Play in the Bowl Game
On the priority list of important SKUs, food and water receptacles are likely low. Typically included in a cage setup, they’re often plastic, flimsy and forgettable. But poor design and materials can often lead to waste, mess and unhealthy conditions.
That’s why it’s wise to stock an assortment of feeders and waterers, many of which could serve as necessary replacements for the default sustenance vessels that originally came with a given aviary, according to experts. The good news is that there’s plenty of choices in this space today.
“Feeders and waterers are now designed in all shapes, sizes, colors and styles to suit your bird’s needs,” said John Lance, owner of A&E Cage Company LLC, the Burlington, New Jersey-based pet cage and supply company that launched in 2005. “Different species of birds like to eat in much different ways, so it’s important to have a variety of watering and food bowl needs, including apparatuses being made with more durability for longer usage and that are dishwasher safe.”
That typically means metal or ceramic food bowls or crocks for larger species and sturdy plastic hoppers or silos for smaller breeds. As for waterers, bowls, bottles and tubes rule the roost.
Feasting and Foraging
Two trends Lance has observed is an influx of more colorful materials that blend in well with home decor, as well as an increase of bolt-on cups, which reduce food and water spillage. He says these cups are made to either hang on the bars of the cage or can be secured tightly to the bars using a metal plate
and a wing nut or screw.
“Since birds have a natural instinct to forage and feel like they are finding their food and water, providing those necessities in their cage that they can retrieve themselves can eliminate any stress or boredom your pet might experience,” said Lance, whose company is known for its Jungle Cups—colored, stainless steel bowls available in three colors.
Sweet Feet & Beak, a Cleveland, Georgia-based bird products manufacturer now in business 25 years, offers a tweak on this trend: an indestructible plastic Foraging Feeder Cup with multiple hanging options that eliminate side mounting, further reducing mess.
“What’s driving this trend is that bird owners want to maximize the entertainment factor of every product in the cage to keep them happy and fulfilled,” said Jason Bohannon, online sales manager for Sweet Feet & Beak. “With our cups, the bird has to work to raise the lid up the chain to get its food. This provides a more sterile and safe feeder option and adds entertainment value to their feeding experience.”
Jason Savitt, president of Prevue Pet Products in Chicago—previously Prevue Hendryx, founded in 1869—says pet stores can clean up on consumers’ rising demand for tidy aviaries.
“Increasingly, customers seem to be more aware of and looking for products that help with mess control and ease of cleaning,” Savitt said. Consequently, Prevue Pet Products makes an array of ceramic and plastic hooded cups, including models with detachable hoods and attached perches for proper positioning while feeding. “A hooded cup helps deter birds from flinging and spitting their seeds outside the cage and helps protect food and water from debris and droppings when the bird climbs high or plays on top of their cage.”
If your clientele prefers bowls, Mark Roth, owner of Bird Fever, a pet bird retailer in Indianapolis, has a tip.
“We recommend placing a food bowl on the bottom of the cage for messy birds. But you’ve got to educate shoppers carefully on proper bowl placement, such as never directly underneath a perch,” said Roth, adding that he enjoys strong sales of the Tidy Seed No Mess Bird Feeder, a boxy acrylic attachment that fits inside the cage. Roth also sells a fair share of new plastic bowls by Caitec that perfectly fit enclosures by the now defunct California Cages.
Drinking in Better Options
In the H2O department, Roth’s patrons also tend to gravitate toward upright water bottles that release
droplets on demand, “which are handy for birds that like to make soup in their water bowls,” he said.
Jane Morehouse, graphics manager and product research and development coordinator for Hayward, California-headquartered Kordon LLC, parent company of Oasis Pet Products (known especially for its multivitamin supplements), is a big proponent of sipper tube-type water bottles.
“Open water dishes are bacteria farms that allow food debris, feather dander and fecal matter to contaminate water. Bottles provide a closed system of water delivery that supplies sanitary water held by a vacuum,” said Morehouse, citing the Oasis Bird Water Bottle as an example. “Birds used to open dishes will transfer easily to the water bottle concept.”
To avoid lost sales in this subcategory, “cross-merchandise as much as possible and have a front-and-center display within an enclosure for customers to see,” Lance suggested.
If you sell birds in your store, it’s a no-brainer to display any new feeder/waterer wares right in the cage.
“But if you don’t sell live birds, set up a cage with various products you want to promote and feature item-focused signs like ‘We recommend the Oasis Bird Bottle,’” Morehouse said.
“Also, make sure you stock cages that include a good feeder and waterer as part of the kit,” Roth said.
This avoids irritating patrons who may return later with complaints about needing to upgrade the food and water receptacles.
“We recommend also carrying cups that fit the cages you sell and stocking replacement and additional cups,” Savitt said. “Many bird owners like to have an extra set while one is in the dishwasher, or they like to provide more food, treat and water stations in larger cages for multiple or bigger birds.”
Lastly, be careful where you place these products in your store.
“Don’t mix them in with toys—they only get lost in the array of color. Instead, display all feeder and waterer options with caging accessories,” Savitt added.
Dollars and Scents
Smell that? Perk up your nose and catch a whiff before it’s gone—it’s the fragrance of opportunity and lost profits heading out the door of your store because you didn’t properly capitalize on promoting the odor control and cleaning products your customers are seeking.
Small mammal owners often slack off in the cleaning and maintenance department when it comes to their pets’ enclosures. Consider the points you can score with them if you can recommend one or more of the innovative and olfactory-friendly products on the market today that will keep owner and animal alike happy.
No Smell Sells
Mary Ann Loveland, senior associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wisconsin, likes to remind retailers of a simple fact.
“The biggest complaints we hear about owning a small animal pet is having to keep its habitat clean,” she said.
Fortunately, there’s been greater consumer awareness of the importance of quality odor control products, according to Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company named after the Oxbow Trail that carried pioneers across the country and passed through the farm of the firm’s founding family.
“In days past, these products were often perceived as an afterthought or something that was purchased without much research or consideration. Now, we’re finding discerning customers who want to know about the specific attributes and functionality of odor-control and cleaning products,” Stock said.
Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., the Bowling Green, Ohio-located pet products maker founded 180 years ago, says a major trend that began years ago has only snowballed since.
“More natural cleaning and odor-control products that rely less on chemicals and use more environmentally friendly materials and practices are increasingly winning over pet owners today,” Fain said.
As proof, Fain cites the popularity of bedding and litter products made with highly absorbent recycled paper and without artificial colorants. The inclusion of natural odor reducers is another example—Sunseed Fresh World Bedding’s regular formula uses traditional baking soda for this task. Another trend has been an emphasis on making cage cleaning chores easier. Kaytee made a big splash a few years back with the rollout of its CritterTrail Quick Clean habitat and disposable bedding tray cartridges, now available in a three-pack.
“Shelf space is limited, so it’s important to stock and sell products that meet the needs and expectations of pet parents. Listen to your customers, and learn about their needs, concerns and questions. What’s most important to them—absorption? Softness? Color? Knowing the answers to these questions will help guide your purchasing,” said Stock, noting that Oxbow’s Pure Comfort line of bedding is designed to be moistureand odor-absorbent as well as 99.9 percent dust free.
While not always as high-profile of a sale as foods or hays, odor control goods such as bedding, litter, odor-eliminating sprays, cleaning liquids and scrubbing wipes should be marketed as repeat purchase essentials.
“Sales of odor control and cleaning products is all about getting your customers in the habit of using these products routinely. Make sure they understand the daily importance of these items, and always do your best to reinforce that a clean pet is a healthy and happy pet,” Stock added.
At Park Pet Shop Inc., a standalone pet store in Chicago that opened 59 years ago, co-owner Jim Sparks, Jr., likes to make choices in this subcategory simple for shoppers. He stocks two odor-controlling brands of bedding—Fresh World and carefresh—and only a handful of other SKUs in this space, such as TropiClean Deodorizing Pet Wipes, Marshall Pet Products’ Ferret and Small Animal Odor Remover spray, and Nature’s Miracle Cage Cleaner for Small Animals.
“We’re a small store, so we did our homework and narrowed it down to what we think are the best goods for our customers,” Sparks said. “We also use these products in the habitats housing our small animals for sale, so we really believe in them. The last thing you want is a customer walking through the door and smelling ammonia and pet odor.”
Out of the Woods
Jane Morehouse, product research and development manager for Hayward, California-headquartered Kordon LLC, makers of Oasis Pet Products, believes it’s crucial for retailers to properly inform their customers about recommended cage upkeep duties and selecting the right wares for their pets. That means phasing out cheap wood shavings and cedar chips and educating consumers about their drawbacks.
“Cedar smells good to us because it contains aromatic oils, but this oil is caustic to skin and mucus membranes,” Morehouse said. “Asking our pets to live with it 24 hours a day is not safe. A guinea pig kept on cedar will get chemical burns on its hairless feet, and the vapors released cause respiratory problems.”
Sparks stopped carrying wood shavings and chips years ago and has been careful to caution his customers about their risks while also directing them to better—albeit more expensive—alternatives.
“The message we tell them is that you get what you pay for with these products,” Sparks said. “If you want better odor control, choose a higherend solution. We also remind them that it’s not the pet itself that smells; it’s the lack of maintenance on its habitat.”
Speaking of which, if you sell small animals under your roof, it’s important to keep up with regular bedding replacements and cage cleanings to cater to customers’ noses and provide safe and sanitary environments for your live stock.
Morehouse follows a tried-and-true recipe that involves both cleaning and disinfecting.
“Always clean with a soap or detergent that can be thoroughly rinsed off,” she said. “Disinfect with a standard household bleach mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts water. And be sure that all cage articles that get wet during cleaning are thoroughly dried before re-inserting them.”
