Keeping it Fresh
Offering new products as they become available helps keep the small-animal department exciting.
The pet product market seems to churn out new products for dog and cat owners by the hour, as manufacturers eagerly tap into the nation’s love affair with their canine and feline companions. But small-animal owners are no less passionate about their pets and will reward retailers that make the effort to keep the small-animal sections of the store brimming with new and innovative products.
Fortunately, many manufacturers are focusing their energy on creating products to make small pets, such as rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs, happier and healthier. These companies are equally as interested in pleasing small-pet parents. The result is a market that is flush with novel products to delight both pets and their owners.
Dressed Up with Love
Apparel has been available for ferrets for a while, but these days, companies are expanding their offerings to include costumes manufactured and marketed for guinea pigs. After ferrets, guinea pigs seem to be the small pet most amenable to wearing clothing. They don’t seem to mind wearing an outfit as long as it doesn’t interfere with their legs. Some rabbits may also tolerate apparel, although it is harder to fit hats on them because of their large ears.
Holiday-related costumes, such as Santa and elf outfits, seem to be popular, but the market also offer bridal gowns and tuxedos, as well as more casual dresses and a variety of hats, scarves and bowties.
Small pet apparel can be displayed on strips in the small pet department or, if there is enough interest, in a special endcap display. These products might also do well as an impulse item at the register. As the trend of considering small pets as members of the family continues, it seems likely that costumes and other apparel for small pets will continue to increase in popularity, as well.
Hay, Hay, Hay
Hay is not usually seen as an exciting product, but since rabbits and guinea pigs are herbivores, hay should be a major part of their diet and therefore is a big part of their lives. New varieties of hay racks can make that part of their lives a little more exciting, at least for their owners.
There are hay racks and mangers made of metal, plastic, wood and even cardboard. Cardboard hay feeders come pre-filled with hay, so they can be hung right in the cage. There are also hay racks combined with other food dispensers. One design combines a hay rack with a food pellet feeder, and another design combines a hay rack with a treat dispenser.
Guinea pigs and rabbits like hay so much that they enjoy being surrounded by it. Their wild ancestors would have lived in fields of grass, so it is natural for them to want to hide in grass, as well as eat it. This experience can be provided for them with products made of woven grass and hay, as well as woven willow twigs. There are many shapes available: huts, tunnels, baskets, balls and even mats for them to stand on.
Animals not only like to hide and sleep inside these products, but they also enjoy nibbling on them, providing a double delight. In addition, there are usually repeat sales because once the owners see how much their pets enjoy these products, they buy a new one when they start to fall apart.
Back to Basics
Rabbits and guinea pigs also need more prosaic products, such as water bottles and cage cleaners. Both species need to drink large quantities of water because of the way they metabolize minerals in their diet. They absorb all the calcium in their food and require lots of water to help flush excess amounts through their kidneys. That means they need large water bottles with sipper tubes appropriate to their size. A water bottle that is too small might run dry, while a sipper tube that is too small will make it harder for them to drink and possibly reduce the amount they drink.
Guinea pigs drink water not by licking the end of the tube, but by putting the whole tube in their mouth and chewing on the tube. This can cause a certain amount of backwash into the bottle; therefore, guinea pig water bottles must be scrubbed quite often. Displaying bottle brushes next to the water bottles will help encourage sales. Retailers can also encourage customers to buy a spare water bottle to use when the main one is being cleaned. Some rabbits and guinea pigs will chew on the plastic bottle itself, so retailers should also offer metal guards to protect the bottles.
After drinking large quantities of water, these animals must eliminate while also flushing the extra calcium their bodies don’t need. This calcium in their urine has a tendency to build up on cages or litter boxes, where it is called urine scale. The best products to help remove the scale are slightly acidic, as the scale deposits are alkaline, and the reaction between them helps to loosen the deposits.
Staff members can talk to customers buying rabbit and guinea pig products and ask if they have a problem with urine scale on their cages. They can then suggest the right product to help make cleaning easier.
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.
Stocking the Basics
Fresh News Small Animal Bedding (freshnewslitter.com) provides outstanding odor control for a pet’s habitat. Made from 100-percent recycled paper, Fresh News is 99-percent dust free and 100-percent non-allergenic. The paper bedding is soft and biodegradable. The addition of baking soda helps to eliminate ammonia odors on contact, with the ability to absorb three times its weight in liquids. Fresh News is non-toxic and safe for all animals. It is available nationally in 10,000 CCM and 40,000 CCM packages, as well as in 50,000 CCM for store use. Fresh News Small Animal Litter can also be used in conjunction with the bedding for litter trainable pets.
Oxbow Animal Health’s Harvest Stacks (oxbowanimalhealth.com) utilize compression technology to transform all-natural, hand-sorted western timothy hay into compact, convenient-to-feed portions that produce 80 percent less airborne dust and take up 75 percent less space than loose hay. Harvest Stacks can be fed as a primary hay source or supplemented with loose hay. It contains no binders, and its unique shape and texture encourage enrichment through increased pet/product interaction. Harvest Stacks are available in three varieties: Western Timothy, Western Timothy with Carrots, and Western Timothy with Chamomile.