reptiles full time, and the reptile “industry” as we know it today, was born. Brian was in the right place at the right time to catch a ride on the crest of that first, huge wave.
Brian went on to college to study biology. At the time, he aspired to be either a micro biologist or a zoo keeper. But by his second year of school, he was already earning more money annually from snake breeding than he could have made in either of those career fields.
Of course, no story about Brian’s youth would be complete without the beautiful Lori Barczyk. During his high school years, Lori moved to town and enrolled in the same school. Brian was two years ahead of her, so they didn’t meet until later, at a party hosted by a mutual friend. For Brian, it was love at first sight. He only spoke with her for a few minutes, but when he got home that night, he told his mother that he wanted to marry the girl he’d just met.
Lori didn’t even remember that first meeting.
Since her best friend was the girlfriend of Brian’s best friend, Brian was able to arrange an outing about a month later, and before long, they were going out regularly. But Lori hated snakes. For the first few weeks of their relationship, she refused to go near them. Eventually, though, she began to sit in the snake room and keep him company while he worked. And then she figured out that if she helped with the feeding and cleaning chores, they could get on with the fun stuff of the date much sooner.
They’ve been partners and best friends ever since. “She’s my soulmate,” Brian said. “She’s everything to me.”
They married young, in 1992, and because of Brian’s snake breeding, they were able to buy their first house when Brian was only twenty years old. Not long after, their daughter Jade was born. At first, Brian still worked at the pet shop and made money breeding, but with a wife and child, he felt that he had to do the “responsible” thing and get a “real” job to support his family. He spent the next five years working with computers—and hating every minute of it. Looking back now, he says it was the worst five years of his life, and yet it was still a positive influence. It built character and taught him to appreciate doing the things he really loved to do. He quit that job and began breeding reptiles full time, determined to do whatever it took to never again work like that for a living.
Ironically, his children—Jade, who is now 21, and 13 year old Noah—are not into reptiles or other animals the way their father is. Noah went through a phase of collecting various herps that caught his interest, but is growing away from that as he reaches his teen years. This seems to make Brian a little sad, but there is no doubting the love, pride, and joy in his voice when he talks about his kids.
So how does he do it all? He cares for, and oversees the care of, thousands upon thousands of animals. He manages employees, works sales, supports customers, travels to multiple shows across the country and takes trips around the world. In addition to all that, he writes, produces, directs, and stars in a weekly web show that airs every week without fail. AND, he never fails to take the time to talk with someone who is having trouble getting their baby corn snake to eat, or their ball pythons to breed, even if they’ve never spent a dime with BHB.
“I love a hectic schedule,” he says. “I’m only happy when I’m on the edge of insanity, when I feel like I can’t do what I need to do.”
He wakes up early, and ten minutes after his feet hit the floor, he’s working. He doesn’t stop until he goes to bed, often late at night. Seven days a week. “I don’t sleep much, and I can’t stand downtime. That’s how I accomplish as much as I do.”
Balancing work and family is tough, he admits. “I read once that scientists now believe quantity of time is better than quality of time when it comes to kids. I fail at ‘quantity.’”
But he works with Lori every day. They travel and do crazy, adventurous stuff with the kids. Brian may live an insanely hectic schedule, but he seems to have also built excellent family time into it, even if it’s not very traditional. “We’re not rich or famous, but we do get to do a lot of really cool things.”
As if owning and caring for thousands of animals wasn’t enough, Brian started producing a regular web show. How did SnakeBytesTV come about?
After Steve Irwin died, Brian realized that no one else was stepping up to do something for the animals. “I am NOT trying to be the next Steve,” he insisted. No one could ever, ever fill those shoes. Brian didn’t want the notoriety that came with SBTV. Rather, he was simply passionate about the need to introduce the average person to the wonder of reptiles.
In the process of creating SBTV, Brian discovered a second passion he never expected. He loves to be a part of entire production process. From coming up with an idea for an episode, writing scripts, meticulously planning shots, rehearsing, filming, post production editing, and promoting the video each week, every episode of SBTV has about forty hours of Brian’s time put into it. That is on top of all the other work he does!
Will SBTV ever become an actual television show? Unlikely, in its current format. But Brian is constantly working toward that super-broad audience to share his passion with. Last year, they signed a contract with the History Channel to shoot a pilot episode of a reality show based on the people of BHB Reptiles. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Brian, the show’s developers decided to “beef up” the content by adding in stories from a cougar-hunter in Texas and a wolf-hunter in Maine. Needless to say, the insanely muddled final product had nothing to do with Brian’s original vision for the show. The executives at the History Channel found the pilot to be confusing and pointless and decided not to pick up the show, and eventually let the contract lapse without further communication.