If this level of upkeep and the threat of sudden pet stank on your premises is making you think twice about housing hamsters, cavies and their cousins in your store, think again, Loveland said.
“Choosing to no longer sell live animals as a way of avoiding odor is not the answer,” she said. “The single best way to sell small animal products and accessories is to first focus on selling the animals themselves.”
Small Animals are a Pet Store’s Main Attraction
Mice are nice. Cavies are cuddly. And bunnies are fun and fundamental.
But let’s face furry facts: hamsters and gerbils serve as essential staples for most pet stores that offer a small animal set. And it’s easy to see why— they’re adorably compact, soft and gentle and represent an inexpensive starter pet for many families as well as low-maintenance companions for singles, too.
This begs the question: how invested is your operation in these small mammal mainstays, and to what extent are you missing out on opportunities to capitalize on gerbil and hamster live animal and product sales?
At Walter’s World of Pets in Lubbock, Texas, hamster- and gerbilrelated sales constitute a considerable slice of the small animal revenue pie. Manager/co-owner Vicky Blakley says they’re a go-to animal for many shoppers hunting for a miniature and manageable companion; in fact, 80 percent of the starter pets sold by the store to a first-time owner are hamsters and gerbils.
“We carry up to four different hamster species and three different-colored gerbil types, but that’s enough,” said Blakley, adding that the key to increased sales of these critters is to keep them highly visible in cages and displays that patrons are quick to see upon entering the store. It’s also important to encourage holding and petting. “Once the customer has a hamster or gerbil in the hand, they tend to buy that same animal.”
Blakley also entices with attractive price points: $14.99 per gerbil or hamster, $39.99 for an in-store assembled starter kit that includes a basic habitat, exercise wheel, food dish, water bottle, daily diet, bedding and care guide; buy all of the above and the shopper gets $10 off and a two-week money-back guarantee.
Leslie Ellis, consumer communication manager for Healthy Pet in Ferndale, Washington—previously founded as Absorption Corp. in 1985 and currently the makers of carefresh small animal bedding—likes these strategies.
“It’s important to feature habitats with all the accessories so that small animal pet owners see everything they need or even additional items they may not have thought of,” Ellis said. “Put together a starter kit for new pet owners with a special package price.”
When it comes to foods, aim to off er a diverse array of products, and don’t skimp on SKUs that boast healthier ingredients.
“The natural category is growing rapidly in this space due to an increase in consumer awareness of health benefits provided by natural foods,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, design and marketing assistant with Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania-headquartered F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc., a family owned-and-operated pet food vendor now under the supervision of the fifth generation of the Brown family. “It’s a big reason why natural Timothy hay is popular today, which stimulates the natural foraging instinct, satisfies the urge to chew, and helps relieve cage boredom while also providing a safe place to nest, sleep and play.”
F.M. Brown’s new Tropical Carnival Play Barn with Hay satisfies all of the aforementioned; this chewable enclosure, in fact, took second place in the 2016 Global Pet Expo New Product Showcase for the small animal category.
Timothy hay is becoming more of a staple in packaged foods, too, as evidenced by products like Kaytee Complete Hamster and Gerbil Food, a premium fiber diet containing the hay as a main ingredient; Blakley says this SKU is her biggest selling brand of edibles.
Other companies produce complete formulas worthy of shelf space. Oxbow, for example, offers Essentials Hamster and Gerbil food, which mixes Timothy hay with oats, barley and canola products for a proper mix of fiber, energy, protein and fat. Another in-demand option is carefresh Complete Menu Hamster and Gerbil Food, containing 10 real vegetables and fruits.
Home Sweet Habitat
Mary Ann Loveland, senior associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods—the Chilton, Wisconsin-based maker of pet products founded 151 years ago—says a big part of the appeal of gerbils and hamsters is the flexibility for owners to create modular, expandable enclosures with the help of connectible add-ons, tubes and tunnels. That’s a capability kids love and that can’t be as easily enjoyed by owners of guinea pigs and rabbits.
“Our individually sold CritterTrail Fun-nel tubes have inspired consumers to create their own ultimate habitats for their pet hamsters or gerbils,” Loveland said. “And the possibilities are endless when pet parents and kids can connect and expand any of these habitats by building and adding on.”
Kaytee recently launched several new CritterTrail Fun-nel products, including Mystery Tubes (which include special edition glitter tubes); the Hideout Outhouse; the LookOut; and the Loop-D-Loop. The company also won “Best in Show” at Global Pet Expo 2017 for its new LED Lighted Run-About Ball, an illuminated sphere with lights that run on a 10-minute timer (the suggested duration of exercise).
Not all owners prefer plastic and expandable cages. So long as it has a deep base for extra substrate to burrow in, any appropriately sized wire cage can serve as an ideal hamster or gerbil home. A new model to consider stocking is Prevue Pet Products’ Universal Small Animal Tubby 528, with 3/8-inch wire spacing, an included large platform and ramp, and a dark gray base.
Bring the Ka-ching
To grease the exercise wheel of gerbil- and hamster-associated sales, so to speak, follow tried-and-true tactics.
“It’s very important that all store associates be well versed on the features and benefits of hamsters and gerbils and their products so that they’re able to answer questions,” Ellis said. “Also, let customers touch and feel the various merchandise.”
Prepare to think outside the box, too, by pursuing creative marketing strategies.
“Have a contest with store associates to create the most natural or most colorful habitat, and then feature those in an endcap display or take photos and post on social media,” Ellis suggested.
The Natural Buzz is Hitting the Avian Market
Walk into any supermarket today and you’ll likely see more shoppers scrutinizing product packaging, reading ingredient lists, asking clerks questions, and checking apps for data like calorie counts and Weight Watcher points. And chances are, they’re doing the same due diligence in your store, too.
News flash: this increasing trend toward healthier living, sustainable practices, renewable resources and choosing products that promote all of the above is only going to pick up steam. Bird owners value these attributes, and many will likely be wary of wares that don’t conform to the new natural ingredients norm, the experts say.
Turn to Mother Nature
“People are trying to live healthier, more organic lives, and this choice extends to their pets,” said Ed Willis, owner of American Bird Company in Falls Church, Virginia, a retailer of exotic bird supplies launched in 1988. “For example, we’re seeing our customers feed their birds more locally grown or
ganic fruits and vegetables and use bottled instead of tap water in the cage.”
Willis says his customers have clamored for more organic and less processed diets as well as hard goods and toys that feature natural materials.
“To cater to this demand, we carry healthier diets by Harrison’s and Kaylor of Colorado and stock more coconut shell toys and java wood perches,” he said. “We’re also selling a lot more java tree stands instead of steel cages with playtops, as customers are seeking more natural environments.”
Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Hauppauge, New York-based Penn Plax, Inc.—which began as an aquarium shop in Brooklyn in the 1950s—can vouch for the veracity of “natural” as a dominant merchandise movement.
“Bird owners are becoming increasingly conscious of the product they’re giving their birds, and they want to feel confident that they’re pr
oviding their pets with products manufactured with the bird’s best interest in mind,” Acerra said. “Materials like seagrass, jute and coconut have become extremely popular, and this trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”
Penn Plax’s newest product, the E2 cuttlebone, taps into the natural drift. While most cuttlebone products are brittle, seasonally limited and rarely available in a consistent color, shape or size, the E2 provides a uniform product that includes other natural ingredients besides cuttlefish, making it available year round.
Daily diets with purer ingredients are also high priority today among bird owners.
“Years ago when you went to a pet store, there were few options for birds on the shelves. Now, manufacturers are producing several different types of food with natural ingredients to accommodate the needs of all types of birds and bird owners,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, design and marketing assistant for F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc., the Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania-headquartered company with roots that trace back to an 1843 water-powered grist mill business.
Brown’s made a big splash in the natural space with the rollout of its Tropical Carnival Natural line of gourmet foods. This line includes fortified daily diets for cockatiels/ lovebirds, parakeets, parrots/ macaws, and small hookbills— each nutritionally enhanced and lacking artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
In the toy category, natural took root years ago and has pushed out a lot of unnecessary plastics and artificial components, says Melanie Allen, avian product specialist with the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
“Natural components derived from self-sustaining sources are safe for birds to chew and destroy, while toys made from plastics or some man-made fibers can be ingested and cause serious damage,” said Allen, who noted that Hagen uses renewable and non-toxic materials such as abaca leaves, palm leaves, coconut and bamboo for its Rustic Treasures toy line.
Chicago’s Prevue Pet Products— the largest bird cage company in the world, founded in 1869—was one of the first companies to launc
h a line of natural bird toys and accessories, according to Jason Savitt, the company’s president.
“We use natural materials like sea grasses, banana leaves, bamboo, aged wood like mangrove, and natural fiber ropes made of cotton and sisal for our Naturals Activity Toys line,” said Savitt, who cites three of Prevue’s hanging toys—Gorilla, Coco and Bamboo as well as Coco Hideaway with Ladder—as examples. “The natural and neutral color schemes allow these products to fit seamlessly into everyone’s home decor.”
Sweet Feet and Beak is earning accolades for its array of bird toys boasting all-natural and non-toxic materials. Its new line of cardboard and cotton rope merchandise won a best new product bird category award at Global Pet Expo, and its Pizza Party (a large shreddable cardboard hanging pizza “slice” toy) took second place in the best new products category at SuperZoo in July.
“We’ve taken cardboard, a readily available and inexpensive bird-safe resource, and created a new line of toys that is both affordable for owners and entertaining for pet birds,” said Jason Bohannon, sales manager for Cleveland, Georgia-based Sweet Feet and Beak, which has over 80 toys in its full product arsenal.
