August 2, 2017

The craze that made them household name critters may have died down from a few years ago, and they might not sell as solidly today as other small mammals in your store. But make no mistake: when it comes to cute and cuddly, few animals compete for a patron’s attention quite like the fur-tastically fetching ferret.

Which begs the question: is it worth carrying this breed in your retail establishment? Absolutely, say the experts.

“They may not sell like hotcakes, and they’re not an impulse purchase like a hamster or a rabbit, but they attract a lot of attention once customers see them,” said Brad Ringlien, owner of The Pet Pad in Cary, North Carolina. “We believe it’s important to sell ferrets because it gives our customers the message that we’re an animal specialty store, not just a merchandise store.”

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Ringlien’s formula for ferret success is to make them visible and accessible—in other words, place them near the front of the store in easy-to-view glass enclosures and allow patrons to hold and pet them upon request. This tactile, intimate experience can leave a lasting impression—especially after your clientele gets their fingers in that ultra-soft fur and stares into that adorable little visage.

“It’s always easier to keep your livestock locked away from customers in order to prevent [the pets] from getting injured or hurt, but the bad side of that approach is that you’re not going to sell as many of them,” said Ringlien, who has staff supervise these handling opportunities carefully. “Even if they don’t buy the ferret, that handheld interaction can lead to a rabbit or kitten sale.”

Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for North Rose, New York-headquartered Marshall Pet Products, Inc.—the world’s largest breeder of ferrets and manufacturer of Premium Ferret Diet, the top-selling ferret food on the market—agrees that a “look and touch” approach can win consumers’ hearts.

“The key to stronger sales is to let customers handle them and see firsthand how playful and loveable they are,” said Juszczak, who suggests placing plenty of the ferret toys and trinkets you sell inside the habitat, too.

Ringlien intentionally positioned his store’s ferret enclosure far away from the ferret supplies so that the shopper doesn’t feel pressured to purchase all the accessories right away.

“We train our staff to identify a customer’s interest in the animal first. Once they build the customer’s trust, they know exactly what to say and suggest when it comes to ferret products,” he added.

But earning this trust isn’t hard because ferret fans typically are an altogether different breed of customers who are often pre-educated on the animal. According to Ringlien, many of these owners are millennial singles or couples without kids who have a great sense of humor and lead alternative lifestyles.

Indelible Edibles

While selling ferrets can help fuel retail revenues, selling the fuel they consume can also pad your ledger. But choose your ferret food brands carefully.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores “that require special diets high in animal proteins and nutrients that are appropriate for them, and they have short digestive tracts,” Allen said. “So their diets need to be easily digestible with very little to no grains.”

Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator with Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio—makers of Sunseed Vita Prima Ferret Formula—says too many owners feed their ferrets canned cat food instead of species-specific diets, a practice that pet store retailers should discourage.

“Pet product retailers and employees should be knowledgeable about the nutritional differences between cat and ferret food and share that information with their customers,” Fain said.

All the Necessities

Thankfully, a wide array of hard goods designed especially for ferrets that can distinguish your store as the one-stop shop for owners are available.

When it comes to habitats, for example, MidWest Homes for Pets has a notable Ferret Nation line of cages, equipped with ramps, shelves and other accessories. Prevue Pet Products offers a Frisky Ferret Cage on a castered stand, complete with a large front door and rooftop access doors. And A&E Cage Company outfits its Ferret Cage Kit with two play tubes and ample space for activity.

“Our focus group research shows that people want to get down to the ferret’s level and play with the animal, and they’re looking for toys and accessories that allow them to do that,” Juszczak said.

In response, Marshall created two popular ferret pastime products— the Pop N Play Ferret Ball Pit and the Cruising Critter Raceway (which includes a racetrack mat and two racing tubes).

“Since ferrets are very active and playful companion animals, toys and exercise equipment are essential,” said Melanie Allen, product specialist with Hagen Group in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “While many toys and accessories from other pet categories can be implemented, the retailer should always have ferret-specific products available. We suggest that ferrets always go home with an appropriate cage, a harness and leash, water bottle, ferret diet, toys and possibly other fun items such as tunnels for safe playtime.”

Accessories of note that are worthy candidates for your shelves and ferret starter kits include hammocks like Prevue Pet Products’ ZZZs suede hammock, Penn-Plax’s Tent-O-Fun, and Ware’s Sporty Jogging Vest harness and leash set.

Speaking of, Allen encourages retailers to introduce ferrets they sell to the harness and leash well before the animal is sold and promote this “prewalking-trained” feature to customers.

“This helps future owners more easily maintain a walking regimen with their pets without having to break them in, and it helps retailers move more ferret accessories, too,” she said.

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