June 1, 2016

To keep from becoming couch potatoes, humans head to the gym. To keep their small animal companions from becoming cage potatoes, owners head to the pet store to seek out exercise wheels, tunnels and other fitness-focused accessories. And that’s where you come in.

“It’s important for retailers to encourage customers to interact with and provide stimulating activities for their small animal pets, especially before selling a live animal available within the store,” said Zoe Thoel, manager for Andy’s Pet Shop in San Jose, California, which functions as a pet rescue/adoption facility as well as a product retailer. “They need to be reminded that all pets need exercise to avoid health problems like diabetes and to prolong lifespan.”

While recommendations vary depending on species, many experts suggest that the best type of workout for wee ones is structured, scheduled and safe playtime outside the cage, ideally for a few hours a day when it comes to larger breeds like cavies, ferrets and rabbits. Aside from getting the blood moving, strengthening muscles and relieving boredom, designated playtime that includes brisk activity and interaction also nurtures a stronger bond between animal and keeper.

“Fortunately, more owners are now aware of the importance of physical activity for their pets and are asking questions and seeking out solutions,” Thoel said.

Shelf Talkers

Conveniently, this conversation with consumers about the need for furball speed and exertion can segue nicely into recommendations for related activity merchandise that you carry. Truth is, this doesn’t have to be a hard sell.

“These fitness and toy items can be relatively easy to merchandise and attract customers because they’re already fun and colorful,” adds Thoel, whose biggest seller in this segment is Kaytee’s Silent Spinner exercise wheel. Her store also moves its fair share of Kritter Krawler exercise balls by Lee’s and Flying Saucer wheels by Ware.

But lately at Andy’s Pet Shop, the hottest wares are edible toy treats from The Busy Bunny, including the Ton O’ Fun Bun Run cardboard triangular tunnel and Maze Haven, a customizable cardboard playhouse that can be fashioned into various sizes and configurations featuring cubby holes, pathways and hideouts. The latter, which Thoel and crew have incorporated into their live rabbit setups, has proven to be a big hit among store patrons.

Other edible accessories that keep animals animated, active and healthy include Habitrail’s OVO Maze add-on and Oxbow’s Timothy CLUB Bungalow, Hideout and Tunnel (the latter three made of timothy hay). Wicker, corn husks, sisal, wood and loofa are additional chewable materials commonly used in exercise toys today.


“Keeping small animals healthy and happy starts with their environment,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Murdock, Nebraska-headquartered Oxbow Animal Health. “While housing needs are unique for each species, every pet parent can set up their pet’s environment in a thoughtful, enriching way that encourages physical activity throughout the day. Outfitting this space with the right types of accessories is often the best way to do so.”

Getting mini critters to scuttle about swiftly is not only healthy for them—it’s downright entertaining for owners. That’s why a wide variety of get-in-shape toys are available in 2016, such as Super Pet’s Exercise Loop racetrack, Marshall Pet Products’ Turtle Tunnel and Super Thru-Way tunnel (both for ferrets), A&E Cage Co.’s Puzzle Tube, Fatpet’s Small Wheel Runner, and Prevue Pet Products’ newest creation, a 7-inch traditional exercise wheel with a powder-coated chrome silver finish. Toys that foster increased movement—from noisemakers to push-balls to treat holders—are also plentiful.

It’s also smart to stock ample accoutrement for outside the enclosure, particularly portable playpens like Living World’s Critter Playtime, Kaytee’s Pet-N-Playpen, Midwest Homes for Pets’ Exercise Pen and The Grrreat Wall flexible/customizable containment system.

Leashes and harnesses provide yet another smile-inducing opportunity for excitement and interactivity. Among the major players in this subcategory are Kaytee, offering the Comfort Harness Plus Stretchy Leash, which is available in small, medium, large and extra-large; Hagen, makers of the Living World Harness and Lead Set; and Ware, providing the Nylon Walk-N-Vest Pet Harness and Leash.

Draw Attention to Your Inventory

Many customers may be familiar with fitness and activity-type accessories, but Stock reminds store owners that many may not be.

“Take every opportunity to show these items in action—either through photos your staff can stage or in the habitats of animals in the store,” Stock said.

In addition, “educate your customers and be sure to match the correct-size product to the coordinating pet size,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager of hard goods for Kaytee in Chilton, Wisconsin.

Lastly, explain to customers the importance of supervision on certain products like exercise balls or wheels, which Loveland points out shouldn’t be used in direct sunlight, on a table or near stairways.

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