Habitat Trends

Retailers who stay informed about all the products that are available in the habitats category and keep an eye on what small pet owners are seeking can maximize sales possibilities.



I recently visited my small neighborhood pet shop looking for chewable vitamin C tablets for my new guinea pigs. Any time I’m at a pet store, I always head for the small animals to see what they have. On this day there was a new addition to the store—a large consignment-sale cage housing three adult male rats that needed a home. I don’t need more rats, since I already have 13, but I had to swing open the large front door of the cage to talk to and pet the rats, which were comfortably dozing on the upper half-shelf in an igloo. A Dumbo, mostly white with attractive black markings on his head, came over and licked my hand. 

The owner of the store came over to chat. He mentioned that this was the largest rat cage he had ever seen, and I was surprised to learn that he was unfamiliar with the style of cage that was under consignment. This style of cage has been around for quite a while and has become quite popular among serious rat owners. Although I understand that a cage like this might be a little expensive for a small store like this to carry, I think the owner should have at least been familiar with the design. It seems like he had not been keeping up on current trends in the marketplace, and not keeping informed on all the different products that are available. By the way, he was also not aware that chewable vitamin C tablets for guinea pigs are available and did not carry them in his store, so I had to go to a different store to buy them.

In order for independent pet specialty retailers to stay competitive with their larger competition, it is important to stay informed about all the options that are available. If a store doesn’t carry what customers want, they will shop somewhere else. At the same time, carrying products that are not available at the competition can increase sales. 

Sometimes a pet owner doesn’t know they need a product until they see it, and they won’t want or seek it if they don’t know it exists. So, retailers also need to become knowledgeable about the products that are available, as well as what competing stores are stocking, in order to offer their customers the best choices.

What’s Trending
What exactly are small pet owners looking for when it comes to cages and habitats? The main trends seem to be larger cages for the larger animals, including rats, guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas. Larger habitats not only give pets more room, they also provide space to include different amenities and accessories, which are becoming popular with the owners of these pets. They enjoy being able to treat their pets to fun additions to their homes. Also trending are larger doors to make access to the pets easier. Housing for smaller rodents, including hamsters, mice and gerbils, doesn’t seem to be getting much larger; instead the focus is on fun, new additions that make it easier for kids to observe and interact with their pets. The overall trend is to improve the pet-owning experience by increasing the opportunities for owners to enjoy their pets.

Another feature that many small pet owners are looking for in cages is better construction using higher-quality, more durable materials. Customers are coming to realize that the more they invest in their habitat purchase, the longer the product is likely to last, and therefore the more value it holds. If a shopper is looking for a larger cage, but feels the price is too high, this objection can often be overcome when you point out to them that it is a long-term investment. A well-made cage will last many years and will increase the well-being of their pet. Cages that are constructed well are often also easier to clean and maintain than cages that are more cheaply made. Sometimes they are the safe option, as well, with fewer areas that might catch or pinch an animal’s foot.

When customers buy larger cages for their pets, they have more room to accessorize the habitat with furnishings and toys. However, just when a customer has spent a substantial amount of money on a cage is not the best time to encourage them to buy additional products; instead, consider a coupon incentive program. A coupon book with a different offer on each page can be given out with the purchase of a cage. The coupons can include discounts on accessory products such as hammocks, exercise wheels, wooden houses, ramps, chew toys, etc., which will encourage the customer to visit the store later for additional purchases. A coupon book can also encourage the owners of smaller pets to add new features to their modular homes.

Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness. 


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