Specialty Sales

Carrying a selection of small animal specialty products is one way that retailers can make their stores unique and increase sales.


Although small animals are becoming increasingly more popular to keep as pets, they are still in the minority when compared to cats and dogs. However, people who own small pets  While an owner can only buy so many water bottles, food dishes and toys for their pet, many are willing to buy just about any specialty product that artfully features their beloved animal.

Specialty products consist of two different types of items. There are items that feature a picture of an animal (such as t-shirts, mugs, note cards, signs and calendars) and there are products that are actually shaped like the animal itself (figurines, plush toys, key chains and jewelry). At one pet shop, I even bought metal candleholders that were shaped like rats.

Some small pet owners will only buy practical products, such as t-shirts, note cards and calendars, because they can more easily justify the money spent. Consequently, products shaped like animals appeal mostly to collectors who can’t resist buying anything that looks like their favorite animal.

The Popular Group
For retailers, it may take some experimentation and market research to see what animals are most popular in an area and which types of products their customers are most interested in. Ferrets might be popular in one city but not in another, or maybe in one part of town but not across town. Rabbits are the most popular small animal pet, but because of the association of rabbits with Easter and the popularity of rabbits in children’s stories, stuffed toy rabbits and rabbit specialty products are common and can be found in lots of other stores.

Hamsters and guinea pigs are popular pets, but specialty items featuring these animals can be difficult to find. Mouse items are fairly common, but rat items are scarce. Because rats have a stigma attached to them, many rat products are called mice products. If a retailer finds rare products that feature hamsters, guinea pigs and rats, they are likely to sell well. Ironically, it can be easier to find specialty products featuring the less common small pets, such as hedgehogs, sugar gliders and flying squirrels.

Shopping for Specialties
Retailers can look for specialty items at trade shows. Not only are pet industry shows a good place to search, but so are giftware shows. Make contact with gift distributors and ask them to notify the store when any new pet-themed products become available. Also attend craft fairs and bazaars, locally and while on vacation. Check out gift catalogs for pet specialty products too.

The Internet is one of the best places to look for these items. Be creative in choosing search words. Try each of the small pet species with words like “figurine,” “jewelry,” “keychain” and “calendar.” Most online specialty catalogs sell retail, but they may also be willing to sell wholesale. One advantage of ordering from a small catalog company is that they are unlikely to require a large minimum order. That means a retailer can order a few of each item to see how they sell.

Specialty Displays
It’s a good idea to display specialty items in a separate area so they don’t get lost among the typical animal care products. One idea is to set up an endcap in the small animal department. T-shirts can be hung across the display’s bottom, while mugs, figurines and stuffed animals can be placed on shelves above. Smaller items like jewelry and key chains can hang from pegs at the top. Calendars can be displayed in racks along the sides.

Another idea is to display everything on a table with t-shirts folded in stacks on one end, mugs and stuffed animals on the other, and jewelry on racks in the center.

Regardless of how specialty products are displayed, make sure they are easy for small pet owners to find. Good lighting can call attention to the area and help sell the smaller items.

Consider placing a large sign above the display to catch the eye of shoppers who might not notice the items and pass them by. Some suggestions are “Small Treasures,” “Pocket Collectibles” or “Exotic Accessories.” 

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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