To help your natural SKUs stand out, try to differentiate them from everyday items in your set, the pros say.
“We’ve created an endcap displaying natural products that helps these items garner more attention,” Willis said.
Savitt seconds this tactic.
“Don’t place natural products randomly on the shelves—make them a focal point that stands out,” Savitt said. “We’ve seen a lot of success when these products are displayed and grouped together for greater visual impact.”
Likewise, according to Carbaugh, it’s important to group natural bird foods together.
“Using signage and POP displays will draw attention to the ingredients in the food and educate customers about those ingredients,” she said.
Don’t confine these goods exclusively to your shelves, however.
“Provide the birds in your shop with natural toys and accessories so they can interact and enjoy them. Customers that see this will feel more confident about purchasing them for their pets,” Acerra said.
Lastly, encourage your clientele to make and post videos of their birds enjoying your natural products.
“Offer them a discount in your store for allowing you to share their videos with your social media followers,” Bohannon recommended.
Spotlight on Supplements
Food only goes so far in providing essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. It’s a big reason why people visit the health food store to stock up on pills, powders and enhancers.
The same is true of daily avian diets: while they may be fortified with many natural ingredients for proper metabolism and health, they can’t possibly deliver every necessary nutrient. That’s where a trip to a pet store can come in handy for bird owners—provided the store stocks the supplements they seek and can guide their purchase decisions.
“Just as it’s common for people to take a daily multivitamin, pet owners are realizing that, if they want to have a happy and healthy companion for many years to come, they need to make sure their bird is getting enough vitamins and minerals in their daily diet. Supplements are really the best way to ensure that happens,” said Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a Norfolk, Virginia-based company that distributes pet bird supplies internationally since 1986, agrees.
“Birds face many of the same kinds of issues we face as they get older, and so they need additional nutrients to support their systems,” she said.
However, the supplement subcategory is often given short shrift by retailers, Mitch Rezman insists. He and his wife, Catherine Tobsing, are the owners of Windy City Parrot, a Chicago-based bird boutique founded in 1993 that sells most of its avian supplies online, including its hottest-seller in this space, Hagen Group’s HARI Prime brand concentrated vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplement.
“The good news is that there are many different types available today beyond merely nutritional supplements, including products for plumage and digestive health,” Rezman said. “The bad news is that bird supplements are not as emphasized as they should be in pet stores.”
Rezman added that big box pet retailers may only carry a handful of such goods in their stores. By contrast, his establishment stocks 94 different bird supplement SKUs—from bee pollen and probiotics to kelp and candida/yeast remedies, as well as powders, drops, sprays, cuttlebones, mineral blocks and products designed to help with breeding or intensify feather colors.
One of the newest items to hit this channel is Oasis Naturals Vita E-Z Mist, the first and only spray-on avian vitamin supplement.
“Vita E-Z Mist is distinctive in its delivery method, as it allows for vitamins to be sprayed directly onto the bird’s fresh foods or dry diet,” said Jane Morehouse, graphics manager and product research and development coordinator for Hayward, California-headquartered Kordon LLC, launched in 1964 and known for its Vita-Drops products. “The mist dries very quickly and is suitable for both seed mixes and formed or cubed crunchy diets. For owners who don’t want to put anything in their bird’s water supply, this is the perfect answer.”
Other liquid-based supplements commanding shelf space nowadays include eCotrition’s Vita-Sol multi-vitamin drops, which can be dissolved in water or dropped on seeds, and Wild Harvest Multi-Drops for all birds, by Spectrum Brands.
“We often advise our customers to mix these liquid supplements in with a quart of water and keep it in the fridge, as the product may dissolve better that way than putting it directly into the water dish,” Rezman said.
Wyld is particularly excited about today’s specialty supplements that address hormonal and behavioral issues like feather picking, aggression and anxiety.
“Avitech’s AviCalm powder can be sprinkled on food to help upset birds calm down,” she said. “And Nekton has a variety of supplements to consider.”
Fain says retailers should also carry egg food products.
“Birds enjoy variety in their diet, which is where egg food comes in handy, providing extra protein and vitamins,” said Fain, citing Vitakraft’s Quiko Classic Egg Food as a worthy example. “It’s also versatile—it can be served as a dry crumble right out of the bag, moistened with water, or moistened and mixed with chopped greens, veggies or fruits for even greater variety.”
Other powders that have gained traction among retailers include Zoo Med’s Avian Plus Vitamins, loaded with amino acids; Designing Health, Inc.’s The Missing Link Ultimate Avian Formula, which provides omega fatty acids, dietary fiber and phyto (plant) nutrients; and Pretty Bird’s Natural Gold Supplement, packed with enzymes and probiotics to promote healthy digestion.
Move the Merchandise
Supplement wares don’t exactly sell themselves, so be prepared to promote these products through a combination of efforts.
“The key here is good staff education and passing that education on to the customer. We train our employees to ask careful questions of our patrons,” Rezman said. “We’ll ask if the bird has had a blood panel workup at the vet, if the bird looks healthy and what the feather sheen looks like under light in order to guide them toward an appropriate daily diet and necessary supplementation.”
It’s equally important to make these goods more visible and accessible.
“I would place them at eye level—if they’re on a top or bottom shelf, consumers won’t see them,” Wyld suggested. “Also, you need to have an easily identifiable area for supplements in your store, not just one or two products stuck in here and there. Using signage, shelf talkers and product literature like brochures in this area is helpful, too.”
Proper positioning matters, Morehouse says.
“Any nutritional supplement that provides a hanger-card or tabbed box that can be hung should go on a clip strip directly alongside the packaged bird diets,” Morehouse recommended.
Lastly, it’s smart to include one or more supplements in your bird starter kits.
“If you offer bundled cage and product deals for new bird owners, include a basic supplement such as a multivitamin or egg food in the bundle to introduce them to these products from the very beginning,” Fain said.
Welcome to Treat Street
The Golden Rule is to treat others as you would wish to be treated. But the golden rule of small animal ownership is to treat your pets to treats more often. Or, at least it should be, because let’s face it: life is short, and even if you don’t believe in eating dessert first, serving up a tasty snack to your favorite furball once in a while can be lots of fun.
And that’s the message you need to convey to customers: treats are absolutely a worthy investment because they reward rodent companions, promote bonding, and spread joy inside and outside the cage.
“Offering treats to these little guys is an integral element that strengthens the human-pet bond,” said Melanie Allen with the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Massachusetts, the world’s largest privately owned, multi-national pet goods maker and distributor. “And, much like any pet, small animals like hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and mice love treats.”
Phoebe Stanley, associate marketing manager for specialty pets with Bowling Green, Ohio-based Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc.—which launched back in Germany 180 years ago as a small, family-owned business—says consumers are motivated and energized to buy pet snack goodies for the mutual pleasure they bring.
“As pets are being seen more as members of the family, people are buying treat products to pamper their companions just as they would buy a toy or dessert for a child,” Stanley said.
Goodies without Guilt
Today, many owners are choosing pet edibles that often model their own food choices, which tend to trend toward better-for-you ingredients. Snacks are no exception.
“Many consumers are health conscious and passionate about wholesome and nourishing nutrition for their pets. As a result, we’re seeing a continued focus on healthy, natural ingredients in treats—less added sugars and more natural vegetables, herbs and fruits,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Murdock, Nebraska-headquartered Oxbow Animal Health, whose products are distributed in 30 countries worldwide.
Stock notes that these preferences have helped boost sales of his company’s Organic Barley Biscuits, made with organic hay, fruits and veggies, and Oxbow’s Simple Rewards line of yummies that includes Timothy Treats and freeze-dried bananas or strawberries.
Healthier snack habits have also prompted Sunseed to roll out its new All Natural Timothy Cubes, comprised of 100 percent timothy grass hay, loaded with digestion-friendly fiber but minus any sugar.
Flavors and Shapes
But many treats call for a touch of sweet. One of the most popular snacks at The Pet Pad in Cary, North Carolina, is Kaytee’s Healthy Bits for guinea pigs and rabbits, complete with nuts, fruit, seeds and a dab of honey.
“Our store goes back to the 1980s, when small animal treats were mostly honey sticks,” said Brad Ringlien, owner of The Pet Pad. “Today, however, many treats are now small morsels or chunks rather than food on a stick.”
Consider popular treat shapes today: in addition to the aforementioned cubes, compact ball snacks are still in vogue, as evidenced by the success of Hagen’s Living World line of yogurt, honey or berry-flavored Drops; Exotic Nutrition offers Sugar Beet Treats in the form of rounded red rectangles; and Supreme Petfoods boasts a Selective Naturals line of “Loops,” which resemble flat Cheerios.
“Another change from years ago is that treats are now designed for specific animals, like Vitakraft’s Wildberry Drops and Carrot Slims, both for rabbits and two of our biggest sellers,” Ringlien said.
Although shoppers should be advised to serve treats sparingly and in moderation, treats can be recommended for many diff erent snacking occasions.
“You can pose treat buying to consumers from a situational perspective—like a holiday or birthday treat. But there are plenty of other situations when a treat can be suggested as a great idea for a small pet. For instance, treats can be promoted as something special that a pet sitter can give while you’re away on vacation, especially treats that will keep the pet occupied and entertained for a longer time,” said Stanley, citing Vitakraft’s Triple Baked Crunch Sticks or Sunseed’s Grainola Treat Bars as prime examples.
Another way to turn treat-giving into a special event is to make pets work for them through play.
“Try placing treats in foraging devices—either a manufactured foraging toy or one re-purposed from household items deemed safe like a cardboard box,” Allen said.