The time spent shooting the show was heaven for Brian, though, and he continues to pursue that dream. “Popular TV shows come and go in cycles, and what we’ve been trying to pitch is at the opposite end of the current cycle. So we’ll just try again with something new and different.” In the meantime, SBTV continues to rocket upward in popularity, now earning around 2,000,000 views every month, with over a hundred thousand subscribers.
Life at BHB Reptiles is not all fun and games and goofing off, as it often appears on SBTV. When the cameras aren’t rolling, and skits aren’t being acted out, the team is focused on work that they take very seriously. It’s a ton of work, and Brian expects a high degree of dedication and professionalism from his staff. He and Lori want the workplace to have a fun atmosphere, but the welfare of the animals always comes first.
The depth of this dedication was dramatically shown in 2009 when a violent storm hit the area. The work day was almost over and everyone was wrapping up and getting ready to head out the door for home when a powerful wind shear struck the building and peeled back about 1/3 of the roof like the top off of a sardine can. Instantly, a deluge of water was pouring into the building. For thirty minutes, the rain continued to come down in sheets while the team worked frantically to move animals to higher ground. Tubs were filling with water as fast as they could get the animals out of them.
Brian noted that if the damage had happened just ten minutes later, or if the crew had knocked off a few minutes early, they would have lost hundreds, and maybe thousands of animals, as well as all the eggs. As it was, not a single animal died, nor was a single egg lost due to the storm. Once again, Brian was in the right place at the right time. It took six months and a huge amount of money and physical labor to get the shop back in order, but never once did Brian question whether or not it was worth the effort.
And what is ahead for BHB Reptiles? BHB has been evolving over the last year or so, and will continue to do so for the next couple of years as they move toward the new vision Brian has. He is shifting their focus away from reptile shows and high-range animals and beginning to focus more on entry-level pet trade animals. Only three other breeders have the infrastructure to meet the demands of this exploding business and they are barely able to do so. Brian is poised to step in and be a part of that side of the pet trade, providing healthy, affordable, captive bred animals to the general public. He also has plans to start selling frozen rodents and husbandry supplies in addition to the live animals.
Some quick fun-facts about Brian: He’s 43 years old. His first car was a Chevette, and he currently drives a 2004 GMC truck. His favorite group growing up was Motley Crue. His guilty pleasure is pizza. The only animal he keeps at home is a five year old Siberian husky that goes with him everywhere. And if you ask him what he’s afraid of, he’ll tell you that he has more fears than strengths. He’s afraid of spiders, bridges and windmills, among other things. “I fear what most people don’t fear, and don’t fear what most people do,” he said with a laugh.
All of this success has laid a heavy mantle of responsibility on his shoulders. He feels a tremendous obligation, not only to the animals, but to all the people that care for them. From the first-time pet owner, to his peers in the breeding world, Brian is sincerely and deeply appreciative of every word of support and encouragement. He’s humbled on a daily basis by the number of messages he gets from people who say they’ve learned to love something they once feared, because they watched SBTV. When he talks to you, he does his best to give you his undivided attention, even though the world around clamors for his time.
He’s not perfect. He’d be the first to say that. But you’d be hard pressed to find a more honest, open, compassionate, humble, and fun person to hang out with. The success that he enjoys comes not from being in the right place at the right time, but from being willing to step out and take a risk when those moments arrive. It comes from his willingness to work as hard as it takes to reach his goals, and his unwillingness to ever give up. It comes from thinking of the big picture more than he thinks of himself, and being willing to put the hobby he loves ahead of the profits of breeding.
It has been my great pleasure getting to know Brian. I heard some awesome stories from him during the course of this interview, but there simply isn’t time or space to include them all here. Maybe someday there will be a follow-up called “The Stories of Brian Barczyk.”
Thank you, Brian, for the gift of your time during the interview, and most especially for all you do for the reptile community and the animals we all love.
“I take my role as a leader in the reptile community very seriously. My business would be far more profitable if that was all I focused on, but I feel a calling to give back as much as I can to the community. I love my life. I love every part of it, and I am humbled by how blessed it is.”
— Brian Barczyk
Chief Editor of The Reptile Report