One Hot Reptile
Want a way to ensure more register rings? Think insurance, as in Geico. That company’s pitchman has entrenched geckos within pop culture. It’s your job to get patrons to enroll in a pet ownership policy that involves purchasing more gecko goods from your shop.
Most experts will tell you that geckos are a great beginner reptile and gateway pet that can get customers excited.
“Most people who come to stores looking for geckos want them because they have a friend that has one or they’ve seen one in a classroom, library or nature center,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for California-based San Francisco Bay Brand. “Their hardiness and gentle nature, plus the fact that most of the common geckos offered are captive bred, makes people feel good about having a pet gecko.”
Frank Indiviglio, a herpetologist and zoo/pet trade consultant in New York City and Long Island, agrees that geckos and their gear get attention. So if you’re not already carrying live geckos, he suggests you get with the program and tap into a popular and profitable segment.
“After skinks, geckos are the second largest group of lizards in terms of species diversity, which provides retailers an opportunity to offer a wide range of breeds, colors and traits that appeal to different budgets,” said Indiviglio, who recommends starting with a safe option like a leopard, crested, house and Madagascar day gecko. “The sweet spot price range you want to hit is $5.99 to $30 per gecko.”
That means partnering with one or more reputable local breeders who may be able to expand your line to include other crowd-pleasers like arboreal species, terrestrial breeds and some species that are newer to the trade.
“Leopard and fat-tailed geckos, crested geckos and other New Caledonian species have separated themselves from the pack, with the morphs of each having completely surpassed sales of normal-looking individuals,” said Steve Sotelo, division manager for Exo Terra, a Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. company in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “As a result, they have become very popular.”
Whether you choose to stock these live lizards or not, it’s smart to provide ample related merchandise. When it comes to habitats, consider that many of these geckos thrive on more natural designs and nocturnal setups.
Notables in this category include Exo Terra’s new Habisphere Lifestyle Desktop Terrarium, which features a stylish bent front window for maximum viewing and an energy-efficient day and night light built into the top lid and controlled with the touch of a button, and Zoo Med’s Naturalistic Terrarium Crested Gecko Kit, a vertically oriented habitat that comes with bush plants, a climbing branch, substrate, food and water dishes, water conditioner, vitamin complex, calcium supplement and a care handbook.
When considering gecko foods to stock in your store, Indiviglio states how important it is to offer a variety, including complete commercial (or prepared) diets as well as insects like crickets, roaches, hornworms and black soldier fly larvae.
“If I were a retailer, I would encourage customers to feed a wider mix of foods—not just live foods,” said Indiviglio, who recommends carrying prepared diets by manufacturers like Repashy and Pangea, including Pangea’s Fruit Mix with Insects Complete Gecko Diet.
Oneppo notes that prepared diets—some of which come pre-mixed and ready to use while others require mixing with water—represent the latest gecko trend.
“These prepared diets allow people to keep some species of gecko, such as crested, day, gargoyle and others without having to use live food,” Oneppo stated.
Exo Terra recently launched two pre-mixed diets: Day Gecko Food and Crested Gecko Food, each offered in disposable cups to reduce waste and prohibit reptiles from tracking excess food on glass or décor.
“Since the diets are stabilized and pre-mixed, they also don’t dry out as readily as powder diets would,” Sotelo noted.
Can’t Beat The Heat
Consumers are warming up to new heating products, too, including Zoo Med’s new Nano lamps and fixtures, ideal for small gecko terrariums. Included in this Nano line are a dome fixture, combo dome fixture, five-watt LED, 35-watt halogen heat lamp, ceramic heat emitters, infrared heat lamps and basking spot lamps.
“Our Nano line includes some of our smallest and lowest wattage heat lamps,” explained Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Labs, Inc., in San Luis Obispo, California. “The domes are only 4 inches in diameter and perfect for small terrariums. And with heat lamps and emitters that are only 25 to 40 watts, keepers can provide proper thermal gradients in smaller habitats or were space is limited on the top of a terrarium.”
Retailers might want to consider expanding their heat source offerings.
“Try to carry different products, including under-tank heating pads that can be attached to the bottom for terrestrial geckos or to the side of the tank for arboreal species,” Indiviglio said.
Tricks of the Trade
To catch the shopper’s eye, pursue merchandising tactics that pay off.
“It’s worthwhile setting up dedicated end caps with gecko products and featuring fully staged cages with all the accessories inside,” said Oneppo, adding that retailers who don’t sell live geckos “may be wise to use plastic or plush gecko replicas inside these displays to help convey the message.”
Packaging your own bundled starter kits—complete with all the essentials for beginners—can also pay dividends.
“Think about offering a discount on combined purchases, such as a lower price if you buy a live gecko with a set up,” Indiviglio said.
Chew and Improved
Here’s a thought that should gnaw away at any impulse to ignore the small animal accessories sub-segment: mini mammals like to incessantly munch, and for many species—including guinea pigs, chinchillas and lagomorphs like rabbits—the all-important front incisors continuously grow and require filing down via chewing.
And therein lies a golden opportunity to position your store as an indispensable provider of nibble-tastic products.
“Small mammal chews are very popular accessories that often make a great add-on to purchases of core products such as hays and foods,” says Lucas Stock, communications manager for Murdock, Nebraska-headquartered Oxbow Animal Health. “This category continues to grow and evolve, making these items more of a focus for many retailers.”
Nibblers Have Needs
MaryAnn Loveland, senior associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wisconsin, says it’s important to stock an assortment of chews and dental toys.
“You should feature an assortment of textures—a hard source for gnawing, like wood; a medium texture for cleaning teeth, like sisal; and a soft chew, like loofah, for flossing,” Loveland said. “Pet parents will always be looking for new chew toys.”
When asked what’s trending in the space, Lisa Kniceley, marketing and trade sales specialist for Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., in Bowling Green, Ohio, has two words: fun and flavor.
“Chew blocks have always been an industry standard,” Kniceley said. “However, pet owners today seek products that not only promote dental health but that provide variety, entertainment, fun and interactivity. For example, our Mini-Pop Corn Treats, which can be popped in the microwave and which help with dental wear, create fun for both pet and owner and help to deepen the bond between both.”
Stock agrees that the traditional wooden block, while functional, lacks excitement and merit.
“The right chews and toys should come with value added and encourage physical and mental enrichment while also being 100 percent edible and healthy,” he said. “Value-added items, like 100 percent woven hay chews and toys, are oftentimes an easier sell. Hay should be the cornerstone of every small herbivore’s diet, so it’s essential to provide it in as many forms as possible.”
To cater to this demand, Oxbow makes the Timothy Carrot (shaped like the vegetable it’s named after), Timothy Twists (available in a package of six) and the Timothy Hideout.
Kaytee, meanwhile, boasts a large assortment of chew-related products from which to pick, including its recently launched line of chewable nests and mats, hand-woven from natural materials and Carrot Patch Chew Toys, which come in a pack that features three assorted textures.
Vitakraft Sunseed now offers a wider array of edibles designed to maintain teeth and promote dental health, including Vida Prima Snappers, chew treats that break apart into eight separate snacks; AnimaLovens Treats, featuring round-shaped crunchy cookies with cranberry and orange as well as pretzel sticks made from tasty vegetables; Grainola Treat Bars, triple-baked for crunchiness; and Vitakraft Nibble Rings, “O”-shaped ring snacks.
Other players in this space include Prevue Pet Products, makers of the Grassy Nibblers line of chew toys and accessories sourced from matte grass, including a Squash, Carrot and Activity Ball; Hagen’s Living World, provider of Chew-Nels products like the Alfalfa Chew Tube, Corn Husk Tunnel and interconnecting Cardboard Tunnels; A&E Cage Company, which produces all-natural accessories like Corn Dogs, a chew-safe corn cob, sisal, loofah and coconut husk toy; Hartz, which offers Nibble Sticks and Timothy Chews; and NPIC, known for its N-Bone Ferret Chew Treats available in bacon, salmon or chicken flavor.
The Store with More
They say good things come in small packages, but that could be a challenge to display properly and catch the customer’s eye.
“Placing small animal chews in one central area at eye level, organized among groups of similar treats and products and by species, is a great way to showcase this merchandise,” Kniceley said.
One of the many advantages to smaller packaging is that it takes up less real estate, “making it easier to achieve quality placement in your aisles,” Stock said. “Clip strips are one great option to draw attention to chews and make them easily accessible, and they hang easily from peg boards as well.”
Customers pay attention to audible activity within a display cage occupied by live animals, and few sounds perk up a human ear like that of a hamster, ferret or other small animal chomping away at something substantial.