A great way to make treats ring more at the register is to use them in your live animal display cages and demonstrate to owners how and when they can be given. But even if you don’t sell livestock, you can turn to reliable treat-moving tactics.
“Small animal owners are always on the lookout for new items as well as products they regularly get that are on sale. So we try to devote an end cap each month to treats on sale. Plus, we train our staff to look for customers who buy staples like daily diets or hay and then suggest a treat that’s on sale,” says Ringlien, who recommends checking your inventory regularly and replacing any low-selling as well as out-of-date edibles.
“Ideally, treat displays should be placed in the drive aisle or in end caps, as they are a great way to create impulse purchases. Don’t hide treats within your set—ensure that customers can easily see them,” said Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager for Kaytee Products in Chilton, Wisconsin, which started as a grain and feed business back in 1866.
Remember, too, that treats will not be the main driver of a visit to your store.
“Knowing this, make sure that treats are placed prominently in proximity to essentials such as food and hay,” Stock said. “Clip strips in the aisle are always a great way to visibly merchandise tasty offerings. And focusing on high-quality treat options with fun yet wholesome ingredients is a recipe for long-term success in this category, as winning over health-minded consumers can be a challenge.”
Finally, emphasize a more educated consumer by building their trust and offering advice on food products.
“Remind your shoppers that healthy treats should comprise a small portion of the overall pet’s diet and not be the main diet source,” Allen said.
A Healthy Snack Knack
They say you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. The same can be true of honey sticks, fruit and nut yummies, baked birdy biscuits, and millet morsels: offer a healthy selection of savory snacks for birds and chances are their owners will flock to your store for more of these avian indulgences. Because let’s face facts: daily diets may be steady staples in your set, but they can be downright dull when compared to the excitement often generated among shoppers by tasty treats.
The reason for this is simple: treats are thought of as more of a reward or gift for a pet, a way to evoke more attention and affection. In short, they make the pet feel good, which makes the owner feel likewise.
“Treats have grown in popularity as people have begun to see their animals more often as members of the family and not just pets. Just as they would for their child, people are more likely to purchase treats as a reward for their bird’s good behavior, to celebrate a milestone or just to show their love,” said Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio, which was the first pet food company to use nitrogen gas flushing as a natural preservative and to reduce the risk of insect infestation in its treats and foods.
“However, treats that serve a useful purpose for companion birds beyond being just a special reward are a popular draw for pet parents, too. Certain situations such as times of stress, illness, or boredom can lead a bird to excessive preening and feather plucking,” Fain said. She notes that treats like Vitakraft’s Triple Baked Crunch Sticks were designed to help curb this behavior by keeping companion birds active and occupied with mental and physical stimulation.
Transforming the Treat
The biggest trend in treats today continues to be the push toward better-for-the-bird edibles. “People are continuing to seek out bird treats that are fortified, species-appropriate for their companions and made with more natural and recognizable ingredients instead of chemicals,” said Fain, adding that spray millet is a good example of a natural product that continues to be a popular avian treat.
“A big reason why Caitec’s Oven Fresh Bites, also known as Baked Birdie Munchies, have attracted a large following is because this baked treat contains all-natural ingredients,” said Bill McGrath, consumer product analyst with Baltimore-based Caitec Corporation, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. “We’ll also be introducing several new Oven Fresh Bites treats later this year in new and different flavors.”
John Riley, manager at Kookaburra Bird Shop LLC in Carrollton, Texas, agrees that today’s bird owners are increasingly on the hunt for snacks containing natural, organic and healthier ingredients and which forego artificial colors and preservatives.
“Humans are eating more natural products themselves,” Riley said. “They’re choosing foods from local farmers markets and growing fresh produce in their own backyards. They’re also feeding freshly cut up fruits and vegetables to their birds.”
How does a neighborhood pet store compete with this Mother Nature treat tactic?
“You need to encourage your customers to serve fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the bird’s regular diet rather than as a treat. At the same time, promote packaged treats you sell in your store that can be used to bond and interact with your bird,” suggested Riley, who says this can be accomplished by carrying treats like ZuPreem’s new line of Real Rewards snacks (available in Trail Mix, Tropical Mix, Garden Mix and Orchard Mix options for medium and large birds).
Variety: Spice of Life
At Paterson Bird Store in Totowa, New Jersey, owner Philip Jasper says the key to healthier sales of bird snacks has been product diversity.
“Sales of fruit and nut snacks and treat sticks have been strong and steady for us,” said Jasper, who first opened his doors 33 years ago. “What’s helped boost interest is offering a greater assortment of treats, which I recommend.”
Ignore this advice at your own peril, he cautions.
“Treats serve a very important function in your set,” Jasper said. “Owners want to feed their pets fresh and natural things that taste good and contain healthy fruits, vegetables and nuts, and they like to try fun and new products.”
Catering to demands for the fun and new means keeping tabs on other treat tendencies. One popular trend involves snacks that combine a treat and a toy in one product—like L’Avian Plus’ Crunch & Fun Parrot Treat, featuring a hidden toy surrounded by real fruits and nuts.
Another trend involves treats that require some TLC prep at home, such as Higgins’ Worldly Cuisines Gourmet Bird Food Appetizer that cooks up in your microwave; San Francisco Bay Brand’s Fruit Mania, featuring dehydrated fruits and bee pollen that return to their natural state after stirring in warm water; and Harrison’s Bird Bread Mix, which can be baked in a pan or muffin tin.
And the push continues for products that blend stimulating colors and flavor profiles, as exemplified in Brown’s Extreme! line of bird treats.
Treats in Stores
To maximize treat sales, try peppering them throughout your store using clip strips and endcaps, if yours is a bird boutique. If you’re a supplier of multiple pet products, it’s probably best to mix in snacks with the rest of the avian supplies, according to Riley.
Treats tend to be an impulse purchase, so it helps to have them displayed at eye level near the regular diets that pet parents are coming into the store for more often, Fain suggests.
“Good signage is a must, and shelf talkers can be helpful, but nothing is more effective than merchandising treats on or near the counter at checkout,” McGrath said.
“You want to place impulse items like a new treat right on the checkout counter to attract the eye and remind shoppers to pamper their pet birds,” said Jasper, who most recently positioned a new papaya mango nut mix treat near the cash register, a strategy that’s paid off in more robust sales of the product.
Lastly, educate customers that “treats are not meant to replace everyday avian diets that are more nutritionally balanced,” Riley said. “They’re best given in moderation.”
Ferrets: Furry and Fun
The craze that made them household name critters may have died down from a few years ago, and they might not sell as solidly today as other small mammals in your store. But make no mistake: when it comes to cute and cuddly, few animals compete for a patron’s attention quite like the fur-tastically fetching ferret.
Which begs the question: is it worth carrying this breed in your retail establishment? Absolutely, say the experts.
“They may not sell like hotcakes, and they’re not an impulse purchase like a hamster or a rabbit, but they attract a lot of attention once customers see them,” said Brad Ringlien, owner of The Pet Pad in Cary, North Carolina. “We believe it’s important to sell ferrets because it gives our customers the message that we’re an animal specialty store, not just a merchandise store.”
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Ringlien’s formula for ferret success is to make them visible and accessible—in other words, place them near the front of the store in easy-to-view glass enclosures and allow patrons to hold and pet them upon request. This tactile, intimate experience can leave a lasting impression—especially after your clientele gets their fingers in that ultra-soft fur and stares into that adorable little visage.
“It’s always easier to keep your livestock locked away from customers in order to prevent [the pets] from getting injured or hurt, but the bad side of that approach is that you’re not going to sell as many of them,” said Ringlien, who has staff supervise these handling opportunities carefully. “Even if they don’t buy the ferret, that handheld interaction can lead to a rabbit or kitten sale.”
Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for North Rose, New York-headquartered Marshall Pet Products, Inc.—the world’s largest breeder of ferrets and manufacturer of Premium Ferret Diet, the top-selling ferret food on the market—agrees that a “look and touch” approach can win consumers’ hearts.
“The key to stronger sales is to let customers handle them and see firsthand how playful and loveable they are,” said Juszczak, who suggests placing plenty of the ferret toys and trinkets you sell inside the habitat, too.
Ringlien intentionally positioned his store’s ferret enclosure far away from the ferret supplies so that the shopper doesn’t feel pressured to purchase all the accessories right away.
“We train our staff to identify a customer’s interest in the animal first. Once they build the customer’s trust, they know exactly what to say and suggest when it comes to ferret products,” he added.
But earning this trust isn’t hard because ferret fans typically are an altogether different breed of customers who are often pre-educated on the animal. According to Ringlien, many of these owners are millennial singles or couples without kids who have a great sense of humor and lead alternative lifestyles.
While selling ferrets can help fuel retail revenues, selling the fuel they consume can also pad your ledger. But choose your ferret food brands carefully.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores “that require special diets high in animal proteins and nutrients that are appropriate for them, and they have short digestive tracts,” Allen said. “So their diets need to be easily digestible with very little to no grains.”
Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator with Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio—makers of Sunseed Vita Prima Ferret Formula—says too many owners feed their ferrets canned cat food instead of species-specific diets, a practice that pet store retailers should discourage.
“Pet product retailers and employees should be knowledgeable about the nutritional differences between cat and ferret food and share that information with their customers,” Fain said.
All the Necessities
Thankfully, a wide array of hard goods designed especially for ferrets that can distinguish your store as the one-stop shop for owners are available.
When it comes to habitats, for example, MidWest Homes for Pets has a notable Ferret Nation line of cages, equipped with ramps, shelves and other accessories. Prevue Pet Products offers a Frisky Ferret Cage on a castered stand, complete with a large front door and rooftop access doors. And A&E Cage Company outfits its Ferret Cage Kit with two play tubes and ample space for activity.
