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September 7, 2016

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.”

FurBall-Friendly Food
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.

Dow concurs.

“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.”

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