Consequently, “a great way for retailers to showcase chew products is to physically use them inside the habitats of the animals for sale,” Loveland said.
On a final note, remember that training your staff on what to recommend and how to advise shoppers when it comes to appropriate chew SKUs and materials can pay your store back in the form of more loyal customers and repeat business.
“Consumers need to be educated about how important it is to offer a safe source of chewing for small animals and to recommend a variety of chews that have different materials and textures that will offer different benefits to small animal pets,”
A Real Crowd Pleaser
Hamsters, mice and cavies may rule the small animal roost at pet stores, but smart retailers should think about expanding their inventory to accommodate another soft and cuddly critter: the chinchilla, a love-at-first-sight pet many of your patrons will find irresistible.
Consider the pros: chinchillas enjoy a longer lifespan (up to 15 years) than many other pet rodent breeds, their fur is among the softest and most pettable and their bushy tails and jumbo ears give them a distinctive adorability.
“They’re also fairly low maintenance compared to a lot of other pets,” said Steve Barlow, manager at Mark’s Ark, a Salt Lake City-based pet store that stocks plenty of chinchillas and related products. “They can live solo or share a cage with other chinchillas. And many chinchillas come from the Andes Mountains and live at 15,000 feet elevation. Consequently, their bodies are designed to retain moisture, which means they don’t urinate as often as other rodents do and their fecal matter is not as messy as other rodents.”
For these and other reasons, chinchillas can make a great starter pet for families, including those with younger children—provided the kids are gentle, responsible and supervised by mom and dad.
“Like other small animals, they do have teeth and can bite if frightened,” Barlow said. “They’re also a little high strung and can take some time to warm up to you, so owners will need to work on socializing these animals. And they’re kind of like Gremlins—you don’t want to get them wet because their thick coats retain water, which can promote fungus growth.”
But if you educate your staff on how to market these pets and offer proper care recommendations, as well as carry the necessary supplies, chinch sales can be more than satisfying.
“They are a high-reward, low-risk pet for consumers and retailers alike,” Barlow added. “The profit margins on these pets and their staples can be pretty decent.”
Choose the Chinchilla
Amanda Negron, buyer for Pet Kingdom, a San Diego-headquartered store that specializes in small animals, agrees that chinchillas and their merchandise are worthy additions to your set.
“A lot of products suitable for chinchillas cross over to other breeds, including rabbits, rats and sugar gliders, so chances are you’re already carrying many chinchilla-friendly items,” Negron said.
Whether you opt to sell live chinchillas or merely the SKUs related to them, it’s important to offer a chinchilla kit for beginners. In addition to stocking pre-packaged starter kits available from manufacturers, Negron recommends bundling together a starter setup using carefully chosen products from your store.
“The kit should include a large habitat that allows the animal to move around a lot, pellet or paper bedding, a hideout and ledge, dust bath powder, hay, water bottle, food dish and treats for positive reinforcement and training,” she said.
Once you’ve convinced shoppers to invest in a beginner’s kit, your team can upsell them with add-on products and reinforce the need for repeat purchases of key staples.
“Items like alfalfa cubes, Timothy hay, hammocks and snuggle sacks can help build the basket and increase your margins,” Barlow said.
Plenty of Products
Many chinchilla-tailored products are available today, including edibles like Oxbow Essentials: Chinchilla, a complete fortified food; Higgins Sunburst Gourmet Chinchilla Food Mix, enriched with DHA Omega fatty acids and digestive probiotics; Supreme Petfoods Limited Charlie Chinchilla Food, which comes in a wide array of shapes, textures and sizes; carefresh complete Chinchilla Food, featuring crunchy pellets that encourage dental health; Hagen’s Living World Timothy Toppings with Vegetables or with Fruit; and Vitakraft’s SunSations Natural Chinchilla Formula.
Among accessory notables are Kaytee’s Big Branch Bites and Combo Chews and Kaytee’s new Terracotta Chew Proof Hideaways, made of terracotta clay that works as a cool resting place on hot days.
“These long-lasting hideaways offer a great place for pets to burrow with nesting material and create a protective safe haven that the animal enjoys,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wisconsin, who notes that the large-size hideaway is also suitable for rabbits and guinea pigs.
Small Package, Big Seller
Negron suggests displaying chinchilla-geared products in high-traffic areas and offering deals and discounts whenever possible. At Mark’s Ark, for example, customers get 20 percent off if they purchase an enclosure at the same time they buy a chinchilla.
“You always want to do some special promotion, especially when you are introducing new breeds and new products to your store,” Negron said. “Also, think about partnering with a local animal rescue organization and hosting an ‘Adopt a Chinchilla’ day, which creates awareness of the need to adopt unwanted pets and also brings customers to your store.”
The Heat is On
Reptiles and their owners appreciate the tech-free simplicity of merchandise provided by Mother Nature—from perky crickets for dinner to bona fide rocks for basking. But it’s the products you plug in that can have a dramatic effect on the health and longevity of herps and the long-term satisfaction of their keepers. Smart retailers who’ve seen the light are careful to stock plenty of the latest lighting, heating and humidity goods.
Before such products were made commercially available, reptiles that came with a higher level of care were difficult to keep alive in captivity.
“Only the hardiest of reptiles thrived in captivity because the needs of some of the more specialized species could not be met,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand/Healthy Herp in Newark, California.
He remembers the days in the early ’80s when a hot rock represented the only commercially available heating product for reptiles.
“We’ve come a long way from the days when you’d have to fill a spray bottle with hot tap water and mist down the terrarium to increase humidity—things like ultrasonic foggers have solved that problem,” Oneppo said.
Lighting the Way
Addie Schuhle from Phoenix-based Pet Food Depot says halogen lighting continues to be in vogue today.
“Fixtures nowadays are much smaller than previous lighting products, and many have a matte finish that look nicer on display,” Schuhle said.
An example of the smaller light trend is Zilla’s Halogen Mini Dome, which takes up less room atop a terrarium without sacrificing heat or light. ReptileUV, meanwhile, recently introduced splash-resistant halogen lamps in the form of Brightrite.
“Companies are now incorporating LED lighting into terrariums, and many of these products have color-changing capabilities that make for an attractive display, creating almost a nightclub-type effect when the lights are combined with a fogger and waterfall,” said Oneppo, who cites Zoo Med’s ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe as an example. “Also, in recent years, more metal halide bulbs have been appearing on the scene for use with reptiles.”
Case in point: The new PowerSun High Intensity Discharge Metal Halide UVB Lamp and fixture by Zoo Med, ideal for larger enclosures, emits UVA, UVB and heat all from one lamp. The innovative lamp construction creates a true flood-lamp effect, eliminating dangerous UV hot spots common to other metal halide reptile lamps, and the 6500 K color temperature and 95 CRI emitted by the lamp make the cage and its contents appear richer and more vibrant.
Zoo Med’s new Nano lamps and fixtures, on the other hand, fit the bill perfectly for smaller terrariums geared toward geckos, amphibians, invertebrates and hatchling reptiles. The Nano line includes a dome fixture, combo dome fixture, 5-watt LED, 35-watt halogen heat lamp, ceramic heat emitters, infrared heat lamps and basking spot lamps, each available in 25- and 40-watt sizes.
Space- and power-saving designs drive manufacturers, such as ReptileUV recently rolling out its Mega-Ray 60-watt Lightless Infrared Heat Projector, which projects a soft penetrating heat in a forward direction, emitting more heat than a traditional 100-watt ceramic heat emitter but without risk of burning a reptile. And the Slimline Reptile Lighting Fixture with UVB Lamp by Zilla boasts an ultra-economical florescent strip light product in a modular plastic housing that mounts easily on top of a tank.
More overseas products are infusing the American marketplace, too, as evidenced by Arcadia’s D3 6 percent T8 Reptile Lamp from Europe now available in North America and designed for ideal vitamin D synthesis and a high UVA output (30 percent).
Innovative humidifier products have recently hit the market, such as Exo Terra’s Monsoon Solo, a programmable misting system that generates a fine mist at programmed intervals to maintain optimum humidity.
Johnathan Dolev, an associate with Galapagos Reptile Gear, says natural products like moss are natural humidity-boosting alternatives that are in demand.
“Royal pillow moss, for example, absorbs a massive amount of water and looks a lot better than plastic or silk botanicals because it’s a real product,” Dolev said.
These additions to your inventory can improve your herp-related sales.
Bugs are Big Business
They’re the most plentiful creatures on earth—skittering about by the billions from leaf to soil and undulating endlessly beneath the surface. Herps devour them ravenously, and reptile owners who care about their pets have learned to handle them, literally, and overcome their phobias.