“Our focus group research shows that people want to get down to the ferret’s level and play with the animal, and they’re looking for toys and accessories that allow them to do that,” Juszczak said.
In response, Marshall created two popular ferret pastime products— the Pop N Play Ferret Ball Pit and the Cruising Critter Raceway (which includes a racetrack mat and two racing tubes).
“Since ferrets are very active and playful companion animals, toys and exercise equipment are essential,” said Melanie Allen, product specialist with Hagen Group in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “While many toys and accessories from other pet categories can be implemented, the retailer should always have ferret-specific products available. We suggest that ferrets always go home with an appropriate cage, a harness and leash, water bottle, ferret diet, toys and possibly other fun items such as tunnels for safe playtime.”
Accessories of note that are worthy candidates for your shelves and ferret starter kits include hammocks like Prevue Pet Products’ ZZZs suede hammock, Penn-Plax’s Tent-O-Fun, and Ware’s Sporty Jogging Vest harness and leash set.
Speaking of, Allen encourages retailers to introduce ferrets they sell to the harness and leash well before the animal is sold and promote this “prewalking-trained” feature to customers.
“This helps future owners more easily maintain a walking regimen with their pets without having to break them in, and it helps retailers move more ferret accessories, too,” she said.
The Play’s the Thing for Birds
Few things warm bird lovers’ hearts more than seeing their winged companions busy at play. But avian amusements only go so far in a cage lacking bird-friendly baubles, trinkets and toys. And therein lies an opportunity for pet store retailers, who can position themselves as the go-to source for fun products designed to stimulate birds and endlessly entertain their owners.
We may not be able to reinvent the wheel, but brands have shown that they can reinvent the mainstay mirror and bell and infuse more shapes, colors, textures and materials into the bird toy space—to the amazement of many pet supply retailers.
“Manufacturers keep introducing new and different toys to the market that get customers excited,” says Kimberly Kay, manager for Bird Hut, a standalone store in Portland, Oregon, that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. “The trend is toward busy, bright colors, more wood, and different types of pieces clustered together.”
The latter of that description fits one of Kay’s most popular new shelf additions: the Ripple Mobile by Super Bird Creations, a hanging contraption sporting multi-colored wooden blocks and chains with a classic metal bell at the bottom. It’s one of over 40 new bird toys the company rolled out in spring 2017 alone.
Bill McGrath, bird product development specialist with Caitec Corporation, a Baltimore, Maryland-based company founded 25 years ago and one of the largest bird toy makers in the industry, can vouch for Kay’s claim that bird toy makers have been increasingly busy inventing new wares. He says Caitec’s goal is to introduce up to 36 new toys per year, one-third of which will try to incorporate new raw materials.
“Today, destructible and interactive toys continue to be category leaders,” noted McGrath, who added that Caitec launched 16 new “Jungle Theme” small bird toys and cage accessories at the 2017 Global Pet Expo, including the Jungle Mirror—a bright green plastic gizmo with a built-in perch, spinning beads and bell. “Foot toys, which are highly entertaining and inexpensive, are also doing well.”
Value-added products that serve as multiple toys in one are high in demand, too, says Jason Casto, director of Pets International for Chilton, Wisconsin-based Kaytee Hard Goods, originally founded back in 1866.
“Our Forage-n-Play line of ladders and swings remain our most popular bird toys because they are each both a toy and a functional bird cage accessory,” said Casto, who adds that the perch portion of any Forage-n-Play Bird Swing can be swapped out with different Kaytee perches. “Bird owners love the value of getting a toy and a swing or a toy and a ladder with just one purchase.”
Hagen’s Living World has also embraced the swap-out concept in the form of a unique do-it-yourself toy kit it calls Create Your Own Bird Toys. The kit is comprised of 31 assorted acrylic pieces, four clasps, two leather ropes, one cotton rope and one sisal rope that can be mixed and matched to make at least four unique bird toys.
Sweet Feet & Beak, a Cleveland, Georgia-based hard goods manufacturer that won a best new product award at Global Pet Expo for its line of cardboard and cotton rope toys, has been able to expand its offerings and please the public thanks to an inexpensive and readily available material: industrial cardboard.
“We’ve taken a readily available and inexpensive bird-safe resource and created a new line of toys for the pet market that is both affordable for owners and entertaining for pet birds. And because they can be shredded up for nesting material, they’re also great for nesting birds,” said Jason Bohannon, sales manager for Sweet Feet & Beak. The company’s newest cardboard and cotton rope product is the Pic-A-Roni Pizza—a round chew-and-shred toy that looks like a mini-pizza.
The success of companies like Sweet Feet & Beak demonstrates that consumers are gradually gravitating away from private label brands carried by a lot of the big box stores “in favor of boutique and unique pet brands in the industry,” Bohannon said.
Brands boasting natural materials seem to be garnering more attention, too. Several of Prevue Pet Products’ newest items fit this description, including its Naturals Gorilla, consisting of banana stem rope, sisal rope, coconut shell, bamboo and mangrove wood. A&E Cage Company’s Chunky Monster, a multicolored java wood toy with sisal rope, various wood blocks and round wicker balls, is another example.
Overall, the bird toy segment is evolving and expanding primarily due to one important factor, the experts say.
“Bird owners today are more educated. They’re eager to improve the bird’s environment and provide them with a good quality of life,” McGrath said.
Turn Play into Profit
To help your register ring more routinely with toy sales, train your staff to divvy out more TLC to patrons. Kay’s crew, for instance, personally escorts shoppers to the toy section and offers recommendations to guide the purchase.
“Listen to your customers attentively, and ask them important questions like what type of toys they currently have in the cage, how often their bird plays with the toys, how quickly before the toy needs to be replaced and what toy colors their bird prefers,” Kay suggested. “Remind the consumer that the toy needs to be chosen for the pet, not the person.”
When explaining the value of a toy to a customer, “talk about how the product helps satisfy the bird both mentally and physically,” said Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a Norfolk, Virginia-based pet bird supplies distributor. “Explain how their little brains need to be engaged and their bodies need to move for optimal well-being. Remember that taking the time to discuss the pet and its needs increases sales and enjoyment for the birds.”
When it comes to ideal toy placement and stocking considerations, ponder your options carefully.
“Organize toy products according to bird size and/or product type. Discount slow-moving SKUs, and replace them with new products every two to three months, which coincides with most owners’ food-buying cycle,” McGrath advised. “Also, don’t allow empty hooks or holes in your set. And do a reset once a year—preferably before the Christmas holiday shopping season.”
Lastly, appeal to your clientele’s mobile- and social media-minded sensibilities.
“Try offering a store discount to any customers that record and share videos of their birds playing with the toys you carry and who allow these videos to be shared with your social media followers,” Bohannon recommends. “Nothing sells a toy better than watching a bird have a blast in its cage with it.”
Crunch Time for Small Animals
Here’s some food for thought: Consumers are no longer content with the fast-snatch grab-and-go approach to small animal food shopping. Today, they care about the contents, and they’ll spend more time in your store reading the label on a package of edibles, according to the experts.
That makes it all the more important to carefully select the brands you want to stock and the message you want to convey to patrons increasingly on the hunt for healthier primary diet products.
“People nowadays seem to be paying a lot more attention to nutrition when it comes to their pet’s diet. They’re leaning toward products that have shorter, more recognizable ingredient lists. And they’re more aware of specific ingredients that may be ideal for their pets,” said Phoebe Stanley, associate marketing manager for Vitakraft Sunseed, Inc., a Bowling Green, Ohio-based maker of over 500 products for small animals, birds, horses, dogs and cats.
Nick Kuhn, owner and manager of Pets & Such, a solo pet store in West Valley City, Utah, agrees.
“After price, the primary factor that sways a customer to purchase a small animal
food is the contents inside,” said Kuhn, whose biggest seller is Kaytee’s Forti-Diet Pro Health line. “They’re looking for more natural ingredients. To respond to this demand, more manufacturers have revamped their packaging to promote this. They’ve made their labels more appealing to the eye, and many now offer clear packaging so we can see exactly what’s inside the bag.”
They’ve also promoted preferred nutrients more prominently on the label and marketing materials. For instance, Mazuri’s Rabbit Diet with Timothy Hay touts Lactobacillus and Enterococcus strains of probiotics, natural vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acid-rich flaxseed. The carefresh Complete line boasts of “10 real fruits and vegetables like you’d find in a farmer’s garden,” including carrot, sweet potato, zucchini and peas. And Exotic Nutrition’s Pasture Plus+ Guinea Pig Food advertises its vitamin C-enriched formula containing natural flowers and herbs.
Lucas Stock, communications manager for Murdock, Nebraska-headquartered Oxbow Animal Health—the first company to introduce Timothy hay as a staple in the diet of small herbivore
s—says small pet owners want to invest in a primary diet they believe in.
“In most cases, this means a product with high-quality, recognizable ingredients,” said Stock, whose company recently launched Garden Select—an all-new food line that’s 100 percent complete and Non-GMO Project Verified. “For some, this means purchasing a brand that models their own nutritional preferences, such as an organic or non-GMO food.”
They say variety is the spice of life—and offering more variety may spice up your food sales, too.
“The more nutritionally correct options pet parents have in the aisle, the better chance they’ll make a choice that benefits both the immediate and long-term health of their pet,” Stock said.
On the other hand, retailers and their clientele alike may also benefit from the Costco approach to merchandising: stocking only a limited selection of carefully chosen SKUs.
