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May 29, 2015

The good news for retailers is that the prevailing ferret fad appears to have legs, despite bans of these popular pets in a handful of markets like New York City, Washington, D.C. and throughout California and Hawaii. And that means continued strong interest in products and supplies geared toward this irresistibly cuddly member of the weasel family—one that, fortunately enough for pet stores seeking repeat customers, consumes approximately one-sixth of its body weight daily.

The key to healthy sales in this segment is stocking your store properly with more than trendy toys and flashy accessories, although those make great impulse purchases. Experts say carrying the right mix of ferret essentials is important, including habitats in various sizes and an array of packaged diets and treats, as well as must-have supplies like bedding, litter boxes, food containers and water bottles.

At Pet Stop, Inc., a Kansas City, Mo. pet retailer, owner Greg Smith bundles these basics together in three different starter kit varieties for beginners (good, better, best), making it easy for consumers to start out well supplied and save a few bucks, too.
“I use signage to indicate the discounted bundled price versus the regular price to underscore the value,” said Smith.

The Fur-fect Foods

Michael Clark, director of marketing for Kaytee Pet Products, Inc., in Chilton, Wis., said ferret enthusiasts continue to search for products that will cater to their pet’s nutritional needs as well as their natural curiosities.

“Ferrets often experience difficulty switching from one diet to another and digestive upset can be an unwelcomed symptom of an unsuccessful switch,” said Clark. “Until recently, the threat of indigestion has caused many owners to restrict their ferrets to a singular formula for their base nutrition. As a result, many ferrets are not exposed to nutritional variety that vets recommend.”
But with a better understanding of the nutritional requirements of ferrets, many manufacturers have developed diets and edibles that provide a range of flavor options without digestion disruption.

Case in point: Kaytee now has two new naturally-preserved Revolving Menu Fortified Ferret Diets, offered in both Real Chicken and Real Turkey gluten- and grain-free formulas with 42 percent protein and 20 percent fat.

Performance Foods recently launched Totally Ferret Turkey-Venison-Lamb Meal Formula, the first 100-percent nutritionally-complete, balanced and hypoallergenic non-chicken ferret formula, featuring turkey, venison, catfish and lamb, and comprising more than 90 percent all-natural animal protein.

In the treats and supplements space, Marshall Pet Products recently introduced two new chews: Ferret Lax bacon-flavored chews, without added sugar or artificial colors/flavors, which help eliminate and prevent hairballs and intestinal blockages; and Furo-Vite, which provides a convenient way to supplement with essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and acids.

From Litter to Leisure

When it comes to bedding, natural materials continue to dominate, as evidenced by brands containing environmentally-friendly, biodegradable, recycled paper and natural baking soda, such as Fresh News’ Small Animal Litter and Hagan’s Living World Fresh ’N Comfy bedding.

Ferrets, as well as their owners, certainly seek out fun in their toys and accessories and manufacturers cater to this strong demand by providing a colorful and creative assortment of items—from exercise balls like Lee’s Kritter Krawler and Ware’s Roll-N-Around to Super Pet’s Crinkle Tunnel and Marshall’s brand new washable-fleece Bear Rug (which won second place honors in the Small Animal category of the New Product Showcase Awards at Global Pet Expo 2015).

“Unlike the products of the past that were often repackaged cat products, the new generation of ferret products is designed and formulated specifically for ferrets,” said Clark.

Successful Store Secrets

Because the ferret segment continues to be a niche in the small animal category, however, most owners have been forced to shop many different outlets to obtain all their pet necessities.

“Retailers looking to capture this enthusiast consumer should offer a selection of products that covers all the needs and wants of theferret customer,” said Clark.

Luckily, it’s much easier to sell ferret products today than it has been in the past, primarily because the ferret customer is more educated on the needs of their pet. They understand the importance of providing enrichment and activity, as well as ensuring safety when selecting a home and other items for their pet. However, this increase in knowledge can be both beneficial and detrimental, depending on the selection at retail.

“If the ferret customer does not see what they need or finds a product that they feel is not safe for their pet, the resulting action could be a lost customer,” said Clark. The solution? “Offer more products that are specifically designed and formulated for ferrets.”

Additionally, when merchandising, it’s helpful and impactful to deliver a “one-stop shop” message at the shelf. Hence, displaying food, treats, accessories, toys and cages in the same area is the perfect way to alert the ferret customer that you are in the ferret business.

For convenience and simplicity, Smith is careful to group all ferret supplies together in his store’s small animal section. The ferrets he sells, meanwhile, are showcased nearer to the front of the store in display cages that often get opened.

“The secret to selling ferrets—or any animal, for that matter—is to get them in the hands of the person that wants it,” said Smith, who noted that ferrets can provide a healthier profit margin than other pets for sale. “That means letting customers enjoy hands-on interaction with the animal.”

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