They are insects. And if you’re a reptile retailer determined to grow your business, they deserve a place in your establishment.
Rich Shannon, manager of Repxotica, a pet store in New York City, says carrying live feed is worth it—even though it means micro maintenance of creepy crawlies on site.
“You want to be a one-stop shop where customers can get all the reptile supplies they need in one location,” he said. “Some of these insects and worms provide higher profit margins than others, but many of these species are worth offering because consumers today have high demand for them.”
The key to stocking healthy live feed is to choose reputable suppliers that breed quality insects and worms with a relatively long shelf life. Many pet retailers partner with local suppliers, while others rely on major players like Timberline Live Pet Foods (which offers the Vita-Bugs line of crickets, mealworms, giant mealworms, superworms, waxworms and other options), Mulberry Farms, Reptilefood.com, Josh’s Frogs and other companies.
To save more money and eliminate the middleman, some pet stores offer homegrown live pet feeders.
“I personally breed crickets, roaches and superworms right here in the store to cut down on costs,” Shannon said. “Once you get the routine down, it’s fairly easy to do.”
Crickets, mealworms, superworms and waxworms may sit at the top of the reptile live food chain, but they aren’t the only bugs worth considering: flour beetles, flightless and normal fruit flies, silkworms, harvester ants and springtails are among the latest invertebrate breeds that retailers are stocking.
“Soldier fly larvae, horned worms and roaches are also newer items available as live feed,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand/Healthy Herp in Newark, California. “Additionally, several types of insects are now available gut-loaded with all the necessary vitamins and, in the case of some, such as soldier fly larvae, containing high levels of calcium.”
Shannon says many of his shoppers have switched from crickets and superworms to Dubia roaches (also known as the tropical spotted roach) and butter worms, which cost the consumer more, but can provide better nutritional value.
“Customers are coming in pre-educated about how butter worms and roaches are packed with more protein, calcium and other nutritional benefits,” Shannon said. “We tell them that the protein in one roach is equal to about five crickets and the calcium in one butter worm is equivalent to about six crickets.”
Addie Schuhle of Phoenix-based Pet Food Depot advised retailers not to overlook the profit potential in live or pre-killed rodents, popular among snake owners.
“Frozen and live mice are, by far, our biggest seller, followed by rats, mealworms and crickets,” Schuhle said. “Frozen mice and rats are much easier because they can’t escape. For this reason, I suggest offering frozen every time a customer asks for a rat or mouse.”
If you are selling prepackaged insects, make sure to rotate inventory regularly and inspect your goods on hand.
“It’s important to train employees to pop off the container lids, swish around the bedding and make sure the contents are still alive—if they appear black or have a foul smell, they are likely dead,” Oneppo said. “When customers see that you put this much care into selling a tub of bugs, it will build a better, stronger and longer-lasting relationship.”
Oneppo recommended stacking live insect containers near the front counter or within your reptile department for quick grab-and-go customer convenience. He also noted the importance of making insects that need refrigeration visible to customers.
“Some of the insects could be stored at room temperature within the store, while others need to be refrigerated, such as certain worms,” he said. “I recommend keeping these items in a glass door refrigerator so the customers can see what’s inside and will more likely help themselves to these items, as opposed to them being kept in a regular fridge, which may intimidate a customer from opening it if they are afraid of what they might find inside.”
Rabbits are known for a lot more than just making lots of little rabbits. They’re also good at making smiles appear on the faces of store customers.
Perhaps it’s the ultra-soft fur that feels velvety smooth to the fingertips, the adorably long ears and button eyes or the bountiful bulk—captive bunnies are, after all, larger than pocket pets, which is a big deal to a small child in awe of animals. These are just some of the compelling reasons to carry cottontails and the plentiful products that are made for them.
White Glove Test
If you’re going to stock live rabbits for sale and capitalize on their cuteness quotient, keep in mind that larger pets can make for messier habitats, and shoppers expect clean coney cages, says Lisa Kniceley, marketing and trade sales specialist for Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc.
“Customers will shy away from pets in dirty, smelly cages,” Knicely said. “And a healthy, happy pet in a clean environment is a much more desirable pet.”
Cages, in fact, should be a prime staple in your set. A notable manufacturer is Prevue Pet Products, maker of the Critter Animal Cage, which features all-metal chew-proof ramps, platforms and a bottom pull-out grille, wrought iron construction with powder-coated Hammertone finish and easy-rolling casters.
MidWest Homes for Pets’ Wabbitat Rabbit Cage is another product that might be of interest. This cage can be set up quickly with no tools or connecting pieces required, provide one-handed door operation with a secure slide-latch and come with an easy to slide out and clean and durable front access plastic pan. The Bunny Wonder Pop Up Animal Home, manufactured by Caitec, is another cage that you might want to purchase for your store.
Kniceley suggests creating “welcome kit” bundles for new rabbit owners that feature all the essentials, including an enclosure, food and water dishes, bedding, daily diet, treats and accessories.
“Many people find it overwhelming to pick out these products individually,” Kniceley said. “Providing a starter kit displayed near the pet rabbits in your store will ease these concerns and offer both convenience as well as ease of purchase.”
Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wisconsin, agrees.
“We continue to see popular demand for all-inclusive kits for small animal species,” said Loveland, whose company recently launched a rabbit starter kit that includes the largest cage that its division, Pets International, has ever offered: 42 inches long by 18 inches wide by 20 inches high. “It’s important to ensure that pet parents have the essential needs covered when bringing home their new companion and that adequate living space for their pet rabbit is met.”
Not Just Carrots
Of course, you’ll want to make room on your shelf for rabbit vittles, which come in a wider variety of formulas and flavors than ever before.
According to Kniceley, natural diets that are vitamin-fortified and contain no added sugars or sweeteners are currently trending for pet rabbits. In response to this demand, Vitakraft offers two special feeds. The first is Sunseed Vita Sunscription Rabbit Natural Timothy Diet with Added Vitamins and Minerals, a no-sugar-added daily feed in pellet form with timothy hay included. The second is SunSations Natural Formula with fruits, veggies and flowers that adds taste and variety without sacrificing other natural ingredients and helps satisfy a rabbit’s natural foraging instincts.
Other popular brands include Hartz’s Bonanza Pet Rabbit Diet, Small World Rabbit and Kaytee Supreme Rabbit. Kaytee recently introduced several new wares for hares, including a new line of hand-woven nests and mats, such as the Tunnel Hideaway, House Hut and Large Woven Mat—and the Chew Proof Terracotta Hideaway, made from terracotta clay that creates a cool resting place on hot days and a great place to burrow.
Another new SKU that pet retailers are increasingly paying attention to is Kordon’s Oasis Vita E-Z Mist for Rabbits—the same high-quality multivitamin formula long offered as drops but now also available in a spray format.
“Not all rabbits accept drinking water treated with drops, so an alternative delivery method was introduced in order for the multivitamins to be added to a wide variety of food items,” said Jane Morehouse, product research and development manager for Kordon LLC. “This new Oasis product sprays directly onto food items—including pelleted diets, hay cubes and loose hay—and boosts nutrition levels of fresh fruits and veggies. It replaces the need to mix vitamins into drinking water.”
Kniceley recommended promoting “adoption” of rabbits versus “purchasing,” both literally and figuratively.
“The current trend is for pet stores to hold adoption days and feature adoptable rabbits from shelters, along with rabbits that the store already carries,” Kniceley said. “This way, you are able to accommodate both mindsets and able to help shelter pets at the same time.”
Partnering with a local animal shelter on such events can not only create feel-good opportunities that patrons will appreciate, but it can also pay dividends in terms of cross-promotions and building collaborative resources.
Sales that Sing
Busy consumers are constantly on the lookout for dummy-proof pets that are relatively inexpensive. That’s where softbills like finches and canaries fit a nice niche. Crested, red factor and bright yellow canaries as well as zebra, society and Gouldian finches and their family are low maintenance, colorful and compact. Depending on the species, they also are capable of breaking out into beautiful song.
Hence, they can make great companions for first-time and on-the-go owners and great options for your pet store—whether you choose to carry a live canary/finch inventory or just the products tailored for them.
“Finches and canaries are picking up momentum as perfect pet birds for more folks simply because they fill the home with very pleasant songs and are relatively easy to care for,” said Melanie K. Allen, avian product specialist with Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “This is especially good for folks who have busy lives, yet want to share their homes with a pet bird.”
Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Bowling Green, Ohio-headquartered Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., adds that, unlike many parrot species, the availability of canaries and finches remains strong.
“These species and varieties provide a very affordable way for the consumer to enter the bird hobby,” Norsen said. “While the level of physical interaction is very low with these birds, they are very enjoyable and rewarding pet birds.”
