Products for Small Animals
Retailers can take advantage of the rise in popularity of small animals by offering a variety of products that cater to the little critters’ unique needs.
Rodents may have a reputation as pests more than pets, but that’s changed in recent years, thanks in large part to the power of the internet.
“I think the increased knowledge base available from reputable rodent enthusiast groups has helped. Potential pet parents can get a wealth of great information online about what it will be like to add a rodent as a family pet,” says Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for Muncie, Ind.-based MidWest Homes for Pets.
Another major factor in rodents’ growing popularity is limited living space. Young pet owners today don’t have the room for traditional pets like cats and dogs, so they’re embracing smaller animals better suited to apartment living like ferrets, hamsters and guinea pigs.
This rise of small rodents as desirable pets presents retailers with a whole new category of consumers to cater to, says Lucas Stock, communications manager at Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb.
“For pet specialty retailers, an investment in the rodent category is a no-brainer. In today’s super competitive marketplace, it’s essential to serve as a one-stop shop for all prospective pet parents,” he says. “Once pet owners fall in love with small rodents such as rats, hamsters and gerbils, they’re often hooked for life. This type of passion is an obvious appeal to any retailer.”
Of course, while small rodents can bring just as much joy to pet parents as cats and dogs, they also have very different needs. Therefore, it’s crucial for retailers to stock up on the latest innovations in the category.
One of the biggest differences between caring for a small rodent versus a bigger pet is the habitat. Due to their size, pet rodents can’t be allowed to roam freely unattended; they need an enclosure.
In recent years, cages for small rodents have become more complex with interconnecting tubes, multiple stories and accessories allowing for greater room to explore and exercise.
For example, MidWest Homes recently expanded its Critterville line with five new cages for hamsters, gerbils and adult mice.
“The distinguishing feature of the Critterville line is the playful and fun interaction afforded between pets and pet parents,” says Whitehead.
One of the new additions is the Critterville Arcade, which contains a vertical play area with a wheel and cubby as well as a clear cover for maximum visibility. The Critterville Hot Rod, on the other hand, is decked out with a bunch of stylish accessories, including an external tire that turns when a hamster uses the exercise wheel.
One thing all pet parents share is a desire to see their animal healthy, and for pets of all sizes, that starts with a balanced diet.
“The foundation of a small rodent’s diet should come in the form of complete, fortified food. The remainder of the diet should come from a mix of fresh, appropriate veggies, greens and fruit,” explains Stock.
Oxbow offers four different lines of fortified foods specifically created for a wide range of rodents. The company’s Essential line, for instance, features recipes to meet the unique nutritional needs of guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits and chinchillas.
Another key element of a healthy lifestyle for rodents is chewing. “Rodents are expert chewers, and many pet parents will want to know if the enrichment accessories and bedding they provide their pets are safe,” says Stock. Retailers should only carry “chew items made from safe, natural materials.”
That’s why Oxbow’s new Enriched Life chews and play centers are all made with 100 percent pet-safe materials, including untreated woods, natural fibers and vegetable-based inks.
Today, dogs aren’t the only pets going for walks. In fact, many owners of small rodents like to take their pint-sized pets out for a bit of fresh air—a task that requires equally tiny accessories.
But, modern pet parents don’t want products re-purposed from dogs or cats.
“They are looking for products that are made specifically for small rodents,” says Sandra Alexander, president of Sandia Pet Products, Inc.
For over seven years, Sandia Pet Products has been manufacturing a line of products tailor made for small rodents, such as ferrets and rabbits. The Albuquerque, N.M.-based company offers harnesses, leashes, collars and couples in a variety of colors, patterns and sizes to fit rodents’ body types.
Plus, “as you might suspect, ferrets and other small rodents can sometimes be difficult to find. Our products come with bells to make it easier to locate the pet,” she adds.
Big Sales for Small Pets
Just because rodents are a growing market doesn’t mean sales are going to drive themselves. Retailers need to put in the effort to ensure customers don’t overlook the small pets section.
“The first and often most important step in driving small rodent sales is to make sure your customers are aware of the products you carry,” advises Stock. “Be sure to find ways to put a spotlight on these products—whether that’s via social media, mailers or any other form of communication that best works for your business.”
For retailers that sell small rodents, Whitehead recommends using in-stock habitats to house them. “This will allow the pet parent to see the habitat in use. Keep the habitat and environment in tip-top shape and keep the home clean. Do not over populate the home,” she adds.
Since the category is still on the rise, many pet parents are new to owning rodents, which is why it’s crucial for retails to establish themselves as educational resources.
“We encourage all pet retailers to do their homework and take advantage of educational resources that help their sales associates become experts in the aisle,” says Stock. “We provide our partners with essential educational resources, such as our handy species care guides that provide all of the nutrition and care information new pet parents need to get their animals started off right.”
Stock also suggests hosting in-store small pet events featuring store animals or in conjunction with local rescues to encourage prospective rodent owners to walk in the door. It’s also a great way to deliver essential education and build a rapport with shoppers.
While this may seem like a significant investment of time and resources, experts believe it is worthwhile for retailers, as the future of the category looks bright.
“At Sandia Pet Products, we fully expect the ferret and other small rodent market to continue significant growth as the demographics change and urbanization continues,” says Alexander. PB