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March 31, 2015

Nate Infurna, manager for Pratt’s Pets and Feed in Glendale, Ariz., said consumers are clamoring for more merchandise that promotes small animal fitness and exercise. Much of this increased demand is in response to the greater supply and variety of new items introduced by pet supply companies in recent years.

“We’re selling more of these [exercise] products than ever before and, consequently, shoppers are more conscious about pet fitness,” said Infurna, whose top-selling wares in this category are exercise balls, often available in 5-, 7-, 10- and 13-inch varieties in either a clear or colored style. “Plus, manufacturers are now offering more specific products geared to particular species and sizes, so there are more items for pet owners to choose from today.”

Reinventing the Wheel

Fitness and exercise products are becoming bigger, sturdier, easier to clean and safer for pets, according to Jennifer Grafelman, owner of The Animal Connection in San Francisco. Additionally, product makers are branching out beyond plastic to incorporate more natural materials, including woods.

“For instance, one of our biggest sellers is Kaytee’s Tropical Fiddle Sticks, which are bendable, allowing you to shape your own hideout, tunnel, staircase or wall and create a custom fitness play toy,” said Grafelman.

Other companies, like Carno, are crafting chewable sports toys like wooden swings.

“The good news, overall,” said Grafelman, “is more consumers are giving priority to exercising their animals and trying to keep them fit.”

And that’s a win–win for owners, pets and retailers alike.

Color and Value in Vogue

One trend Infurna has noticed is that customers are looking for more variation in these products, especially when it comes to color.

“Hot pink and other pastel colors are really popular because they catch the eye and they match the colorful new habitats that manufacturers are offering, too,” he said.

Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager of Kaytee Hard Goods, a division of Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee, said one of the latest trends in small animal fitness merchandise is bundled accessories that offer a better overall value to the consumer.

“Products with great value are usually not the lowest price; however, they do provide an overall great deal for the consumer,” said Loveland.

For example, Kaytee’s Tree of Life 3-in-1 Pet Habitat Accessory for hamsters, gerbils or mice provides all of the necessary essentials for small animals, featuring a hideaway, an exercise wheel to fulfill a pet’s need for activity and a removable food dish.

Exercising Your Options

Consumers are also leaning toward more out-of-the-cage accessories that promote fun, games and speed. Examples of this trend include:

Marshall Pet Products’ Cruising Critter Raceway, comprised of a racetrack mat and two racing tubes that allow two small animals—ferrets included—to run and compete against each other.

Habitrail’s Playground Dragster, an adorable drag-car-shaped roller that enable hamsters and gerbils to burn off calories outside the cage.

Super Pet’s Dazzle Critter Carriage, an interactive princess-themed toy with attention-getting glitter molded into the plastic, operates in a stationary or mobile position so that dwarf hamsters and similar-sized species can run and have fun.

Exercise balls remain a staple of this category but with plenty of diversity in 2015. Among the popular choices are Lee’s Kritter Krawler; Petoga Couture’s Kerry Run-About; Super Pet’s FerreTrail Roll-About and, separately, its Helicopter Cruiser (shaped like a toy helicopter); and Kaytee’s Run-About.

One innovative alternative to an exercise ball is Ware’s Flying Saucer Exercise Wheel, which combines a concave plastic spinner atop a base that permits dwarf hamsters, gerbils and hamsters to run in circles safely without injuring toes or nails.

Small harness and leash combos provide another way for owners to exercise cage-bound critters. Coastal offers a one-piece black product for rabbits, while Peter’s Rabbit Walking Jacket (in blue) boasts Velcro and quick-snap buckles for a fast setup. Hagen’s Living World features a similar product for hamsters, small rats and gerbils and Ware’s Nylon Walk-N-Vest fits the bill for ferrets.

Getting Your Store in Shape

Infurna recommends grouping exercise accessories together based on size within your small animal department: in other words, merchandise the mini toys, wheels, balls and other goods for small critters like mice and hamsters in one section and the upsized equivalents for cavies, rabbits and their ilk in another section.

“The goal is to provide one-stop shopping to make it convenient for the customer,” said Infurna.

In addition, it’s important to carry a wide variety of accessories in this space, especially add-ons and expandable offerings, such as those in the Habitrail OVO line like a chewable maze, burrowing tower, or Club Trainer exterior wheel.

“You don’t want to lose a sale to a competitor, so keeping a healthy stock of these add-on products will excite customers and keep them coming back for more,” said Grafelman.

Putting a new fitness/exercise product on display in a live animal cage is also crucial to generate interest from patrons.

“We always provide a showcase example in one of our cages,” said Grafelman. “This demonstrates to the customer how the animal interacts with the product. You can also take it out and show them how it works and how to take it apart and reassemble it.”

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