Keep it Calm
Allen says that finches, especially Gouldians, can stress easily, so it’s important to maintain a zen-like, peaceful ambience in live cages and the surrounding department within your store.
“They do well with as close to a natural environment as possible,” Allen said.
“The days of putting a dozen finches or canaries in a large, empty square cage are gone,” said Gerry Brostek, chief operating officer for Hauppauge, New York-based Penn-Plax. “Greater consumer response is generated by cages that include not just the livestock, but also the toys, mirrors, ladders, swings and bells that you are trying to sell.”
Brostek’s golden rule for retailers? He says it’s to make sure you keep the cages clean and that your birds look healthy.
“This may seem obvious, but we still see stores that skimp on cleaning and which display birds in dusty, dirty cages—which does not encourage the consumer to purchase,” he said.
Enclosures and Edibles
When it comes to cages, it’s important to stock a variety of avian habitats from which shoppers can choose and which are appropriately sized for canaries and finches. Popular wares in this sub-category include the Avian Adventures Nina Birdcage by MidWest Homes for Pets, which includes innovative interlocking panels that enable quick and easy no-tools assembly, interchangeable slide out pans, bird-proof locking latches and either a dometop or playtop; Preview Pet Products’ new Crown Top Cage and Stand, which features a large-hinged front access door, removable bottom grill and pull-out debris tray, and integrated floor stand; and A&E Cage Co.’s Economy Finch Cage with a white ornate top, equipped with slide-up front door and feeder doors, two plastic feeding stations, and a non-toxic durable and safe powder-coated finish.
The most important merchandise in this space is the edible kind.
“Historically, diets for softbills have been extremely simple, sometimes only containing a small variety of seeds and grains and often without effective methods of vitamin and mineral fortification,” Norsen said. “Happily, this trend has changed and many of the diets available today contain a wide variety of seeds, fortified pellets, fruits, vegetables and additional insects providing a high level of nutrition.”
Case in point: Vitakraft’s Vita Prima Canary & Finch Formula, a nutritionally fortified diet with Omega 3s, vitamins A, D and E, probiotics, calcium and no artificial preservatives. Other brands that boast healthy and natural ingredients include eCOTRITION’s Essential Blend for Canaries & Finches, fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts; Kaytee’s Forti-Diet Pro Songbird: Canary & Finch, nutritionally formulated to provide singing birds what they need to make beautiful music; Lafeber’s Premium Daily Diet for Canaries or for Finches—both of which are naturally preserved and flavored, balanced with Omega 3 and 6 and free of artificial food colors and dyes; Goldenfeast’s Premium Canary Food Australian Blend, complete with a tasty blend of fruits, herbs, spices, bee pollen, probiotics, hemp seeds and vegetables; and F.M. Brown’s Sons Tropical Carnival Canary & Finch Food, filled with papaya, peanuts and canary and millet seed.
It’s also smart to bolster your canary and finch offerings with a wide array of cage accessories, including mirrors, perches, food and water dishes, toys, treats and multivitamin formulas. One new product in that last domain is Kordon’s Oasis Vita E-Z Mist for Small Birds, which sprays directly onto food items, including seed or pelleted diets, and boosts the nutrition levels of fresh fruits and veggies.
Boosting Bird Sales
When it comes to marketing and merchandising these products to ensure a healthy bird and happy bird owners, it’s of vital importance to carefully consider ideal placement.
“I would recommend displaying any related products next to the live finches and canaries you sell and using some of these products in-store, showing your customers that the birds love them,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, marketing and design assistant for F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc. in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania.
“Cross-merchandising with feed, toys and accessories serves as a silent salesman while saving space,” said Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Indiana. “It also allows the customer to interact with the product and view its features and attributes.”
The Bottom Line on Herp Bedding
Every successful operation needs a good foundation. And that’s as true of a pet store as it is of a reptile habitat, which requires the proper bedding material on which a herp can habitate and thrive.
According to experts, an increased focus from manufacturers on species-friendly products and more natural materials are among the reasons retailers have plenty of substrate merchandise and types to choose from nowadays.
The Real Deal
Apollo Reese Owens, sales manager for Galapagos Pet Supply, the Santa Barbara, California-based maker of reptile substrates and moss bedding, says natural materials are all the rage.
“Pet store owners and consumers are waking up to the benefits of natural substrates, and are starting to understand that many products come from non-renewable resources,” Owens said. “Sustainable materials and by-product harvesting are more important now than ever, and more reptile owners are leaning toward natural-looking enclosures, so fake and imitation bedding is dwindling in popularity.”
Coconut and moss are two of the most preferred substrate ingredients today. Both are used in Galapagos substrate products, including Tropicoco Soil and Tropicoco Husk, as well as Royal Pillow Moss. Coconut husk is a perfect reptile substrate material because it contains natural antibodies that help fight against mold, mildew, foul odors and other harmful pathogens. Meanwhile, Galapagos’ hand-harvested moss helps maintain a terrarium’s humidity and is conducive to proper pet hydration and shedding.
Austin Harris, manager for Underground Reptiles, a Deerfield Beach, Florida, pet store, is a fan of substrates that blend different materials, including Galapogos’ products.
“Being able to mix multiple substrates, including live moss, into your terrarium allows you to get the perfect humidity you’re looking for, plus it looks cool,” Harris said.
Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Labs, Inc., in San Luis Obispo, California, says planted and bioactive terrariums are becoming more popular, as well.
“They can be beautiful works of art in a reptile owner’s home, providing ideal habitats for tropical pets and a peaceful window for keepers into a tropical world,” said Rademacher, adding that Zoo Med’s new ReptiSoil is the ideal substrate for these bioactive setups. The product supports growth in terrarium plants such as ferns, bromeliads, miniature orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants. ReptiSoil features four components—peat moss, soil, sand and carbon (which helps aerate the soil and improve drainage)—that work together to retain humidity and promote burrowing, nesting and egg laying.
Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for Healthy Herp, a division of San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, California, has noticed an increasing demand for products designed to create more naturalistic terrariums, “such as substrates that are easy to clean and free of dust and shavings, as well as soils and sands that can be wet, molded and excavated.”
Indeed, some goods go beyond the cage-bottom call of duty and offer the ability to sculpt creative, livable landscapes within an enclosure. Case in point: Zoo Med’s new Cavern Kit contains Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, which can be imaginatively shaped via included tools into tunnels, caverns, caves and shelters that allow reptiles to engage in their natural digging and climbing instincts as well as safely wear down their nails.
While the proliferation of substrate brands over the past few years is good for consumers, it’s also challenging for retailers who may have limited shelf space. Among the notable products in this subcategory today are multiple SKUs from National Geographic, like Sunset Reptile Sand, Coconut Fiber and Marble White Sand; numerous offerings by Zoo Med, such as Repti Chips, Eco Earth Expandable Reptile Substrate and Hydroballs; and a diverse array of choices from Exo Terra, ranging from Forest Moss and Coco Husk to Jungle Earth and Bio Drain, a non-organic substrate that doesn’t rot or decompose and allows for superior drainage.
From the Bottom Up
For years, retailers have been stocking substrate products horizontally flat and positioning them near the bottoms of shelves. Owens warned that this can hurt sales.
“Lately, I’ve seen more stores peg their substrates and begin to move them higher up on the shelf,” he said. “Merchandising substrates higher up and closer to eye level attracts customers’ eyes and encourages them to actually read each label and learn what makes it different from the product next to it.”
Harris said retailers need to ensure that customers understand the importance of buying and using the right substrate product.
“Always stress the importance of a healthy, clean environment,” he said. “To care for most reptiles and amphibians properly, the substrate should be changed at least every four to six weeks, which equates to around $10 a month on new substrate that provides a nice clean bedding for the pet to live on. That’s not a lot to ask for a product that will decrease the chance of the animal getting sick from bacteria growth.”
To encourage this and cater to consumer demand, it’s important to stock a healthy variety of substrate options.
“If a customer remains uncomfortable in using a particulate substrate, point them to a different product, and don’t let them feel limited in their options,” Rademacher said.
Lastly, practice what you preach by showcasing different herp bedding in your displays.
“Use (herp bedding) in your store to create some really nice looking terrariums—even if they don’t have live animals in them,” Oneppo said. “Also, try using the excavator type sands and create nice looking environments that people can purchase on the spot to take home, ready to go without the work.”
The Bowl Truth
Skeptical about bird receptacles? It’s important not to overlook merchandise mainstays like feeders and waterers, which every bird owner needs.
