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January 4, 2016

Pet retailers often bank on shoppers falling in love at first sight with a cuddly animal on display. But to really cinch the sale, think “chinch”—as in chinchilla, an animal many customers fall in love with at first touch. That’s because these critters have some of the softest, densest fur in the entire animal kingdom that you just can’t resist petting. Not to mention their adorably oversized ears and bushy tails that also get lots of attention.

To put it briefly, these short-statured cousins to the guinea pig are the perfect breed to energize your small animal section, whether you choose to carry livestock, add chinchilla products to your inventory, or both.

Committing to Cuteness

“Chinchillas are unique and extraordinary animals that continue to grow in popularity as pets,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb. “They’re highly energetic and athletic, and the average lifespan ranges from 10 to 15 years, making nutrition and care a priority for caring pet parents. A complete and thoughtfully designed chinchilla product offering is a great use of space and will most generally yield great returns.”

Kenn Bearman, owner of The Animal Store, a Lincolnwood, Ill.-based pet retailer that specializes in exotic species, has been successfully selling chinchillas and associated wares for nearly 24 years.

“Not many retailers carry chinchillas—maybe only a half dozen in the greater Chicagoland area—so many consumers seek us out and, if demand is currently strong, may have to go on a waiting list,” said Bearman, who gets his stock from experienced customers who breed the animals in their homes. “In the past five years, we get more calls and requests for chinchillas, so we continue to keep a strong inventory of products.”

Bearman also bundles together a chinchilla starter kit, retailing at $200, containing various essentials from different manufacturers: a wire cage, a glass water bottle, a hanging hay basket, a heavy weighted food bowl, recycled paper bedding, alfalfa pellets, timothy hay, a treat, wood chew and pumice stone.

“If you are going to commit to stocking chinchilla products, you’ve got to go all in,” said Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., headquartered in Bowling Green, Ohio.

“Retailers need to ensure they carry all the essentials, including food, hay, dust bath and appropriate chew toys and materials,” Norsen said. “Having a complete section is important to serving these consumers.”

Must-Have Habitats and Accessories

Chinchillas can usually fit into cages designed for guinea pigs, ferrets and rats. However, they tend to perch high up, so taller cages are better—20 to 40 inches high is recommended by Bearman. The cage should also include shelves, ramps, and/or platforms to allow the chinchilla to climb high.

Major manufacturers who make enclosures designed specifically for chinchillas include Prevue Pet Products, which offers a rat/chinchilla wire cage that is 40 inches high by 31 inches long by 20.5 inches wide; Marshall’s Small Animal Starter Home; and Kaytee’s Complete Chinchilla Kit.

It is smart to merchandise a variety of toys, chews and accessories as well. Hagen Living World’s Teach ‘N Treat allows chinchillas to forage for treats via listening, observation and learning. Pets International’s Chew Toy Carrot Patch and Kaytee’s Perfect Chews aid in dental health. Super Pet’s Giant Silent Spinner 12 inch wheel offers whisper-quiet exercise. Lastly, Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture boasts a

wide array of colorful wood toys, including ladder bridges and platforms, an igloo hideaway and a workout station.

Chew-riffic Edibles

A chinchilla’s primary diet comes in pellet form, typically composed of alfalfa or timothy hay. Popular examples include Manna’s Small World Complete Feed for Chinchillas, Mazuri’s Chinchilla Diet, Katyee’s Forti-Diet Chinchilla, and Purina Rabbit Chow Show Natural AdvantEdge Formula (safe and recommended for chinchillas, too).

“Chinchilla owners seek out premium diets more than other small animal consumers and look almost exclusively to pet specialty products,” said Norsen, who adds that Vitakraft Sun Seed recently launched an updated, all-natural premium Chinchilla Formula fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and DHA omega-3.

Chinchilla treats are also more abundant in this space in recent years, as evidenced by brand-name snacks like Vitakraft’s Chinchilla Crunch Stick, Super Pet’s Combo Chew Apple Wood & Crispy Puzzle (which combines a toy with a chew), and Supreme Petfoods’ Tiny Friends Farm Charlie Chinchilla Tasty Mix.

Catering to the Customer

One effective way to promote chinchilla products is by incorporating attention-grabbing trivia into merchandising efforts, such as the fact that “these animals have an average of 60 hairs per follicle,” Stock said. “Posting fun facts throughout the chinchilla shelf space is a cost-effective way to engage with customers and provide some education in the process.”

Consumer education is, in fact, crucial when it comes to chinchillas. For example, just like the adorably diminutive Gizmo from the “Gremlins” movies—who was also super soft and cuddly—experts recommend that patrons avoid getting these furballs wet, as their thick coats work like a sponge and retain water close to the skin, leading to fungus growth. Consequently, chinchillas should not be held for too long, as the oils and sweat from our skin can cause excess moisture to build up in the fur.

For these and other reasons, you may want to caution parents eager to buy chinchillas as pets for younger children, who will be tempted to overhandle and cuddle with their fluffy friends. It is also why you need to offer products like Oxbow’s Poof! Blue Cloud Chinchilla Dust Bath, containing 100 percent volcanic ash, which these animals roll around in to get themselves clean.

Lastly, if you have the floor and shelf space, Bearman advises that you “group chinchilla products together, which customers appreciate.”

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