So, you want to meet other people who share your interest in tarantula keeping, but there are no local clubs in your area. Well, why not start one yourself? The idea can be intimidating at first, but it is really very easy and doesn’t take much time. It should also be said that you do not need to be a tarantula expert to start a club, which leads me to…
Step 1: Get Motivated
The thing you must have in order to pull off a successful club is to have to motivation to start the process and to see it through. Most clubs start of pretty slow, especially if you do not live in a big city. You need to be motivated to continue even if it takes a few months to find folks in your area. You need to have the desire to continue when nobody shows up to a monthly meeting. If you stick it out, and have the desire to succeed the members will come (eventually) and you will have a successful club. You don't have to be well-versed in tarantulas to start the process; you just need to try to bring people together. People with more experience than you will find you and they can help out.
Step 2: Have a plan
In the beginning you’ll want to brainstorm a bit. Figure out why you want to start a group and what you hope to get out of it. Plan on what you’re going to do if nobody contacts you for several months, or what you’ll do if you get 20 responses in the first week. Figure out where you’re going to meet. Think of some ideas of topics to discuss at your meetings. What will you call your group? Do you want a logo? Many of these things don’t have to be worked out ahead of time and can be figured out dynamically with the group but it is good to be thinking about them ahead of time.
Step 3: Get the word out
This is the most important part of starting a club. People cannot find you if you don’t put forth a little bit of effort to let them know you exist. There are many things you can do to publicize your group and most cost nothing but a little bit of your time, and maybe a few sheets of paper.
If you are reading this then you know all about the internet and message boards. These are great avenues to get the word out. Post your new club’s info on as many tarantula forums as you can find. The American Tarantula Society, Tarantulas.us, Arachnofreaks, VenomList, and Arachnoboards are a few of the larger ones to start with.
Another great tool, that I have found to be absolutely beneficial, is to have a website. When you have a website people can randomly find you when they are searching for info on tarantulas. It can be as simple as a page that lists your contact info and where your club meets, or it can be as complex as your skills allow. One very beneficial tool is to have a site that has its own forum. This is a great way to communicate with your local members and discuss/plan future events. These are very easy to set up. I personally have used Yahoo! Groups for my group’s website/forum. You can create a group page in about 5 minutes with little/no prior knowledge. Other successful groups have used myfreeforum.org, but there are several other tools out there you can use.
Another great idea that a few people have done is to make a video of you talking about your obsession with tarantulas and your new group and then post it on YouTube. Have fun with it and make a small movie. You could have the next great viral video!
Now the one drawback to the internet is a lot of folks either aren’t on the internet, or don’t use it for getting info on their tarantulas like most of us do. They also aren’t actively looking for you, so you need to go out and find them. This is where a little bit of printer paper and some footwork come in. Create a flyer, something that will attract attention. Get pictures of bright, colorful spiders (get permission first if they aren’t your own) to put on your flyer and add your pertinent contact info (meeting time/location, your email, web address, etc.). Post them (get permission first) wherever you think tarantula people might see them. Good places to start include pet stores, community bulletin boards, public libraries, local colleges/high schools, tattoo shops (yeah it’s a stereotype, but it works), book stores, coffee shops, music stores, grocery stores, churches, and barbershops. Get creative and find other places. Hang out at pet stores and talk to people there. When you see folks buying crickets, ask them what they are feeding. If they say spiders, you’re golden. If not, tell them that you have spiders and see if it sparks an interest. It is also helpful if you can make up a business card with your contact info. Hand them out to anyone you meet who might be interested or leave a stack of them on the pet store counter for people to take.
If you want to go a step further and have a little bit of money to use you could take out an ad in a local newspaper, college newspaper, or alternative newsweekly paper. The sky is the limit when it comes to advertising your new group. Just be creative and the people will find you.
Another great avenue for finding members is to set up an information table at a local reptile show. Many people go to reptile shows to buy tarantulas so the chance of meeting new members is pretty high. Most large cities have at least one reptile show per year and many have a monthly show. Contact the show’s organizers and see if they will donate table space to you. Usually table space is purchased, but since you are a local group and not selling anything they may just give it to you. While there you can hand out flyers, business cards, club/tarantula information, and caresheets
. Have a signup sheet so you can get people’s contact info, and then you can follow up with them later. While there, see if you can hook up with any local tarantula breeder/dealers or any reptile people who have a large number of tarantulas for sale. You could help each other’s business through referrals.
My last great method for getting the word out is to contact your local newspaper or television station and see if they want to do an interview with you or a story about your group. This might be particularly interesting to them around Halloween. This is something to look into once you’ve been established for a little bit and have at least a few regular members.
Step 4: Find a place to meet
Most groups start out very informally, just a couple people meeting at someone’s house discussing spiders and showing off their collection. Maybe the meeting location rotates to a different member’s house every time. Eventually you’re going to want to find a permanent place to hold meetings, either because you have too many members to fit in your living room comfortably or you just need something more centrally located to ease everyone’s travel. Pet stores are a good place, especially if they have some sort of meeting area already established. Other places to consider are schools, libraries, community centers, or churches. Just make sure they are OK with you bringing in live animals. If you live near a college see if they have a zoology or agriculture department, if so you can try to track down some entomology students/professors to help find members or a place to meet.
Step 5: Figure out what to do
Discuss with your members to find out what they want to get out of the group. Every group’s dynamic will be different based on their member composition and that will change as the group grows. Figure out some general topics to discuss at meetings such as show and tell (happens every meeting), tarantula anatomy, life history, geographic differences, different types of housing (arboreal, terrestrial, burrower), how to sex tarantulas, and breeding demonstrations. Everyone’s experience level will be different and everyone will have something they can share with the group. Pick a few “hot topics” from the internet message boards and discuss them. Research and create a knowledge quiz, crossword puzzle, or word find and keep them handy in case the conversation gets stale or as an ice breaker. When I first started a group we had very little planned yet we were never short of things to talk about. Breeding sessions are always fun. It gives folks a chance to see something they might not get to see based on their experience level. Also groups like this allow great networking for finding males for breeding projects and when people share spiderlings from their breeding projects it helps to build people’s collections and a sense of community within the group.
Step 6: Don’t get discouraged
Membership numbers will likely be disappointing at first, and gaining new members is very challenging. If you're near a big city it might be easier. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 people or 20 people show up, as long as everyone is happy and enjoying it, then the meeting is a success. If things are slow at first (expect them to be) don’t get down on yourself and just try to make them better next time.
Step 7: Have fun
That’s why you started the group in the first place, isn’t it?
Current Local Groups
Here is a list of the current local groups
that I am aware of. Please contact me when you start your group and I'll add your group's info to the list.