In fact, many customers are willing to pay more for an upgrade that improves on the cheap vertical vessels of edibles included in a starter cage—provided you can upsell them on the benefits of a higher quality and more convenient waterer and/or feeder.
William Kalichman, owner of Bill’s Birds in Davie, Florida, believes this is a subcategory that bird owners don’t flock to in droves, but it can pay off if you carry a healthy assortment of brands and models.
“There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in this space in recent years, but there are at least more choices available and plenty of user-friendly designs,” he said. “Our most popular product is a stainless steel bowl that clamps onto the side of the cage, which is ultra-durable, inexpensive, convenient and compatible with most cages. Plus, the stainless steel products are easy to clean and rewash in the dishwasher.”
Plastic crocks with quick-release attachments are nearly as in demand at Bill’s Birds as hooded ceramic cups, “which offer the benefit of less spills and mess,” Kalichman noted.
Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, Inc., a wholesale distributor in Norfolk, Virginia, has noticed some attention-getting new designs and plastic feeders for smaller breeds that are “whimsical and appealing to the shopper for their fun aspects and colors, especially some of the new products from Caitec. There is a trend to get past the ‘same old-same old.’”
For example, Caitec offers a portable window perch feeder with suction cups on it “that allow your small bird to dine while enjoying a view of the great outdoors—and it doubles as a play area, complete with toy and swing,” Wyld said.
Caitec also recently launched several other new SKUs, including its Auto Water Seed Feeder, with a stylish and curvy green plastic base and attached perch, and several products within its “Mess Less” line. These items include a shielded feeder with a bold, red shield attached to the feeder bowl to prevent spillage outside the cage; a hanging feeder with a decorative large plastic feeder base and three cute yellow perches above it; and a combo feeder, which features twin blue bowls attached to an arm that extends the bowls further into the cage to decrease mess.
Preventing a Mess
Indeed, neat and clean seem to be the marketing concepts manufacturers are emphasizing above all else. This is supported by the popularity of products like Tidy Seed’s No-Mess Bird Feeder, designed to do away with scattered hulls and seeds thanks to its trough-like compartment, and Fatpet’s Splash Proof Bird Feeder, which boasts an automatic feeding trough with a stand perch. Aside from “scatterless design,” other amenities currently in vogue include “chew proof,” “high-gloss finish,” “universal mount,” and “dishwasher safe.”
Manufacturers have had success trying to infuse fun and foraging within a feeder. Caitec offers an array of options in its Creative Foraging line of durable polycarbonate products, ranging from its Foraging Wheel, Food Tumbler and Foraging Ball and Kabob to its Space Circles, House of Treats and Foraging Sphere. Bird owners fill the compartments with everyday feed or treats and watch contentedly as their pets work diligently to open, move or access a food compartment.
“Creating a foraging environment so that birds explore more around their cage and within toys to find their food provides mental stimulation as well as exercise, which you should encourage to your customers,” Wyld said.
Other companies are also trying to cater to increased demand for treat receptacles, among them Petmate with its JW Pet Treat Stick Holder, fashioned to carefully keep debris and fragments from dropping outside the enclosure.
When it comes to waterers, the tried-and-true upright water bottle has yet to be improved upon, although Super Pet offers a different take on the “wet-my-beak” approach via its Habitat Defined Enrichment Pod Gravity Waterer. This product features compact, customized and refillable water pods.
Mostly, however, the classic plastic or glass tube rules the roost here, including products like JW Pet’s Insight Clean Water Silo Bird Waterer, Lixit’s Glass Bird Bottle and Kordon’s Bird Water Bottle. Stainless steel coop cups by Prevue Pet Products, Hagen’s Living World, Pro Select and others also have a habit of moving quickly off the shelf.
New and improved waterers and feeders don’t automatically “sell themselves,” so be prepared to promote and recommend specific merchandise to bird owner shoppers, especially newbies.
“Avoid just hanging merchandise up—always engage the customer to learn how they currently feed and what their needs are,” Wyld noted. “Educate them on the great inquisitive nature of birds and the importance of creating different feeding stations and locations around their cage as well, as the instinctive nature of birds is to forage.”
Kalichman agrees that it’s crucial to educate patrons about feeders and waterers, “especially the need to replace food and water on a regular basis and thoroughly clean out these products.”
In addition, put your feeder and waterer inventory to work by showcasing them in your live displays.
“We do that in our store and are careful to rotate the products within the cages, too,” Kalichman recommended.
Small Pet, Big Smell
Want to ensure that your pet store appeals to both the olfactory organ and your patrons’ yearn for a fresh and clean cage? The pros have a few tips on what SKUs (stock keeping units) best eradicate the PUs (the shortened version of “puteo,” which is Latin for “to smell bad”).
From aromatic bedding and odor-eliminating sprays to supplements that deodorize animal excrement, manufacturers are creating solutions that tap into the small animal pet owners’ desire for odor control. These products will enable customers to breathe easier inside your store as well as in their own home.
Opportunity in the Air
“Some of the biggest drawbacks consumers have about owning a small animal pet are odor control and cage cleaning, so products that solve odor issues and make cage cleaning easier are important for improving the overall small animal pet ownership experience,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods, a division of Chilton, Wisconsin-based Kaytee.
“Shoppers today are embracing natural odor-control products that are made specifically for their small animal species’ unique behaviors and healthy home lifestyle, as well as products that are good for the environment,” said Jane Wasley, brand manager for Healthy Pet in Ferndale, Washington.
“The all-natural trend is driving consumers to products that are environmentally safe for both humans, pets and the planet,” said Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for Marshall Pet Products in Wolcott, New York. “A few years back, we launched 180XT Stain, Odor and Pheromone Remover, a concentrated cleaner that extracts urine from the sub-floor, patting and carpet surface by blotting the urine up and out of the carpet and not masking it like other cleaning products.”
Substrates as a Solution
A pet owner’s first line of defense against mini-mammal stank is at the litter level, where most of the redolence radiates from. The main culprit responsible for small critter funk is ammonia, which is created by the uric acid found in pet urine. Leaky water bottles that add unwanted moisture to cage bottoms, along with pet droppings, contribute to an over-ripe atmosphere.
Consequently, it’s no surprise that many brands in recent years have upped the fragrant quotient in their bedding products, which are typically comprised of either recycled paper, reclaimed cellulose pulp, or cedar, pine or aspen wood shavings. These companies are now manufacturing bedding products incorporating special ingredients, odor-reducing properties, earth-friendly materials, and dust-free and hypoallergenic features.
Prominent examples include Healthy Pet’s carefresh odor stop formula, which provides 10-day odor control in its natural fiber bedding; FiberCore’s Eco-Bedding Odor Control, made from 100-percent recycled paper with a built-in ammonia blocker; Kaytee’s Clean & Cozy Natural Small Pet Bedding, which boasts of hygienic, odor-controlling and colorfast ingredients that absorb five times its weight in moisture; So Phresh Odor Control Crumbled Paper small animal biodegradable bedding with baking soda; and Mountain Pine Management’s Bedding Select, a cracked pellet product made from pine, which is 10 times more absorbent than shavings, is mold-, bacteria- and insect-resistant, and reduces waste by up to 50 percent.
Healthy Pet recently rolled out the industry’s first species-specific line of small animal natural paper litter under its carefresh brand: Custom Hamster & Gerbil Bedding; Guinea Pig & Rabbit Bedding; and carefresh complete. Each is designed to suppress ammonia for up to 10 days and is three times more absorbent than shavings; the hamster and gerbil blend allows for easier burrowing, while the guinea pig and rabbit product offers an ideal size for nesting.
Beyond the Bedding
An increasing number of cleaners and deodorizers for inside and outside the cage have launched in recent years. These include:
• Natural Chemistry’s Healthy Habitat, and PureAyre’s Odor Eliminator, all-natural cleaner/deodorizer products that employ natural enzymes to eliminate pet odors and break down organic contaminants
• Cage Cleaner for Small Animals, Cage Odor Eliminator for Small Animals, and Small Animal Cage Scrubbing Wipes, all by Nature’s Miracle
• Zoo Med’s Wipe Out, a small animal enclosure disinfectant, cleaner and deodorizer
• Marshall Pet Products’ 180XT Stain, Odor and Pheromone Remover, a concentrated, professional-strength cleaner that extracts urine and pheromones from upholstery, carpeting, fabrics and surfaces without masking the odor and stain
• Marshall’s GoodBye Odor, a supplement added to the pet’s food or water that curbs unpleasant cage aroma and deodorizes small animal body stool, urine and body odor
• Clean Cage Spray and Smellin’ Good Critter Spray Fragrance, both by Kaytee
While bedding is a staple, like bathroom tissue for humans, that you can count on for repeat sales, it’s important to bring awareness to litter products and related odor-control goods.
