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June 23, 2020

In these strange days of stay-at-home orders and restricted travel, it seems like nearly everyone has contemplated bringing in a new member of the family. Adoptions for pets have been on the rise since the first shelter-in-place orders have been issued; Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Human Society of the United States, was quoted in a recent Wired article that foster rate adoptions have increased by as much as 90 percent. In some major metropolitan areas, animal shelters have seen adoption applications increase tenfold.

With all these new pet owners, the role of the pet industry—even in these strange, uncertain times—becomes all the more important. Especially when it comes to specialty pets like reptiles, fish and birds, pet stores provide materials that simply aren’t available at the most frequented big-box stores. And, because of this, pet stores can easily become both a beacon of hope and a chance for new opportunities for your customers.

Reptiles, of course, remain one of the largest growth areas within the pet industry. We’ve discussed the massive increases in reptile ownership worldwide in a number of previous articles, but the point bears driving home: The 2019-20 National Pet Owners Survey estimates over 9.4 million reptiles owned just in the United States, across nearly 5 million homes. In the 2010s, pet industry expenditures for consumers has nearly doubled; even in the face of an economic downturn, people have sought solace in the pet industry.

One notable opportunity, if you haven’t moved into this arena yet, would be to offer various forms of feeder food for pets. Ranging from insects to specialty greens to frozen food, pet retailers have a number of options when it comes to providing unique options for your customers.

Insects often can serve as a great starting point for a store interested in entering the pet food arena in a way that doesn’t necessarily cater only to cats and dogs. Ranging from hornworms and mealworms to the ubiquitous cricket, insects are generally easy to keep and care for and can provide for a great sales point that keeps customers coming back to your store. Insects like crickets just aren’t available at a typical grocery store; you’ll be providing a food source that they’ll be making a stop to your store specifically to pick up, increasing both the frequency of their visits and the likelihood for that customer to make additional purchases.

Consider a bearded dragon or a veiled chameleon. Each of these can eat over $600 worth of crickets each year, not counting any mealworms or other insects that might be given as a “treat.” If that bearded dragon is fed on a weekly basis, stocking something as simple as crickets can mean that a given pet owner might re-enter your store between 35 and 50 times per year. If even a quarter of those visits result in subsidiary sales, your profit margin increases substantially. Keep a display of pre-packaged crickets or mealworms near your reptile section and you’ll surely see success from those who love non-mammalian pets.

While frozen and fresh food can prove to be somewhat more difficult to maintain than simply insects, including these in your store signals to reptile and amphibian owners that your store is a destination for the supplies they need and just can’t get elsewhere. If a reptile owner knows that your store carries the frozen mice that their snake prefers, your store becomes more than just a place to get materials; it becomes a destination. Something that might simply start as a small freezer can swiftly snowball into a pillar of a retailer’s profit margin.

If nothing else, everyone seems to be seeking some degree of normality and stability in a world that changes by the hour. A new animal friend has provided that stability and companionship to your potential customers; the next step is to extend that same feeling of camaraderie to those customers. While we’re all concerned about the state of the world, our ability to extend and support a new friend to people everywhere can help everyone’s morale.

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