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.”