“There are some great ways retailers can merchandise small pet bedding, food and habitats together to make sure they are getting consumers to fill their basket while they are in the store,” Wasley said. “You have to change it up every once in a while. Highlight a new color, new mix or species-specific endcap that includes habitats and bedding.”
Patrick Roe, supervisor at Critter Cabana, an independent pet store with locations in Newberg and Wilsonville, Oregon, follows that advice.
“We offer discounted bundles for beginners that include an odor-control bedding product in the kit, and we keep our litter and cleaning products organized together on the shelf in the same section,” Roe said. “We also garner feedback from our customer on which products work better than others. We’ve found that brighter-colored bedding—which, because of their lighter colors might make them look cleaner—can actually appear dirtier and stained faster.”
Roe suggests partnering with manufacturers to promote particular brands in exchange for free product samples that store owners can use in their live animal cages. These can produce savings that add up quickly.
Educate the Customers
Consumers crave know-how and reassurance that the product will perform as advertised.
“Point-of-sale materials or videos showing how the product works is a good way for retailers to promote the product and differentiate it from all the other cleaning products on the shelves,” Juszczak said.
Don’t rely on brochures and video kiosks to educate customers; train your staff on how to instruct patrons about the need to clean cages and replace bedding at recommended intervals, depending on the species and presence of odor. Employees should remind clientele of the need to control room humidity, ventilate rooms and refrain from the use of harsh chemicals and aerosol air-freshening products or deodorizers in or near cages.
Eager to pump some visual pizzazz into an otherwise drab herp habitat? Want to feng shui your way to a more aesthetically appealing enclosure that reptiles can appreciate, too?
It’s time to multitask as an interior “pet-corator” and earn the trust of your customers by stocking and recommending the best décor products for scaly companions—because patrons are increasingly interested in decking their cages with the latest and most lively accoutrements.
Frank Indiviglio, a New York City-based retailer consultant and herpetologist formerly with the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos, said the major décor trend he’s noticed in the past year is increasingly realistic plants, including terrestrial flora from woodland environments, desert plants like cacti and succulents, emergent vegetation native to swamps, floating plants for pond setups, and plants grouped with rocks.
“Previously, retailers were often limited to carrying fake plants designed for aquarium use,” said Indiviglio, who notes that manufacturers are also matching product look and design to a particular species needs. “But today, they’ve tweaked the plastic materials to mimic a much wider variety of plant species and there’s a greater attention to detail when it comes to plant décor.”
Case in point: Exo Terra’s Bromeliad Smart Plant retains water in a small cup-like area at its base, naturally attracting dart frogs to deposit eggs, despite being artificial.
This heightened realism isn’t limited to plants: hideouts look more like Mother Nature intended as well.
“Today’s hideaways actually have rough edges, resemble real shapes in the wild like rocks and hollow logs, and are offered in a variety of sizes,” Indiviglio added. “Some of these products are marketed as ‘retreats’ and ‘caves’ that attach to the side of the glass with suction cups.”
Pertinent examples of the aforementioned include Zilla Bark Bends terrarium decorations; A & E Cages’ Java wood hideouts; corner caves by Conceptual Creations; granite hideaways by MagNaturals (which lock in place via magnets); and Jungle Bob’s Reptile Grotto and Reptile Ravine, made of a non-toxic, hard poly resin that doesn’t tip over and which serve as preferred basking spots, secret nooks and backgrounds.
Betsey G. Moore, vice president of CaribSea, Inc., in Fort Pierce, Florida, echoed the sentiment that the indigenous look is in style.
“Natural-looking ecoscapes accurate to the native species’ habitat are popular,” Moore said. “Many hobbyists are also looking for décor that helps recreate a specific locale.”
More Ornamentation Trends
Additional merchandise movements Indiviglio has observed include:
• more diverse offerings of natural wood pieces, such as Zoo Med’s Natural Mopani Wood, a denser/harder wood that, unlike driftwood, doesn’t rot and sinks immediately in aquatic habitats or can be used as islands for turtles and frogs;
• more hanging vine products, which form a natural pathway for chameleons, arboreal lizards and other herps—Exo Terra’s line of hanging rainforest plant replicas (like Spanish Moss, Mandarin, and Abuliton Silk), and Galapagos’ new MossVine (100 percent natural vine made from real moss that bends to fit any enclosure) being good examples.
• more faux plants with suction cups, including Fluker’s Repta Vines’ line, ideal for most geckos and tree frogs that prefer to rest on tree trunks behind leaves.
Substrate can serve as décor when it’s an eye-catching product, and an infusion of color in this category can certainly help registers ring. Estes makes glow-in-the-dark calcium carbonate RepTerra sand, available in black, pink, red, white, black, purple, green and blue to liven up any enclosure. Zoo Med’s Vita Sand comes in orange, mauve or gold, and CaribSea provides Reptilite Brite calcium substrate in tan, rainforest green, gold, plum, desert rose, white and cactus blossom hues.
Au naturale bedding can also add visual appeal to a terrarium. Products featuring coconut husk, sphagnum moss and artificial moss mats, for instance, add an exotic look while also helping to retain moisture and cater to burrowing reptiles, as evidenced by CaribSea’s Coco Soft and Cypress Soft bedding, which boasts natural coconut husk and cypress bark to control odor and increase humidity.
Bob Smith, owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Centereach, New York, said enclosure adornments need to be merchandised properly without necessarily being bundled together with repeat sale staples like food and lighting.
“Décor needs to catch the eye, and periodically moving these products to a different location in the store helps, especially if they’re not selling,” Smith said. “With this category, avoid complacency. Keep the products organized and neat, clean the shelves, and place the proper accent lighting on them.”
Using products in your own store displays is the best way to sell what’s on the shelf, Moore added.
“Placing signs on the enclosures showing hobbyists what the store is using helps to take the guesswork out of their animal’s care,” Moore said.
“We believe strongly in displaying décor items in our animal tanks and enclosures,” he said.
On Track with Snacks
It’s a biblical truism that man cannot live on bread alone. Likewise, rabbits, cavies, hamsters, mice and their small mammal brethren crave more than critter kibble and plain pellets to satiate their palates. To make their tiny taste buds truly sing “hallelujah,” our furry friends appreciate treats.
Thankfully, there are plenty on the market to choose from that can get their owners coming back to your establishment for a fresh snack supply.
Savory Indulgences Without the Guilt
Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Nebraska, said consumers nowadays are always on the lookout for fun treat choices—especially those marketed as nutritious.
“More and more, we’re seeing an increased call for wholesome, enriching treat options that customers can feel good about giving to their pets,” Stock said. “They’re seeking out products that they feel their pet will find appealing from both a nutrition and taste standpoint.”
Shane Rice, manager for Last Place on Earth, a pet store in Charlotte, North Carolina, can vouch for the fact that treats with natural ingredients—minus fillers like unneeded grains—continue to be in demand.
“Customers are trying to replicate more of what their pet would actually eat in the wild, which means they’re gravitating more toward healthier treats with fewer additives,” said Rice, who notes that granola and yogurt treats are particularly popular among shoppers at his store. “They’re also buying more treats than years ago, probably to pamper and reward their pets.”
Treats are also making the register ring more probably because manufacturers are staking more of a claim in this subcategory, rolling out a greater number of new brands, flavors and configurations of between-meal or meal replacement snacks for small animals with each passing year.
Additionally, “today’s customers are educated, and high-quality treat products keep them coming back,” said Paul Juszczak, director of Sales and Marketing for Wolcott, New York-based Marshall Pet Products.
“The overall quality and nutritional value of treats has improved by leaps and bounds, and there are certainly more options in this category than in years past,” Stock said. “In many ways, these product improvements make selling treats easier. Many of our retail partners tell us that they are more comfortable and confident selling treats they can believe in from a product quality and enrichment standpoint.”
Small Animals Also Get the Munchies
Treat trends Stock has identified include hay-based, freeze-dried fruit and vegetable, and baked treats. To accommodate this consumer inclination, Oxbow makes Organic Barley Biscuits, billed as 100-percent natural oven-baked treats made with certified organic ingredients including hay, fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, made-in-the-USA and high-protein treats are on the rise, according to Juszczak. Consequently, Marshall offers Bandits Freeze Dried Ferret Treats made with 100-percent whole raw animal protein and created via a delicate freeze-drying process that locks in the natural nutrition and fresh meat taste.
