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December 1, 2015

Good things come in small packages, they say. That can certainly be true of hamsters, which are among the most adorable and attention-getting small animals a retailer can carry. With more diverse arrays of edibles, habitats and other miniature merchandise available nowadays—including tunnel-based toys, chewable challenges and ample accessories to make your head spin faster than an exercise wheel—it’s easy for patrons to get hooked on hamsters and the goods they require.

A Gateway To Greater Sales

Most retailers will tell you that hamsters are not a predetermined purchase or the go-to small pet segment for consumers. But with the right retail strategies, selling hamsters and associated supplies can result in plenty of happy repeat customers, said Daniel Infurna, assistant manager for Pratt’s Pets & Feed in Glendale, Arizona.

“Hamsters can be a great starter pet for families with younger children. We consider them to be transitional or segue pets in that they could be a good fit as a first pet for kids, who will eventually move up to rabbits, ferrets or other larger-sized small animals,” Infurna said. “In our store, hamsters are a spontaneous impulse purchase, typically a child sees one and falls in love at first sight. But we make better margins on the supplies and subsequent shopping visits for the hamster.”

Infurna’s operation carries a wide assortment of Syrian hamsters, including teddy bear, panda bear and black bear color varieties, as well as dwarf hamsters—charging $10 for each. He and his team offer popular bundled starter kits, composed of products from various manufacturers, that include a wire cage equipped with a water dropper, plastic dish, bedding and food, retailing collectively at $30 (a discount of approximately $10 when compared to components sold separately).

Stocking Up On Essentials

Retailers who want to entice shoppers with hamster offerings need to concentrate on beefing up SKUs in a few key staple categories, including diets, habitats, bedding and toys.

When it comes to foods, Lisa Kniceley, marketing and trade sales specialist for Vitakraft Sunseed in Bowling Green, Ohio, said manufacturers in recent years have rolled out more species-specific diets, including edibles for dwarf hamsters, as well as more natural foods.

“As consumers become more aware of the ingredients in the pet foods they purchase, they’re going to continue to demand foods and treats which are natural or have additional benefits,” Kniceley said.

In response to this demand, Vitakraft Sunseed created SunSations Natural Formula for Hamsters—which contains no artificial colors, preservatives or flavors added—and Vita Prima Dwarf Hamster food, specifically formulated for the unique needs of dwarf hamsters. Both food lines contain probiotics and DHA omega 3 fortification.

Other reliable brands include Kaytee’s Forti-Diet Crunch, which blends palatable pellets, extruded pieces and natural hay fortified with essential nutrients; Healthy Pet’s carefresh Complete Hamster & Gerbil Food, filled with crunchy pellets made from 10 real fruits and vegetables; and Living World’s Timothy Toppings, available in Fruit, Vegetables, or Flowers & Herbs varieties, a complementary food that blends crunchy and tasty natural edibles with Timothy hay.

Several major manufacturers provide hamster starter enclosures that many consumers gravitate toward, including Marshall Pet Products’ Small Animal Starter Home, Katyee’s Complete Hamster Kit and Habitrail’s Ovo Pad, which consists of a four-piece transparent plastic dome roof with two ventilated retractable dome doors for panoramic viewing.

Bedding options also abound. Two prominent products in the space are Oxbow’s Pure Comfort line, which boasts 100 percent never-printed paper bedding, and Healthy Pet’s Critter Care line, which includes Shavings Plus and Natural Paper Bedding, both made from natural wood fibers to absorb liquids quickly.

The category that often inspires the most excitement among shoppers is hamster toys, boasting more shapes, colors, materials and features than ever before. Super Pet excels here with its Combo Chews, which combine a toy and chew in one product, easily hung from its Ka-Bob refillable treat dispenser, and its Puzzle Playground, an expandable, connectable jungle gym with interlocking pieces. Habitrail continues to spur enthusiasm with its 3D Mazes, chewable interactive toys with pre-cut slots to hold food and treats in place. They are offered in various fun shapes, like a treehouse, dollhouse and truck.

Chew on These Retailing Tips

“Selling and merchandising hamster products has become easier as hamsters have grown in popularity as pets, but it remains a challenge to dedicate ample space to some of these products, including hamster nutrition and care products,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Murdock, Nebraska-based Oxbow Animal Health. “Real estate is often times limited for the small pet segment. But one way for retailers to embrace this challenge is by making special efforts to create a spotlight area for hamster products whenever feasible.”

That means placing a hamster habitat—filled with enticing fur balls—in a prominent area of the store, perhaps near checkout. This high-visibility placement gives customers the chance to see and interact with hamsters during their shopping experience and creates a great opportunity for staff to provide facts about hamsters, habitat set up tips and word-of-mouth product recommendations.

Experts agree that the key to growing this segment is educating customers about the benefits of owning and properly caring for hamsters.

“A knowledgeable sales staff can make all the difference when it comes to promoting small pets and small pet products,” Stock said, who recommends stocking a good variety of species-specific pet care guides, including a primer on hamster ownership.

To aid in your merchandising efforts, consider using signage or product recommendation clings near or on display cages. Offer incentives, such as a free bag of food with the purchase of a live hamster, and participate in manufacture promotions when available. One popular promotion includes Vitakraft Sunseed’s frequent buyer program, where customers can redeem one free bag of food for every 10 bags they buy.

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