When the topic of pets is mentioned, we are likely to conjure up images of dogs and cats, or rabbits and hamsters.
However, founder of Singapore’s first brick-and-mortar ant shop John Ye, has a different concept of what he would have as an ideal pet.
The 41-year-old is a huge ‘anthusiast’ — so much so that he left his full-time job in 2017 to set up Just Ants.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, John shared that he used to hold a “regular job” doing sales in a wholesale electronics distribution company.
He quit because he wanted to follow his passion, instead of being caught in the “9 to 5” rat race and “hitting targets”.
He realised that Singapore did not have any physical ant shop, and there wasn’t a one-stop place where hobbyists could gather to exchange feedback, share and spread their passion.
After “much discussion” with his wife, he decided to go ahead and set up Singapore’s first ant shop.
The “Paradigm Shift”
John’s passion for ants started when he came across a popular Canadian YouTube channel which documented stories about ants.
He was “mindblown” by all the ant species, and how much he could learn from a “humble, minuscule ant”.
We have so much we can learn from them [ants] in terms of life lessons, how persevering they are in the wild — it was really a very massive paradigm shift for me.John Ye, Founder of Just Ants
According to John, back when he first started Just Ants, it was a “very, very niche” hobby, with few interest groups.
It only started to blossom in about 2019, when fellow ant enthusiasts started holding ant exhibitions.
John said that the general public has become more receptive to keeping ants as pets now, and he has also used Just Ants as an avenue to educate people from all walks of life on the topic.
The Ins And Outs Of Running An Ant Business
Besides selling equipment for ant owners, Just Ants also stocks around 30 to 35 species of ants at its physical store in Yishun.
For example, he sells various types of formicariums or ant farms, which are designed primarily for the study of ant colonies.
At Just Ants, prices for a formicarium can go from as low as S$6.90, to as high as S$169.90 for an extra large formicarium with an in-built temperature meter.
Just Ants also sells already-established colonies of ants for around S$20, while rare ants can go for up to S$50 to S$60.
In the past, Just Ants used to give up ants “for adoption”, and the store only charged for the equipment bought by customers.
However, due to a growing demand, John felt that it was necessary to give the ants a value, much like how one would pay for any other pet.
Furthermore, “it is only fair” to pay a fee for the ants, as John has had to spend months growing them, and ensuring that his ant colonies are healthy.
He shared that it takes anywhere between five and six hours to feed all his ant colonies daily.
Besides ants and ant farms, the store also sells hunting equipment for customers to head into the wild and grow their own colonies.
John shared that acquiring a queen ant is most important, as they are fertile, and is the “founder of colonies”. This is why he is constantly on the hunt for queen ants.
The ant enthusiast shared that queen ants in Singapore typically fly around lighted areas after a heavy downpour.
Thus, after a storm, John would head out into the vicinity of his neighbourhood, armed with “hunting equipment”, to acquire some queen ants.
Oftentimes, he spends close to four hours hunting as the ants are very easy to overlook.
He even brings his son along with him as a bonding activity. The young boy is now able to easily identify the queen ants — sometimes even quicker than John himself.
Building An Ant Community
At Just Ants, one is not just paying for a new pet, but for a community, guidance and experience as well.
Customers will be briefed and advised on how to care for their new pets, as each species of ants have their own different set of requirements.
They will also be added into a WhatsApp group chat of all past customers, where they can ask questions and share knowledge within the community.
We do not want our business to just be a one-sided affair — they leave after they buy the ants. We want to engage our customers.
Ant keeping is not a one-day affair, we want to grow with them along the way.John Ye, Founder of Just Ants
John’s customers come from all walks of lives and demographics, with “more and more adults” getting interested in ants.
He animatedly shared a story about how a young child came into the store with his grandfather in toll, but at the end of the day, the elderly man ended up becoming “obsessed” with ants.
His Ultimate Message: Ants Are Not Just Pests
“Frankly speaking, business in the ant area is not fantastic”, said John.
Even though business has been stable, the store was hit “quite badly” by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it was not able to operate for three months.
After resuming operations, business has been picking up slowly but “the fact is, many people are not so open to keeping ants as pets”, said John.
As for future plans, John hopes to be able to move into the field of education. His priority is to visit more schools and tie up with various educational institutes to share knowledge about ants.
Even though he has been approached by some institutes, he has not been able to clinch a partnership yet as he does not have the resources to carry out educational talks for free.
“It is a labour-intensive process. I do not have a vehicle, and we will have to bring down large tanks of ants to the venue,” he lamented.
“If we have the resources, I don’t mind doing it for free.”
Despite this, John is still heartened that he has managed to alter the mindsets of the general public that pass by his store every day.
He usually takes the time to share with passers-by about the ants, such that they will end up viewing ants differently, not simply as pests.
“Business might be tough, but we are accomplishing our passion.”
Featured Image Credit: Just Ants