Another leaning that has legs is the diversity of creative, colorful and tasty treat and chew shapes that brands are providing. Consider Living World’s Wheel Delights, a perfectly round crunchy munchy; Vitakraft’s SunSations Loofapalooza chews, loofa gourds flavored with berries; Kaytee’s Apple Orchard Sticks and Big Branch Bites; and F.M. Brown’s Tropical Carnival line, which includes Crinkle Crisps with Carrots Gluten Free treats, designed with special dental ridges to promote oral health, and Baked Pretzels shaped just like the kind we like to enjoy with a cold beer and football game.
A wealth of flavors have also invaded this space, as evidenced by Living World’s vast array of newer tastes, including hamster, rabbit or guinea pig sticks available in honey, fruit or vegetable flavor, Small Animal Bites with Quinoa, and fieldberry-flavored rabbit drops.
And microwave popcorn isn’t just for homo sapiens any longer—now small animals can indulge in this fun food as well, thanks to SunSations’ Yumbo Pops and Mini-Pop Indian Corn Treat, either of which can be served popped or unpopped.
Thinking Outside the Shelf
Stock has observed retailers dedicating more shelf space to treats in recent years—a positive sign, but one that can make for tight real estate. All the more reason to give careful paws—pause, that is—to how you’re going to strategically position treats in your set.
Many experts, Stock included, insist that treats are best merchandised at eye level, where they are likely to catch the attention of more consumers.
“Whenever possible, they do great in the end cap space, as well as on clip strips within the aisle,” Stock said.
Juszczak, however, cautions that pigeonholing one area for treat merchandising can limit your sales.
“Retailers should avoid stocking category specific products like treats only in one section of their store,” he said.
Last Place on Earth follows that advice.
“We try to spotlight new treat products near or on the counter to encourage add-on and impulse purchases,” said Rice, who also prominently displays treats in his store’s designated section for small animals.
It also helps that Rice’s store is hands-on and customer-centric.
“We often let customers pet and handle our for-sale animals,” Rice said. “We’ll let kids put treats inside a cage, and you see their eyes light up as the animal goes for the snack.”
To further send the message that treats are important, “we also bundle carefully chosen treats in our small animal starter setups.”
Lastly, remember that BOGO offers and limited-time deals can further boost treat biz. Consider running a promo where the customer gets a free package of treats with the purchase of a bag of bedding, hay, food or another staple.
Accent on Enhancement
Humans increasingly look to health boosters like vitamins and minerals, probiotics, encapsulated nutrients, natural extracts, powders and ointments to augment their immune systems, fortify their nutrition and feel better.
Considering their penchant for wellness products, it’s only natural, then, that bird owners are seeking supplements by the score for their winged companions in an effort to promote longer, healthier lifespans.
Everyday Feed Isn’t Enough
“As advanced as many of today’s diets are, it is still important to consider additional supplementation in the diets of pet birds,” said Mike Rizzuti, regional sales manager for Bowling Green, Ohio-based Vitakraft Sunseed, makers of signature supplements like Sunseed Sun Drops Daily Liquid Vitamins, Quiko powdered multivitamin, and Quiko Classic Egg Food Daily Supplement. “This can be done through liquid or powdered multivitamins or dietary enrichment products, such as egg food which is highly palatable and easy to feed.”
Melanie K. Allen, avian product specialist with Mansfield, Massachusetts-headquartered Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, says that, while many companion birds consume a higher volume of formulated diets, such as pellets or extruded morsels, bird owners still like to use supplements to ensure optimal nutrition and in some cases, as a wellness type supplement to prevent poor health.
“Current trends in bird care include feeding fresh fruits and vegetables, or ‘chop,’ a mixture of chopped greens, vegetables and cooked grains as a type of enrichment food,” Allen said. “ These types of food often provide the perfect way for parrot owners to administer powder supplements.”
However, Allen added that, in the case of some species, especially finches, canaries, and lovebirds, “typical diets are still predominately seed, which still lack some important and critical nutrients that these little guys require—namely, vitamin A, essential amino acids and especially calcium.”
No need to fear, faithful retailer: Manufacturers offer plenty of supplement products that fit the bill and address diet deficiencies and other issues.
In powder form, there’s plenty to choose from, including Pretty Bird’s Natural Gold Supplement, which combines a special blend of micronutrients and amino acids along with enzymes and probiotics; Zoo Med’s Avian Plus Vitamins, available in calcium-based powder form and packed with amino acid power minus any food fillers; Avi-Era Bird Vitamins, which mixes with water or food to fuel birds with 13 essential vitamins; Missing Link Ultimate Avian, formulated to improve plumage as well as overall health; Miracle Care Vionate vitamin mineral powder, supplying 21 crucial vitamins and minerals; and NBD’s Avi-Culture 2 live probiotic powder to aid the digestive tract and improve immunity.
Hagen recently herded one of its top-selling powders into the HARI brand, relabeling it Prime Vitamin, Mineral and Amino Acid Supplement, which combines essential nutrients with probiotics and calcium gluconate, a nutrient delivery agent (unlike other powder-based vitamin supplements that use sugar). Hagen has also rebranded another popular item: HARI Clay-Cal, a clay product that combines the detoxifying benefits of montmorillonite clay and charcoal with calcium for mineral supplementation.
Other SKUs to Consider
An ample array of dissolvable, liquid and spray-on supplements abound, too. eCotrition’s Vita-Sol, which can be added to water or seed, is loaded with multivitamins, and the brand’s Skin & Plumage supplement fosters healthier, more colorful feathers; Oasis Vita-Drops has a high-potency multivitamin formula with extra vitamin C; and 8 in 1 Ultra Care Mite & Lice Spray is an essential remedy for pesky bird bugs.
“Adding either a cuttlebone or a man-made mineral block are other tried-and-true ways of helping to maintain calcium and mineral levels in pet birds,” Rizzuti added.
To cater to this need, retailers can select from a variety of products on the market, including flavored cuttlebones from Penn-Plax (berry or mango and banana) and F.M. Brown’s (mango or fruit); plain white cuttlebones by Wild Harvest, Living World, and Penn-Plax; Zoo Med’s Banquet Block line, available in fruit, vegetable, or mealworm flavors; Living World’s Beak Block line, shaped in apple, pear or orange; and Prevue Pet’s Mineral Block line, shaped in corn or pumpkin.
Customizing for Clientele
Avian supplements aren’t exactly a sexy subset among retail offerings. But you can attract a lot more attention to this space with the right merchandising mindset.
Allen recommends placing supplements near the cash register “so that it’s easy for an employee to recommend a supplement based on what the customer is purchasing.”
“Otherwise, retailers can miss out on an easy opportunity to not only increase a sale but to offer good, sound bird care advice to a customer,” she said.
Rizzuti suggests merchandising supplements in the food/diets section, but with caution.
“Every effort should be made to educate the employee and consumer on the safe and proper use of these products,” he said. “Just as with human supplements, the misuse of these items can be more detrimental than not using them at all.”
Proven tactics also worth considering are bundling deals (offering a discount when purchasing a daily diet along with egg food, for instance), including one or more supplement products in bird cage starter kits, and hosting a free workshop during which you can educate patrons on the perks and proper use of supplements while performing a demonstration using birds in the store.
Herp-itats are Hot
It’s been said that home is where the heart is. But for pet store retailers, reptile homes are where the heart of your herp-related sales can come from.
That’s because, unlike your typical shoebox variety plastic hamster habitat or conventionally compact bird cage, terrariums and enclosures for cold-blooded critters tend to come relatively larger, higher priced and often require add-on products at the time of purchase like heat and UVB lamps and undertank heaters. All that bundled merchandise can add up to a tidy profit for your operation—provided you stock the kind of cages customers clamor for, say the experts.
Reptiles and Their Domiciles Find a Home
Ask Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand/Healthy Herp in Newark, California, and he’ll tell you that reptile habitats—and herp products in general—have come a long way into the mainstream over the past few decades.
“Back in the 1980s, reptiles were often kept in the back of the store or in the fish room and usually out of sight,” Oneppo said. “Fast-forward to today and reptiles are prominently displayed in stores, with many stores specializing in reptiles. Reptiles being more mainstream and people being more conscientious of their pets’ needs makes selling the proper habitat setup a whole lot easier.”
Richard Allen, owner of Reptile Rapture, a pet store in Madison, Wisconsin, says his store only carried a limited array of reptile homes when he opened his operations eight years ago. Today, by contrast, there’s an abundance of worthy terrarium SKUs to stock.
“The two brands that practically have the reptile habitat market cornered are Exo Terra and Zoo Med, which we carry a lot of,” Allen said. “One of the newest, which has been a big hit in our store, is Zoo Med’s Skyscraper Terrarium, which our customers like for its narrowness and height, making it a vertically flexible enclosure.”
