At Your Service
Retailers can seize an opportunity to diversify their customer base and revenue stream by offering small pets the same types of services provided for dogs and cats.
Although many pet specialty retailers are incorporating services for dogs—and sometimes cats—into their business models, fewer offer the same options for smaller pets. For example, many retailers offer dog and cat grooming, but they rarely cater to small animal pets as well. But if a store is already equipped with a dog grooming parlor, it is simple to add on full-service grooming for small pets.
Even if a pet retailer doesn’t have a grooming parlor, it is easy to set up a small back area to do simple grooming tasks like nail trimming, brushing and combing, and cleaning ears and eyes. For these simple services, retailers only need a small table, ideally in a corner to help prevent pets from falling or jumping off. The table should be covered with a rubber mat to prevent animals from slipping, and the mat should be disinfected between animals. A bright lamp mounted over the table allows groomers to minimize mistakes, such as cutting nails too short.
If retailers choose to offer baths for small animals, it may be best to schedule small animals and dogs at different times of the day. Small pets can be frightened of dogs, especially if they bark, so it is best to keep them separated. Chinchillas, hamsters and gerbils should never be bathed, and rabbits rarely need a bath, but baths can be offered for ferrets, guinea pigs and rats (although rats are usually self-grooming). Retailers can make this service even more appealing by using only natural cleaning products and advertising that to their customers.
Require that owners bring their pets in carriers. If the grooming cannot be done while the owner waits, and the pet will need to remain at the store for some time, place the carrier in an area of the store that is quiet and temperature controlled. The carrier should include a source of water. After the grooming session, be sure the carrier includes enough absorbent bedding to soak up or cover any waste while the pet waits to be picked up.
Another option is to offer a seminar in small animal grooming. This will give retailers an opportunity to market grooming tools that owners can use at home. Many owners of small pets don’t know the best way to keep their pets well groomed, so store staff can demonstrate the proper way to hold pets for nail trimming and the best combs and brushes to use for different lengths and textures of fur.
Tips on Training
For retailers that offer dog training or have a staff member who is interested in training small pets, this is another service that could be considered. Rabbits and guinea pigs can be trained to do agility, just like dogs, and they can thoroughly enjoy it. It is a great way for owners to interact with their pets. A sport called rabbit hopping, which is like show horse jumping, is quite popular in Europe, and groups in the United States are taking up both rabbit hopping and agility for rabbits and guinea pigs. An internet search will turn up numerous websites on these topics, with some that sell equipment, and a search on YouTube will find videos of rabbits jumping and guinea pigs doing agility and tricks. Rat clubs that hold shows also often offer classes in agility.
Retailers can also offer small pet boarding. The main requirement for offering this service is the necessary space, which must be quiet, temperature controlled and separate from where sick store animals are kept. The room must also be dark at night, as exposure to light 24 hours a day is injurious to the health of rodents. When boarding small pets, it is standard for the owner to bring their pet’s own cage, food and bedding. In this case the only cost is the employees’ time needed to care for the boarders. Installing several deep shelves along one wall in a back room or office can provide enough space to board quite a few small pets. There should be opaque dividers between the cages, so animals can’t see their neighbors, as this can cause aggression and stress. This will also help prevent the transmission of disease.
Be sure to have owners sign a boarding contract and include the owner’s contact information, the pet’s description, any special requirements, the pick-up date and the names of any other persons authorized to pick up the animal. Ferret owners should be required to show proof of vaccination. Although other pocket pets don’t need vaccinations, owners should be asked to sign a statement that the pet has shown no sign of illness for three weeks prior to the check-in date, and that the pet has not been exposed to any new pets or pets belonging to someone else that might be incubating a disease.
Retailers can also spark extra sales when boarding small pets by suggesting that owners buy new toys to put in the cage to keep the pets busy and prevent boredom, or buy some treats for the staff to give to the pet during its stay.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of three books about rat care, health, and training, and was a consultant on the movie Ratatouille.