They’re soft, long, twee-faced, friendly, frisky, inquisitive and downright irresistible. They live a heck of a lot longer than hamsters, cavies or mice (up to 10 years or more). And they bond and interact with humans more closely than many other pets.
We’re talking, of course, about Mustela putorius furo—better known as the ferret. But despite making great pets, these critters often get overlooked by pet stores that choose not to offer them or their products. And that’s a big mistake, many experts believe, because ferrets foster loyal customers of all ages.
“There’s big business in selling ferrets, as there’s a large perceived demand today. In fact, the ferret is the third most popular pet in America behind the dog and cat,” says Amanda Altman, marketing coordinator for Marshall Pet Products, the Wolcott, New York-based maker of products like Premium Ferret Diet and Extreme Freeze Dried Treats and the premier breeder/provider of ferrets since 1939. “There’s also strong demand for ferret products, as owners are passionate about caring for these pets in the right way.”
Recent independent studies indicate some promising trends concerning these furry friends, notes Rylee Moder, marketing analyst with Kaytee Products in Chilton, Wisconsin, whose Ferret Flex-E Fun-nel, Giant line of tubes and FerreTrail Roll-About Ball remain hot sellers.
“Ferret ownership is growing among millennials, 14.9 percent of whom own ferrets compared to 10.5 percent of boomers. Also, among all small animal owners, the data show that ferret owners spend the most—on average, $127 a month versus $101 for a guinea pig or $69 for a rat or mouse,” Moder explained.
Brett Sher, owner of Markham, Illinois-headquartered Evanger’s Pet Food, founded in 1935 and known for its Maximum line of canned chicken, turkey and beef ferret foods, says pet retailers can capitalize on a profitable opportunity by carrying ferret wares and livestock.
“The number of small animals as pets is on the rise, yet ferret products seem to be overlooked in stores nowadays. However, if retailers don’t have even a small selection of these goods, customers may be forced to purchase their ferret products online,” said Sher, who recommends, at minimum, stocking canned ferret daily diets. “If you can find six inches of shelf space in your store, you can have two ferret SKUs and a plethora of new customers.”
Andi Smith, manager for The Pet Stop in Kansas City, Kansas, a standalone indie establishment that typically carries a handful of ferrets for sale at any given time, agrees.
“It’s a good idea to offer product and species variety. And it’s a great way to distinguish yourself from your competition,” noted Smith, whose store has up to 20 different ferret-related SKUs—from hammocks and harnesses to play tubes and treats. “Plus, you can get lots of repeat business from these shoppers. Our ferret owners continue to come back and buy their supplies here.”
Fixed and de-scented ferrets at The Pet Stop retail for $199. A starter kit, complete with a three-story deluxe ferret cage, bag of daily diet, food and water receptacles, two types of bedding, litter box and hammock, is discount priced at $317.
“Most of our ferret customers are teenagers as well as parents buying for their kids,” Smith said. “The great thing about ferrets is they sell themselves. They’re definitely a love-at-first-sight kind of pet.”
Goods Worth Getting
New ferret merch that’s garnering buzz includes Marshall’s Ferret Finder and Playpen Cage Combo. The former is a silicone pet collar that uses Bluetooth technology to track your pet within your home using a smartphone app; the latter is an enclosed playpen that attaches to a cage, allowing a ferret to roam freely from playpen to cage without escaping. Kaytee, meanwhile, recently rolled out Clean & Cozy Extreme Odor Control, ideal for curbing ferret fragrance of the unwanted kind.
In the edibles category, several brands stand out, among them ZuPreem Premium Ferret Diet, made with real chicken and egg protein; Hartz Bonanza Ferret Diet, boasting meat, fish, veggies and pellets; Mazuri Ferret Diet, an extruded, nutrient dense dry diet; and Sunseed Vita Prima Sunscription Ferret Formula, rich in meat-based amino acids. Treats of note include N-Bone Ferret Chews, available in bacon, salmon or chicken, and Brown’s Tropical Carnival Natural Chicken Strips Ferret Treat, featuring bite-sized chewy snacks.
Several habitats are specially designed for ferrets. There’s A&E Cage Co.’s “The Lounge,” a 39-inch by 21-inch by 25-inch enclosure outfitted with a litter box, water and feed bowls and two play tubes. MidWest Homes for Pets’ Ferret Nation single unit is a 25-inch by 39-inch by 36-inch cage equipped with a ramp, ramp cover, resting shelf and easy-to-remove base pan. And Ware’s Living Room Series Ferret Home measures a spacious 32-inch by 20 ¾-inch by 50-inch and is packed with three oversized doorways, hammock and other accessories.
As is true of other small pet species, toy choices for ferrets are plentiful. Standouts that often get shout outs from the pros include Penn-Plax’s Activity Center with Sisal Ball, Bells and Swatting Balls (also suitable for cats); the Hang-N-Tent by Ware, a fleece soft sleeper that offers dangling relaxation and play; Prevue Pet Product’s 11-inch Ferret Exercise Wheel, sporting a mesh design that prevents tails and feet from getting caught up in the spinning fun; and the Ferret Nation Hide & Seek Tunnel by MidWest Homes for Pets.
Make the Register Ring
When it comes to selling ferrets, seeing is believing—but so is touching. That’s why Smith believes strongly in tactile marketing.
“We take our ferrets out of their cages and allow customers to pet and interact with them. It makes a big difference and helps boost sales,” Smith said.
If you’re going to carry livestock, consider grouping two to four for-sale ferrets together in one cage in your store.
“Ferrets like company, and if you sell one you’re most likely going to sell another to the same customer—maybe even during the same store visit,” Altman said.
There’s no substitute for a well-educated staff, either.
“Knowing the needs of a ferret is important, and being able to recommend products based on the best interest of this pet is imperative,” Altman insisted.
Lastly, it’s wise to provide care and feeding literature to ferret owners, suggests Melanie Allen with the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Massachusetts, especially known for its Living World series of aspen shavings, tunnels, and harness and lead sets designed for ferrets.
“Every new owner should be given a free guidelines pamphlet or help sheet,” Allen said. “This sheet should recommend an appropriate cage and litter box, proper food as recommended by breeders, and a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts to help manage these dynamic creatures.”