“It’s easy for shoppers to get overwhelmed by too many choices on the shelf. So we weeded out the food products that didn’t sell much,” said Ryan Jutz, manager at Chuck & Don’s Pet Food and Supplies, a chain with 24 stores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. “Now, we only carry three different brands, including Oxbow Essentials, Supreme Russel Rabbit and L’Avian Plus. This makes it easier for the customers to pick from. Limiting diets to only a handful of key brands also makes it easier to train staff and recommend the right foods.”
Whatever brands retailers are considering adding to their set, it’s probably smart to offer choices from both major types of edibles: pelleted-only diets and all-in-one diets, Stanley suggests.
“Pellet-only diets are for pet parents that like to focus their companion’s diet on pellets that can be fed separately from hay and treats, while all-in-one diets focus on complete nutrition and convenience,” Stanley said.
She cites Sunseed’s Sun-Fun All-in-One—with its fruits and veggies, fortified pellets, and oven-baked cookies serving as appetizer, main course, and dessert in one meal—as an example of the latter.
A recent trend in all-in-one diets is to the rise of “gourmet” and “premium” tiers of products. Case in point: Brown’s makes an Encore Gourmet Foraging Feast for hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits, filled with “delicacies” designed to be irresistible and stimulate the pet’s natural foraging instinct.
Be careful not to overlook hay as a shelf staple, either. Guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas require high-
fi ber long-stem Timothy or alfalfa hay for ideal digestion and maximum nutrition. While some brands include hay in their formula—like Sunseed Vita Sunscription Natural Timothy for cavies and rabbits—many do not. That’s where supplemental edibles like American Pet Diner’s Timothy Gold, Timothy Fiber and Mountain Grass come in handy.
Sales Tips To Chew On
To move more of these munchies off your shelves, train your employees thoroughly on what products, ingredients and nutritional benefi ts to recommend, and encourage them to use these products personally.
“There’s no better real-time testimonial than a store associate who’s willing to share with a customer why they use the product that they’re holding in their hand,” Stock said. Additionally, use shelf talkers provided by manufacturers and suppliers that can be displayed alongside primary diet goods, according to Stanley. “Gondola headers and instant redeemable coupons are other excellent resources that brands may have to off er retailers to help boost sales,” she said.
Jutz recommends capitalizing on special promotions and freebies off ered by companies whenever they’re available.
“We partner with Oxbow on its frequent buyer program,” Jutz said. “Customers who buy six bags of hay or food get a seventh bag free.”
Lastly, remember to keep a neat and tidy food section in your small animal aisle/area. Ripped bags, shelf clutter and items that are not clearly marked/priced can leave a bad impression on patrons. And hard-to-find foods can dissuade shoppers from repeat purchases.
“We keep all our small animal foods in one tight section across three shelves,” Kuhn said. “Premium products are on the top shelf at face level, and cheaper SKUs are on the lower shelves.”
Back in 2009, Disney had the foresight to tap into the snowballing small animal ownership craze when it released the live action 3-D film “G-Force.” The movie’s heroes—we are talking guinea pigs, hamsters, moles and other CGI-animated mammals—escape from their cage to save the world from a dastardly evil with the help of high-tech exercise balls.
The flick may not have broken box-office records, but it helped increase awareness of the importance of fitness for these cuddly critters—a movement that certainly hasn’t lost any traction eight years later.
Companies and brands have since proliferated the market with a bevy of wares designed to keep these pets healthy, stimulated and in better shape. And while the simple and classic exercise wheel remains a mainstay on many store shelves, they’ve also “reinvented the wheel” in other ways by creating newer and more innovative on-the-go-geared goods.
Exhibit A is the new LED Run-About Ball, a seven-inch exercise orb illuminated by a soft LED light enclosed in a protective lens cover. Kaytee—a Chilton, Wisconsin, pet supplies company now celebrating its 150th anniversary—won “Best in Show” for this creation in the small animal category at Global Pet Expo 2017.
Exhibit B is the recently introduced Silent Runner wheel from Exotic Nutrition, a family-owned business based in Newport News, Virginia, that’s known more for its exotic pet feeds. Available in three sizes, the Silent Runner eliminates the noisy and chancy center axle from the design of its exercise wheel and implements dual ball bearings for a smooth and quiet operation.
“We know that it’s critically important for small animals to have opportunities for physical activity, but retailers also have a responsibility to educate customers on the benefits of providing this exercise, especially with a new pet purchase,” said Melanie Allen, product specialist with Hagen Group in Mansfield, Massachusetts, which first launched its Living World brand in 1972.
Terri Hallberg, owner of a Petland store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, agrees, noting that her staff is trained to walk new small animal customers through the department and point out the value of purchasing exercise products and toys.
“These are often items that need to be a suggested sale because many customers don’t even know these fitness-focused products exist. So we get our staff to recommend these as essential add-on purchases,” said Hallberg, whose biggest sellers in this subcategory are made by Kaytee: the Silent Spinner wheel, Puzzle Playground jungle gym and FerrTrail Flex-E Funnels. “Fortunately, manufacturers are making these products more colorful and in interesting shapes and sizes.”
The other good news is that kids—as they are with computers and electronics—are quick to remind mom and dad that fun-and-fitness accessories are must-haves just like food and litter. But consumers of any age still need to be enlightened about the right kind of exercise equipment for their particular breed.
“Small animals with tails, like mice, hamsters and gerbils, do well with most exercise products because they’re very kinetic in their daily lives. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are more laid back and don’t do well with rolling balls or spinning wheels,” said Jane Morehouse, product research and development manager for Hayward, California-based Kordon LLC, known for its Oasis Pet Products line. She notes that retailers can help spread the gospel about appropriate exercise by recommending a right-sized cage to customers—a habitat large enough to encourage movement and accommodate fitness accessories.
“For example, guinea pig habitats should be at least 36 inches long, as they often jump straight up into the air and take off in a short burst of speed,” Morehouse said. “Chinchillas and sugar gliders do best in tall cages with branches and perching platforms they can jump on and off, while rabbits need a cage large enough to allow several bouncy steps in any direction.”
Working out Anywhere
Moving small and large rodents and lagomorphs alike out of the enclosure and into an open but controlled environment should also be encouraged. That’s where portable playpens and harnesses/leashes come in handy.
In the former category, MidWest Homes for Pets has made a name a la its Critterville, a flat-folding product that provides six panels and a play area exceeding nine square feet. Marshall Pet Products put a different spin on this concept with its Pop N Play Ferret Ball Pit, which can keep the pet running in circles with Marshall’s Super Thru-Way 15-foot tunnel attached to the pit’s two entrances.
More manufacturers are also making it easier to take furry companions for a short walk by offering handy accessories, such as Ware’s Jog-NWalk extendable/retractable leash. Living World’s Harness and Lead Set, meanwhile, features an easy-to-slip-on design and a breathable and stretchy polyester fabric harness.
In-the-cage accessories that inspire action also demand shelf space. A fresh take on an old concept is the new Double Coconut with Ladder: a suspended rubberwood bridge ladder connected by two coconut shells at either end, courtesy of Chicago-headquartered Prevue Pet Products—first founded in 1869. And while a hamster (if it could talk) would argue that you can’t do much better than a cardboard tube, it likely never tried the Puzzle Tube, an interactive chew-and-exercise toy made from seagrass and java wood by A&E Cage Co., a hard goods manufacturer from Burlington, New Jersey, with over 30 years’ experience in the pet biz.
To boost sales of exercise and fitness items, think outside the box.
“Any new products should be near your front door, with well-worded signs and short, easy-toread messages,” said Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for Marshall Pet Products in Wolcott, New York—the world’s largest breeder of ferrets that’s been making pet products for 21 years. “These products should also rotate around your store as new merchandise becomes available. Arranging your display by use rather than category can also increase sales in more than one category.”
That means not only trying to bundle fitness/exercise SKUs together, but also attempting to pepper in a few other items within that real estate that are slightly different—such as chew toys—Juszczak adds.
In addition, take your merchandise out of the box, use it in your live animal displays and generate excitement by hosting interactive pet-and-play events with patrons.
“We set up exercise pens in the store and put a few rabbits in there, and the customers love it,” Hallberg said.
Old McDonald’s farm isn’t the only place where contented egg layers, colorful quack-makers and other pleasant pheasant-like feathered friends can be found. Today, all manner of urban poultry pals have found a home in the backyards of animal lovers living in the boondocks as well as the big city. And pet retailers who want in on the action stand to make more than chicken feed, according to the pros.
Consider that there are at least 5 million chicken keepers in the U.S., per research conducted by ChickenGuard, the Fulbourn, England-based makers of automatic coop door openers and closers. But chickens aren’t the only domesticated poultry that’s garnering more attention. From Cayuga ducks to royal purple guinea fowl to white Chinese geese, farm fowl are becoming increasingly popular as pets. A big reason is one of the extra perks of ownership: ready-to-eat fresh eggs.
“A hundred years ago, it was common for families to raise and keep chickens, and most everyone had some experience with poultry,” said Tiffany Denter, poultry and wild bird buyer for Tractor Supply Company, the Brentwood, Tennessee-based retail chain founded in 1938 that has over 1,600 stores in 49 states. “Over the years, people gave up their chickens for supermarkets, but now families are taking a bigger interest in their food and the average person’s familiarity with backyard fowl is growing again.”
Breeds That Succeed
Austin Johnson, founder of eFowl, a Denver-headquartered online supplier of live poultry and related products, says the top pet chicken breeds these days include Easter eggers (a hardy species and prolific layer of blue, green, cream, brown and pink eggs), Rhode Island reds (offering a cross between red malays, brown leghorns and Asiatic native stock), black Australorps (known for their calm demeanor) and welsummers (kids love the chocolate-colored eggs they lay).
