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August 3, 2015

Let’s face it: Curbing habitat pet smell is a universal challenge for retailers and owners alike.

The trick is neutralizing the ammonia found in the urine of our small furry friends, who go number one quite often—quickly creating a number one aromatic problem.

“One of the biggest drawbacks of owning a small animal has been that consumers perceive small animal cages to have odor while being difficult to clean,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for hard goods at Kaytee.

The primary products used to manage airborne funk are litters and beddings. But selling and merchandising this subcategory in pet stores is harder today than in years past, the experts said.

“Grocery and mass retailers have increased the competition for independent pet retail stores, including small animal supplies,” said Jim Gorrell, brand manager for Healthy Pet and its carefresh product line.

“Competing on price has become difficult and pet stores have begun looking for ways to offer distinct products to their consumers.”

Adding to the sales challenge is that many beddings and litters are produced with added ingredients designed to minimize or mask odors.

“Many pet parents today are wary of exposing their animals to additives. The trend lately has been to use natural materials that effectively absorb the liquids responsible for creating odors,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health.

Paper to the Rescue

In the past, multiple types of wood chips and shavings dominated the bedding shelves. But nowadays, as consumers became aware of its benefits, paper bedding that often features biodegradable, eco-friendly, unbleached recycled newspaper and magazines has become the dominant material of choice.

Thanks to newer paper-based substrates, “it has become easier to sell these bedding products,” said Deborah Thomas, West Coast regional sales manager for Vitakraft Sunseed Inc. “There are more paper bedding varieties and brands than ever for customers to chose from, and it is now well established in most pet markets as a proven product for great odor control that is safe for small animals.”

Oxbow’s Pure Comfort bedding, for example, boasts 100 percent pure, never-printed paper to create a clean, safe and ultra-soft bedding material for small animal species.

Vitakraft Sunseed’s Fresh World Bedding, meanwhile, uses old paper publications derived from a community recycling program.

Longer Lasting, Convenient and Colorful

Extended odor blocking seems to be all the rage, too. Fresh World Bedding just introduced a heavy duty formula for up to 14 days of odor control, ideal for multiple pet households.

Another brand with a new formula debut is carefresh, which recently launched the first species-specific line of small animal bedding and a new, proprietary Odor Stop formula that provides up to 10 days of odor control. Odor Stop is included in three new small animal bedding solutions by carefresh: Complete, Custom Hamster & Gerbil Bedding and Custom Rabbit and Guinea Pig Bedding.

To reduce undesirable aromas and make the cage easier to clean, Kaytee has rolled out a new disposable CritterTrail Bedding Tray cartridge 3-Pack; each cartridge contains Clean & Cozy paper-based bedding and fits all standard rectangular CritterTrail habitats.

“Consumers appreciate that this disposable product provides a new, effortless way to clean cages, resulting in routine weekly cage cleaning that helps control odor,” Loveland said. “Retailers can benefit from repeat sales as consumers purchase the bedding tray refills for weekly cleanings.”

Thomas added that several new Vitakraft paper beddings products focus on visual appeal, colors and fluffy textures. Case in point: Fresh World Bedding now offers colorful options, including purple, pink and gray.

All include baking soda and zeolite to control odors, and are nontoxic, color safe and phenol free to protect the sensitive respiratory systems of rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas and exotics.

The Sweet Smell of Successful Merchandising

According to Loveland, she’s now seeing more retailers choosing to stop selling live small animals in their stores as a way of reducing odor in their operations. But this can hurt sales of supplies, she warns.

“The single best way to sell small animal habitats and accessories is to first focus on selling the animals themselves,” Loveland said.

Using odor control products within setups, starter kits and live animal habitats is another great way to promote these items.

“It shows the consumer you have faith in the product and makes recommendation easier,” Thomas said.
Additionally, retailers “should merchandise, sell and display species-specific habitats, foods and bedding into a bundle, display or end cap to help make new pet ownership easy,” Gorrell said.

Whatever merchandising tactics you employ, avoid assuming that small animal owners only want the least expensive wares on the market.

“These consumers love their small pets like children and actually want a product that their pet is going to be comfortable in and a product that performs exceptionally well,” Gorrell said.

Lastly, “make sure your staff understands the value of these products over cheaper options,” Thomas said. “If staff isn’t prepared to explain the benefit that make these products worth the extra cost an uninformed customer will choose based on price and not quality.”

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