The Skyscraper measures a slim but tall 18” x 18” x 36”, making it ideal for tree boas, tree pythons and arboreal lizards, and popular among retailers and customers alike who value extra shelf/counter space.
“Exo Terra’s Habisphere also makes for a great display in our store, working nicely as a showcase home for frogs and amphibians,” said Allen, noting that this glass terrarium product—designed especially for countertops or desktops—has a curved front window and a day/night light that provides a more user-friendly view of the setup and its occupants.
Another new enclosure that aims to revolutionize the segment is the Biopod (sold at Biopod.com), billed as a “self-contained ecosystem that replicates real environments.” Ideal for dart, poison or medium/large tree frogs or medium-sized reptiles, the Grand size Biopod features integrated misters, an air injection system that perfectly balances oxygen and carbon dioxide, integrated heating, an LED light panel that replicates natural sunlight, and more. Plus, this microhabitat can be controlled and customized via a smartphone app.
Oneppo notes that a number of other notable new terrariums have hit the market in recent months that boast unique shapes, sizes and aesthetic features. One glowing example is Zoo Med’s ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe, an open-air screen habitat equipped with touch-activated LED lights that illuminate the interior via three different color settings: white, red, or white and red.
“Also popular today are terrarium kits, often replicating habitats such as desert or rainforest,” Oneppo said.
Zilla, for instance, offers basic and deluxe versions of both desert and tropical kits.
According to Oneppo, another trend in recent years has been species-specific cages, “which have been tailored to accommodate the most popular pet species, including aquatic turtles, snakes, leopard geckos, crested geckos and bearded dragons.”
Cases in point: Exo Terra’s Crested Gecko Habitat Kit, Zoo Med’s Reptibreeze IguanArium, the Turtle Tub Aquatic Habitat and the Reptihabitat Leopard Gecko Kit.
How to Win Friends and Influence Pet Owners
Want to sell more reptile cribs to the masses? Take them out of the box and give them the lived-in lizard look.
“The best way to merchandise is to have some terrariums set up in the store on display, especially some of the kits,” Oneppo said. “You don’t necessarily need to have reptiles in them, but sometimes just having them out of the box and set up on display helps to sell them.”
At Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, a pet retailer in Centereach, New York, owner Bob Smith does just that.
“We showcase new terrariums like Zoo Med’s Skyscraper by setting it up fully decorated,” Smith said. “We recently put a green tree python inside the Skyscraper and set up a basking spot right in the front of the cage, which turned out to be the perfect display, resulting in a quick sale of the entire set up.”
Allen also prefers displaying and using the habitats he carries.
“I display every enclosure we sell in our store because I know how important it is to keep these products visible to the customer and to show them what it looks like assembled out of the box,” Allen said.
But taking merchandise out for a test drive isn’t enough. Your staff should be passionate about herps and the homes they live in, too.
“When an employee gets excited about and talks about their own personal experience with products, it’s very powerful,” Oneppo added. “Customers pick up on this and realize they are not being fed a line just to make a sale and are therefore more inclined to purchase the product.”
Profiting from Pocket Pets
They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But a furry friend that fits in the palm of your hand can be worth even more to a retailer—especially if it’s a hamster or gerbil.
Undeniably cuddly, compact and cute, gerbils and hamsters are the crowd-pleasing pets that keep customers coming back. They’re inexpensive, easy to care for, and mom-approved (especially over mice and rats and higher-maintenance larger mammals like ferrets and rabbits). Plus, they benefit from a wealth of products available from manufacturers eager to cash in on their enduring popularity.
Big Opportunities Come in Small Packages
“These continue to make great first-time pets for many families—especially hamsters, which can live alone and bond closely with their owners, making them ideal for younger children who need to learn how to be responsible with pets,” said Laura Dow, sales representative for A&E Cage Co. “Gerbils, on the other hand, are more sociable, higher-energy and pair up well with another same-sex gerbil in the same enclosure, which makes them more appealing to older kids.”
Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, agrees that these critters make greater starter pets for youngsters, but not exclusively.
“Fans of these species come in all ages, and they’re often just as passionate as a rabbit or guinea pig owner about the health and happiness of their pets,” Stock said. “With this passion comes a focus on quality and variety in relation to hamster and gerbil-specific products.”
While they’re diminutive in size, hamsters and gerbils have huge personalities and an appetite for adventure, further lending to their appeal, Stock added.
“These species love to burrow, climb, dig and generally explore, so products that support these activities continue to trend in popularity and demand,” he said. “Owners today are increasingly willing to spend a little more on quality foods and accessories.”
An abundance of edibles can be found in this pet segment, including species-tailored “complete” feeds that promote balanced nutrition, and which attract customers with clever packaging featuring images of hamsters and gerbils. Notable examples of gerbil/hamster diets include HealthyPet’s new carefresh complete Farmer’s Garden, featuring 10 real fruits and vegetables; Oxbow Essentials Hamster & Gerbil Food, offering a healthy blend of timothy hay, oats and barley; Small World Hamster & Gerbil Complete Feed; Kaytee’s separate Forti-Diet, Gourmet Recipe, and Supreme hamster and gerbil foods; Hartz Bonanza Hamster & Gerbil Diet; and numerous choices available from Vitakraft, such as Menu Vitamin Fortified Hamster Food, VitaSmart Hamster Formula, Vita Sunscription Hamster & Gerbil Diet, Sun Fun Hamster & Gerbil Formula, and VitaNature Natural Foraging Formula.
There is also no shortage of options when it comes to treats and toys. A&E Cage Co. recently rolled out a new Tropical Delight line of ring-shaped edibles available in dried fruit, nut or combo varieties. Prevue Pet boasts Hamsteroids Cosmic Chew Sticks and Hamsteroids fruit-flavored calcium nuggets, both designed to keep nails and teeth manicured.
The Chew Proof Terracotta Hideaway by Kaytee is composed of terracotta clay that serves as a cool resting place on hot days. And eCOTRITION makes the 3-in-1 Snak Shak Hamster and Gerbil Activity Log Pet Treat, a chewable hideaway with a golden honey taste.
A Roof Over Their Heads and a Bed to Sleep on
Enclosures come in a colorful array of sizes, shapes and materials, too. Among the newest offerings are Kaytee’s CritterTrail LED Habitat (winner of Global Pet Expo’s Best in Show award), which features LED-lit Bubble Plugs that illuminate the habitat without hurting the pet’s eyes; Penn-Plax’s Here & There & Everywhere Hamster Home and Traveler Cage, and its Rainforest Hamster Home; Hagen’s new Habitrail Twist, featuring a unique oblong-shaped plastic cage with wire framing, and its Habitrail Cristal, sporting a curvilinear white-and-orange design; and Marshall Pet Products’ Small Animal Starter Home, as well as its Folding Mansion, which folds flat for easy storage.
You can’t have a clean habitat without proper bedding. Fortunately, many brands offer substrate that’s far from subpar, including Living World’s Fresh ‘N Comfy bedding, Aspen Shavings, or Pine Shavings; Healthy Pet’s carefresh Custom natural paper bedding specially made for hamsters and gerbils; Vitakraft Sunseed Fresh World Bedding (offered in purple, gray or pink); and Oxbow’s Pure Comfort Small Animal Bedding made from soft, safe and 100 percent never-printed paper.
Convincing the Clientele
While selling and merchandizing hamster and gerbil products has become easier as these species have grown in popularity as pets, Stock says it remains difficult to dedicate ample space to nutrition and care products for these animals.
“One way for retailers to embrace this challenge is by making special efforts to create a ‘spotlight’ area for hamster and gerbil products whenever feasible,” he said.
“I would designate a particular area of your store to small animals and, within that space, create a hamster and gerbil center where like-minded items can be merchandised together,” she said.
That area should include all the essentials—from food, bedding and habitats to accessories and treats.
Partnering with local experts is another great way to promote hamster and gerbil goods.
“If there are rescue or adoption groups in your area, inquire about a chance to bring them in for special education and adoption events,” Stock suggested. “And if you have any resident hamster or gerbil experts on your staff, empower them to research additional opportunities and to help set up in-store events.”
Social media can also be a useful tool for connecting with hamster and gerbil enthusiasts in your area, many of whom may not be aware of your store’s offerings. Stock advises offering special promos around holidays, including species-specific holidays like World Hamster Day (April 12).
Additionally, try tapping into pop culture trends with your marketing. For example, create signage and social media messages stressing how much fun owning a hamster or gerbil is via a slogan like “Put down that Pokémon Go—Catch a real-world winner by owning a gerbil.”