“There’s also been a greater demand for ducks, which some owners choose because they’re allergic to chicken eggs,” Johnson said. “And white guinea fowl as well as heritage breed turkeys like the Rio Grande or Narraganset are gaining traction, too.”
Because of their docile natures and relative tolerance for being handled and held, these and other urban poultry breeds are preferred to other birds.
“Ducks, for example, can be very affectionate. And we’ve seen more people using chickens and other poultry as therapy animals,” said Frank Cardaropoli, owner of The Chicken Fountain in Davidson, North Carolina, which has been making its Chicken Fountain automated poultry watering systems by hand since the company launched in 2011. “This is especially true for children on the autism spectrum and individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
A prominent trend in this subcategory includes enhanced emphasis on a healthier urban poultry diet.
“Many customers want organic feed options for their flocks today. Improved diet is important because these animals can produce food for the family, and with proper care, a chicken can live to be up to 10 years old,” said Denter, who notes that Tractor Supply is catering to this clamor by recently carrying DuMOR Poultry’s line of Organic non-GMO grower, starter and layer feeds, each boasting no herbicides or pesticides.
Another player capitalizing in the organic ingredients arena is Scratch and Peck Feeds, a Burlington, Washington-based maker of organic chicken feed, which offers a healthy assortment of Naturally Free brand products.
Perhaps the biggest name among diet providers is Purina Animal Nutrition, a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc. in St. Louis, known for its Layena Plus Omega-3 complete feed, Organic Layer Pellets or Crumbles, and Gamebird & Turkey Startena.
Owners like the healthy consumables, but they also want to pamper their poultry with fun snacks, too. Notable treats in this space include Hentastic brand Mealworm Pie, Peck ‘n’ Mix Herb Surprise, and Chick Sticks with Mealworms, Sunflower Hearts, and Oregano with Probiotics, all by Chicken Snacks in Travelers Rest, South Carolina.
“People used to laugh at the concept of treats for chickens,” said Edward Gates, director of sales for San Antonio-warehoused Happy Hen Treats, whose Sunflower and Raisin Party Mix, Mealworm & Sunflower Treat Square, and Mealworm Frenzy treats are sold in over 2,000 stores nationwide. “But in the past year, people have become more accepting of treats and accessories for backyard poultry.”
Home Cluck Home
There’s also a wider array of coops on the market nowadays compared to years ago.
“People want more options for customized coops that suit their home or yard and that offer more protection from natural predators,” said Denter, who cites the Big Green Coop by Innovation Pet, which houses 15 birds, as a big seller.
Martin Hodson, head of sales and marketing for ChickenGuard, which has sold over 35,000 of its units worldwide over the past four years, agrees.
“Coops have become more than just housing for chickens,” Hodson said. “Custom designs and aesthetic appeal are very important for owners.”
Consumers who lack significant backyard real estate also have more size options today. Case in point: Chilton, Wisconsin-based Kaytee recently rolled out a Chicken Coop with Nesting Bob, ample enough for up to four chickens. The igloo-shaped Eglu Go, by Wilmington, Delaware-stationed Omlet—first conceived in 2003 by London art students—is another popular compact plastic coop, complete with a fox-resistant chicken run.
For those desiring more wing room, Trixie Pet Products makes a two-story coop with an outdoor run as well as the Coop Deluxe, with two nesting houses that accommodates six chickens.
Customers will Crow
If you’re going to offer urban poultry livestock in your store, it’s important to choose a reputable source.
“Connect with local farms and nearby hatcheries as trusted breeder sources that can create a healthy ecosystem for any live urban poultry you sell,” Johnson said.
Be a responsible retailer, too—one that does more than simply stocking the necessities.
“Education is so important for urban poultry owners, which is why offering classes and workshops at your store is a must. It’s a perfect time to also demonstrate all the products they’ll need to successfully care for these pets,” Hodson said. “In rural areas, farm and feed retailers provide these educational opportunities regularly.”
Want a surefire crowd-pleaser that can both train and entertain?
“Hold a ‘chick days’ event where you showcase baby chicks and let customers hold, pet and learn about them, and you’ll see sales skyrocket,” Cardaropoli said.
Exotic, Not Quixotic
Variety is the spice of life, they say. It’s a big reason that saffron, sumac, serrano chilies and epazote, despite being rare and lesser known, are highly coveted seasonings among fine cuisine aficionados. And it also helps explain the irresistible allure of exotic small animals, like sugar gliders, prairie dogs, degus, hedgehogs, chinchillas and kinkajous—out-of-the-ordinary species that can add diversity and dollars to your business.
Yes, there are hurdles to clear: some of these breeds are prohibited in certain states and municipalities, finding reputable breeders can be challenging, and retailers might need to get up to speed on the unique requirements of these breeds (bet you didn’t know hedgehogs are insectivores and the nutritional needs of sugar gliders are still up for debate). But if store owners start slowly and at least begin stocking some of the species-compatible supplies, they’ll likely gain traction in the exotics space quicker than expected, say the experts.
Filling a Niche
“General awareness of exotic pet ownership seems to be a growing trend, probably largely due to social media and the popularity of pet influencers,” said Brent Weinmann, president and CEO of Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., in Weston, Ohio. “Good online resources for learning about these animals and how to care for them are encouraging more people to consider exotic pets.”
Michael Clark, director of marketing for small animal consumables with Schaumburg, Illinois-based Kaytee, says exotics can be profitable, with the right planning.
“Retailers are always trying to distinguish themselves and fill niche categories,” Clark said. “Offering less common small animals is a way to do that.”
Brian Wood, president of Cleveland-headquartered FiberCore LLC, manufacturer of Eco-Bedding, agrees.
“If you’ve got a knowledgeable staff and curious customers, exotics are going to be a draw. To be able to pull people into your store with animals you don’t see every day is a way to differentiate yourself from the big box and online retailers,” Wood said. “Consumers are always looking for something different, especially those who might have started with a hamster and later realize that there are other interesting critters out there. Why not take a chance, be a leader and add a few of these breeds to your livestock?”
This decision, however, comes with important obligations, notes Jane Morehouse, product research and development manager for Kordon LLC in Hayward, California.
“It’s the retailer’s duty to provide accurate and detailed information and instructions, and they must remain up to date and informed on all that is required,” Morehouse said.
Be forewarned that some exotics are higher maintenance than others. Degus need a diet high in fiber but somewhat low in protein, fat and sugar. Prairie dogs need stimulation and interaction as well as high-fiber foods. And hedgehogs are nocturnal and require a diet lower in fat but higher in protein.
“Sugar gliders are also nocturnal and don’t like to be alone, so potential owners might be deterred after they learn they should have at least two of them,” Weinmann said. “All exotic animals are different, and one specific trait of a species that makes them really desirable pets to some will make them less desirable to others.”
Additionally, most exotics require a regionally or geographically specific diet, “which you’ll need to stock,” Morehouse said.
“Buyers need to be educated about the pet and what it will grow into, as well,” she continued. “For example, the retailer needs to provide the proper cages and internal fittings, as the size of the habitat, toys, perching places and climbing options might change as the pet grows and becomes more athletic. And the retailer should have a listing of veterinarians in the area that accept and are experienced with these exotic pets.”
Clark recommends pet retailers engage closely with their clientele to learn more about what they’re looking for in rarer small animal species before overcommitting their operations.
“You can learn a lot from your customers, just as they can learn a lot from you,” Clark said.
Most customers interested in exotics will need guidance and interaction from the store. The reward is trust and loyalty that can make registers ring for the life of that pet.
“The owners that gravitate to exotics tend to be better read and more aware of what they’re getting into—often because there can be a greater financial commitment versus investing in a hamster,” Wood said.
Food and Hard Goods
In the food segment, major players include Sunseed, whose Vita Prima Sunscription line offers formulas for chinchillas, degus, hedgehogs and sugar gliders; Exotic Nutrition, makers of Hedgehog Complete, Degu Complete, Glider Complete, and Prairie Dog Diet; Mazuri, providers of Hedgehog Diet; Brown’s, makers of ZOO-Vital Hedgehog Food; Manna Pro, manufacturers of Small World Complete Feed for Chinchillas; and Blessings, producers of Bugs-n-Fruit Protein Plus, a sugar glider diet. Degus, prairie dogs and other exotics also eat hay, which is well represented with Harvest Stacks by Oxbow Animal Health, Western Timothy Hay by Nature’s Promise and Timothy Gold Hay by American Pet. Among the treats category are Brown’s Extreme! Wild Berry and Extreme! Candy-Covered Sunflower Seeds, as well as Hagen’s Living World Alfalfa and Timothy Chews.
When it comes to hard goods, an ample array exists. Prominent cages include Kaytee’s My First Home Habitat Multi-Level for Exotics; Exotic Nutrition’s Kritter Castle, Brisbane Sugar Glider Cage, and Hedgie Home Sweet Home; and a plethora of enclosures made by A&E Cage Company and MidWest Home for Pets. Compatible toys are equally abundant, as evidenced by Kaytee’s Chewbular Play Tube, Comfort Exercise Wheel, and Woodland Get-A-Way; and Prevue Pet Products’ Hoppin’ Harvest, Grassy Nibbler Toy Trio, and Hideouts Double Coconut with Ladder.
Tricks of the Trade
To stimulate interest in in-store exotics, stores can try hosting a weekend event that introduces a new species for sale, and partner with a breeder, vet or other specialist who can answer any questions about care and feeding.
“Also, encourage interested customers to visit your store multiple times and interact with an exotic to help avoid impulse buys,” Weinmann said.
