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Focus Moves to Bigger, More Playful Small Animal Enclosures


March 12, 2018

If innovators can “invent a better mousetrap,” as the saying goes, they can certainly invent a better mouse habitat, too. Fortunately for retailers, that’s exactly what small animal product makers have done in recent years, rolling out more colorful, expandable and larger enclosures to satisfy consumer demand.

Years ago, the problem in this category was lack of choices, with many small animal owners opting for glass terrariums designed for reptiles or humdrum wire rectangles. Today, shoppers face a contrary conundrum: which cage to pick among the seemingly countless assortment of choices on the market.

And that dilemma becomes the dilemma for a pet shop owner. With a limited amount of shelf space and a fleeting opportunity to capture a cart-pusher’s attention in the enclosure aisle, which habitats can retailers stock and display?

C.J. Rankin of Gallery of Pets, a standalone store in Austin, Texas, addressed this question years ago. His solution? K-I-S-S—keep it simple, store owner.

“We carry a decent selection of habitats, but not as many brands as other stores,” said Rankin, noting that models by Hagen, Marshall Pet and Kaytee are among the few mainstays in his set. “It’s easy for shoppers to get overwhelmed when there are too many options.”

Amanda Altman, marketing coordinator for Wolcott, New York-based Marshall Pet, founded in 1993, agrees.

“A wide variety of inventory isn’t always best, as the consumer may not choose what is best for their situation. Oftentimes, a cool feature or low price wins out over the best option for their pet,” Altman said. “A knowledgeable sales staff that can speak to the benefits of a well-curated selection of versatile inventory will benefit your store and its customers.”

To further simplify matters for patrons, Rankin and crew don’t group all the small animal cages together in one section; instead, he separates products for larger pets from wares geared to smaller critters. Habitats for rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas are placed beside food, bedding and accessories for these species, while homes for hamsters, gerbils, mice and other miniature mammals can be found further down the aisle and clustered handsomely with staples for those breeds.

Fun and Roomy

Rankin says the enclosures he carries conform to two key trends that remain relevant in this category: cute and spacious.

“Families with younger kids and even some adults want the multi-story colorful play cages. And all customers want extra space in larger cages that can provide a better quality of life for their pets,” he adds.

Consequently, “cage designs have become more versatile, with more spaces for eating, sleeping, playing and doing your business. Larger designs that allow the animal to have the freedom to explore and keep busy safely are most popular for busy families that may have limited free range time with their small animals,” Altman said.

Current products that fit this criteria include Ware’s Animal House, A&E Cage Company’s 3 Level Animal Cage and Prevue Products’ new Two-Story Hamster & Gerbil Cage. This push for improved cage designs comes from an increasingly better educated consumer, says Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets, a fourth-generation family owned business founded in 1921 and headquartered in Muncie, Indiana.

“I believe the internet has allowed improved research of cages and small animal pet care, so the in-store shopper arrives better informed on what they’re looking for and what the options are,” Whitehead said.

To cater to the cute cage craze, MidWest Homes for Pets is introducing five new cages this month at Global Pet Expo 2018. These include a two-story, L-shaped, green-and-blue-hued Critterville Arcade with a built-in exercise wheel and circular cubby; and the Critterville Hot Rod, Butterfly, Race Car and Ladybug—each decked out in decor and accents that correspond to their name.

Tapping into the public’s penchant for more enclosure elbowroom, Kaytee recently launched its new CritterTrail SUPER Habitat, boasting 540 square inches of interior space.

“There was a void in the category. The number one request from Syrian hamster owners was for larger habitats intended for their species specifically,” said Mary Ann Loveland, senior associate brand manager of Chilton, Wisconsin-based Kaytee Hard Goods, owned by Central Garden & Pet Company. “The CritterHome line was introduced last year in large and extra-large sizes for guinea pigs and dwarf rabbits. This year, we wanted to launch a similar line for large breed hamsters, gerbils or mice and with an expandable port to connect to other CritterTrail habitats to create more living space.”

Merchandising Matters

To boost sales of pocket pet dwellings, pursue smart strategies, say the pros. Start by thinking outside of the box—literally.

“When you are able to use or at least display a fully assembled cage on your sales floor, it allows for a visual understanding of the size and quality of the cage and lets the customer touch and feel the product,” Altman said.

Rankin has positioned two eye-catching display cages, featuring for-sale cavies and rabbits, right in front of products for those breeds.

“This allows customers to interact with and get a feel for the models of two cages we actually sell, and it makes a difference,” he said.

With this approach, however, comes a commitment to cleanliness.

“Display cages should be spot cleaned daily, and bedding should be changed twice a week,” Whitehead said. “Also, be sure to allow any small animals within to reside in that same cage until they leave the store. Constantly switching out pets in the same cage can disrupt the natural scents they leave in that cage and create more odor.”

Lastly, provide enclosure-buying incentives whenever possible. This can range from discounting the cage when the customer buys all the starter supplies in the same purchase to offering a generous loyalty program.

“Our Pet Club membership, which costs only $10 a year, gives customers 10 percent off everything in the store, including cages, except for dog and cat food,” Rankin said.

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