Lastly, aim for visual variety in merchandising strategies.
“Use end caps in different departments and point-of-purchase displays that showcase different supplies for exotics,” Clark suggested.
Seeds for Success
They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. That can also be said of pet birds, whose owners know that providing nutritious yet tasty edible offerings can keep their winged companions healthy and happy. More importantly for pet retailers who cater to this need, it can sow the seeds for a successful merchant-customer partnership that brings patrons faithfully back for more when that favorite food for feathered friends runs out.
But earning a valued reputation as the go-to destination for primary diets requires a store to evaluate its current set carefully and determine if it needs a wider array of brands and products that fit the bill for various breeds. It also involves identifying industry trends that could keep the retailer ahead of the curve when it comes to consumer preferences.
For example, Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Bowling Green, Ohio-headquartered Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., says he’s observed a recent resurgence in blended, forage-style diets.
“Pet bird diets have historically been divided into two groups: seed mixes and pellets. Recognizing that the vast majority of consumers use both, companies have begun to emphasize blended diets as an easy feeding mechanism that gives the consumer what they want and more. These have high ingredient diversity and almost always contain a mixture of seeds, nuts, extruded pellets, fruits and vegetables,” said Norsen, who noted that Vitakraft launched Sunsations Natural and Vita Sunscription with these concepts in mind. “The goals with these types of diets are to be nutritionally complete, attractive to the consumer and to minimize selective feeding.”
Another trend gaining traction in the bird food space is pet humanization: treating and nurturing birds like a valued member of the family, says Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem in Mission, Kansas.
“We conducted qualitative and quantitative research, reaching out to approximately 1,800 homes representing around 4,300 pet birds, and did six focus groups across the country,” Shepard said. “We found that bird owners are concerned with meal occasions; they don’t want to feed the same food to their bird at the same time throughout the day. So we came up with a new Feed Smart nutrition program, launched last August, involving three product lines that help pet parents take the guesswork out of daily feeding.”
The three product lines are Essential Nutrition (including FruitBlend, VeggieBlend, NutBlend and Smart Selects brands), which should constitute 60 percent of the bird’s diet; Enriching Variety (Pure Fun and Sensible Seed)—no more than 30 percent of the diet; and Rewarding Treats (Real Rewards)—no more than 10 percent.
Other examples of products that attempt to simplify the daily diet choice include Marion Zoological’s Scenic Bird Food line and its new Paradise Mixed Flavor pelleted food; Brown’s Tropical Carnival Zoo Vital Extruded Ultimate Avian Diets; Kaytee’s Fiesta, Forti-Diet, Supreme and Exact Rainbow food lines; Hagan’s Hari line of extruded diets, including Tropican Lifetime Formula Granules and High Performance Granules; Lafeber’s Premium Daily Diet pellets; Harrison’s Bird Foods’ Adult Lifeline formulas; and Caitec’s Oven Fresh Bites baked diets.
Lessons from the Label
Norsen adds that manufacturers have also made a strong effort lately to improve bird food packaging, which helps to enhance the look of a store’s bird department as a whole. Case in point: all of Vitakraft’s bird diets are now available in stand-up packaging with improved graphics.
“We’re in the process of redoing the packaging on our three lines: Sweet Harvest, our value brand, and Rainforest and McBride, our premium brands. They’re currently in lay-down bags, but we will go to stand-up gloss mat bags soon,” said Ben Goldman, director of sales for Kaylor of Colorado, which is located in Greeley, Colorado. “Packaging is critical. The perception of our customers is that there is greater value in our Sweet Harvest brand, even though it’s not our premium line, because of the packaging, which promotes the dehydrated carrots, banana chips and chili peppers within and catches the customer’s eye.”
Shepard notes that consumers desire cleaner and simpler labels they can better understand.
“They appreciate better visualization with graphics on the packaging that they can relate to,” Shepard said. “And they want to see recognizable ingredients. If we tell them that there are apples in our product, we put a graphic of an apple on the back.”
Reading packaging isn’t the only way shoppers can become more knowledgeable about better ingredients and dietary requirements for birds. Pet stores should also take the initiative to get patrons up to speed on how to choose the right goods.
“Educating your customers about the nutritional needs of their birds is the best way to sell products,” says Stephanie Carbaugh, design and marketing assistant for Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania-based F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc. “This can be accomplished through point-of-purchase signage and materials, in-store training or websites with useful information.”
When it comes to merchandising bird diets, retailers can try implementing brand blocking with a good, better and best product approach to shelf placement.
“The goal here is to encourage the consumer to purchase more premium foods,” Norsen said. “Also, consider bulk dispensers. Selling in bulk is a great way to encourage customer loyalty and grow margins.”
Clever promotional strategies can pay dividends in the bird food zone, too.
“Host small events that attract families, such as throwing a birthday party for your store’s bird mascot, bringing a veterinarian in for a Q&A with customers and making your store available to daycare centers who can read a book about a bird to kids and then show them a real bird,” Shepard suggested.
All About That Base
Today’s pet retailers can’t afford to roll out of bed late—or roll only partway into the small animal bedding subcategory, for that matter. That’s because pet owners are increasingly aware of the plethora of substrates crowding the market and are clamoring for greater variety in the products with which they choose to line their cage bottoms.
However, it’s not enough for a store to simply diversify its bedding/litter stock: it has to cater to popular demand for colors, defense against stench, eco-friendliness and alternative materials, too, say the pros.
“As consumers’ understanding of how their pets interact with the bedding increases, retailers have been challenged to expand their offerings to include products that not only cover the bottom of the cage but also contribute to a safe and enriching environment,” explained Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager for Kaytee Products in Chilton, Wisconsin. “As a result, many retailers have moved away from substrates that contain oily or aromatic woods and toward those that, for example, are dust-free and use natural, non-irritant ingredients to generate scent.”
Offering a do-it-all combination of features in one product—odor maintenance, absorbency, zero dust/no mess and low-processed ingredients—certainly seems to hit the sweet spot that customers crave.
“Pet owners are increasingly looking to buy sustainable, healthier and more natural products that are good for their pets, their homes and their environment. And they want bedding that performs well for odor control and easy cleanup but is still soft and cozy,” said Leslie Ellis, consumer communication manager for Healthy Pet, makers of carefresh natural paper bedding in Ferndale, Washington.
The Paper Chase
For these and other reasons, biodegradable paper bedding remains atop the heap when it comes to sales and preferred ingredients.
“There’s definitely been a trend in the last few years toward more naturalistic products that have the animal’s health in mind,” said Brian Wood, president of FiberCore LLC, the Cleveland-based maker of Eco-Bedding, which is made from 100 percent post-consumer paper waste that is Forest Stewardship Council-certified.
“We’ve seen a movement away from unhealthy cedar chips and cheaper products to recycled paper that’s cleaner and more economical and encourages foraging and nesting,” Wood added.
Many shoppers are also enamored with chromatically cool and colorfast bedding that enables cage customization, often choosing a tinted product that harmonizes with hues in their room or the colors of their favorite sports team. Consequently, fun and festive-colored substrate products abound, including Kaytee’s Clean & Cozy Apple Orchard, Camo, Frozen Fun, Birthday Cake and others; Healthy Pet’s carefresh Complete Confetti or carefresh colorful creations (available in six colors); and Ware’s ColorFresh Multi-Color Small Animal Bedding.
Shredded or pelleted recycled paper and wood shavings aren’t the only options available, either. More manufacturers are providing alternative materials, with each boasting unique merits. Examples include Oxbow Animal Health’s Eco-Straw, which sources high-fiber wheat straw into an absorbent, dustless, pelleted product; Hartz Corn Cob Bedding & Litter, utilizing coarse ground cob; and F.M. Brown’s Sons’ Corn Cob Bedding and its Twirls & Cobs, which mixes corn cob with recycled paper for a colorful combination.
Additionally, bedding SKUs aren’t limited to bags. In recent years, Kaytee has made a splash with its disposable CritterTrail Bedding Trays (available in a three-pack), preloaded with the company’s Clean & Cozy bedding and designed to accommodate all CritterTrail rectangular enclosures.
Sniffing Out Sales
Keeping olfactory funk to a minimum never goes out of style, either.
“Today’s pet parents are looking most often for products that help to control odor and neutralize the ammonia found in pet urine,” noted Phoebe Stanley, associate marketing manager for Bowling Green, Ohio-headquartered Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc. “Guinea pigs, for example, are social animals that need to be kept in pairs, which can create more odor in the enclosure.”
To help matters, Sun Seed offers Heavy Duty Odor Control Fresh World Bedding. Many brands, like Fresh News Small Animal Bedding and Phresh Paper Small Animal Bedding, use baking soda to curb cage-stink, and some manufacturers, like Hartz with its Nodor Natural Bedding and FiberCore with its Eco-Bedding with New Triple Action Odor Control, employ proprietary odor-encapsulating technologies or formulas they promote on their packaging and marketing materials.
When it comes to displaying and promoting substrate goods, common sense tactics still apply. That means avoiding the urge to downplay or bury the products on bottom shelves, grouping them near habitats for sale, using new bedding products within live animal cages (and making the customer aware of this with signage) and training staff to be able to answer patrons’ questions about each product’s features and benefits.
In addition, it pays to give customers a taste—compliments of the house.
“Provide bedding samples to shoppers so that they can try the product at home,” Wood suggested.
Lastly, don’t ignore online merchandising, especially on a small animal staple like bedding.
“It’s important to provide photos on your store’s website of the bedding products you carry as well as additional content about these products,” recommended Ellis, who also advised posting images featuring the merchandise used in live habitats.