It’s no secret that dogs and cats rule the pet industry. They are the most widely owned types of pet in the country. But retailers shouldn’t think that stocking solely dog and cat products in their store is the way to go.
The pet industry is ever-changing. As the country’s demographics change, so do the types of pets people want. Since the American Pet Products Association (APPA) started tracking pet ownership trends in 1988, the number of U.S. households that own either a small animal, bird, reptile or fish has steadily increased.
According to the APPA 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, owners of pets from these four categories are all more likely to shop at their local independent store than dog and cat owners. They also visit the store more times a year than dog and cat owners.
With the increased demand for non-dog and -cat pets and the patronage those owners can bring to a pet store, retailers might want to consider bringing different categories into the store.
In fact, offering small animals, reptiles, birds, fish and their supplies might guarantee a store years of loyal customers.
“Although these categories are smaller in dollar volume spent, they are usually what first introduces the children to pet ownership,” said Barry Wisebram, general manager of Sun Pet, which provides livestock for retailers. “Dogs and cats are usually the family pet. The small animals, birds, fish and reptiles are more likely to be an individual in the family’s pet, and their personal responsibility.”
And you know what often happens to a child who owns a pet… they become an adult who owns a pet! If a certain store was their go-to growing up, there is a likelihood they will continue to frequent that store as they move into adulthood, maybe even bringing their children to the store to pick out a critter for the next generation of pet owners.
This opportunity for a child to learn to care for and love animals through their first pet is why Petland stocks reptiles, small animals, birds, fish and their products, according to the company’s director of public affairs, Elizabeth Kunzelman.
“Petland has always been about the pets. In fact, when Petland first opened, we didn’t sell puppies. The focus was on fish, small animals and birds. All pets provide distinct and varied opportunities for children to learn about the human animal bond and to learn how to responsibly care for animals,” Kunzelman said. “Children with pets grow up with respect for animals and become our future zoologists, zookeepers, veterinarians and marine biologists. Our criteria for selecting types of pets to offer to customers is that they are safe, family-friendly and easy to care for the duration of the pet’s life.”
Manufacturers are noticing the popularity of these pets with children and are creating marketing campaigns and products to play to that age group. R&J Enterprises makes a line of Tank Houses, a decorative cover that fits a 10-gallon tank. There is a tiki hut, barn and school bus Tank House that will make a fish, small animal or reptile’s habitat look more kid-friendly—perfect for a household with children or a classroom.
“R&J decided to make the Tank House because it helps bring kids back to the hobby while making the standard, boring 10-gallon tank fun again,” said the company’s president, Steve Tyler.
Penn-Plax has a slew of licensed products, and a majority of them are kid-focused Disney and Nickelodeon properties, said Michael Acerra of the Digital Marketing Department. The company’s most popular licensed products are those of SpongeBob.
“[Having children and their parents interested in our products] provides us with an amazing opportunity, since most of the customers who are interested in our licensed products are first time fishkeepers who are just getting their start in the hobby,” Acerra said. “We take this responsibility seriously, and we pride ourselves on providing high-quality, safe and fun products that make it easy for children to learn about the aquarium hobby.”
Most children are drawn to color and excitement, which is why the bright, differently colored GloFish has been so popular with children.
“GloFish continue to see fantastic growth. Best fish ever to get new kids interested in keeping fish,” said Joe Hiduke, sales manager for fish wholesaler Nautilus Tropical. The brand has even introduced a cartoon spokesfish, Gloria, to connect better with children.
Interestingly, girls in particular might be more interested in GloFish. According to Packaged Facts’ “Fish and Aquarium Products: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities” report, while “households with at least one male child in the house are more likely than average to own fish, households with at least one female child living in the household are significantly more likely to keep fish as pets. This difference is even more pronounced when there are only girls living in the household compared to households with only boys.”
While a small animal, reptile, fish or bird might be many children’s first pet, they certainly aren’t pets that only children want to own. In fact, those in their 20s and 30s are the people most likely to own those species. According to the APPA survey, millennials comprise:
• 46% of bird owners
• 50% of small animal owners
• 53% of reptile owners
• 43% of freshwater fish owners
• 62% of saltwater fish owners
So both children and young adults are in particular looking to purchase a non-dog or -cat pet. While there is a trend in the age of owner, there is also a trend in what types of animals within these categories people want.
“In fuzzy stuff, rabbit ownership seems to be on the upswing. Guinea pigs are still strong, as are hamsters. The bird categories are all doing well and would be doing even better if the supply of birds was keeping up with demand,” Wisebram explained. “In aquatics we are seeing a surge with the ‘nano’ tank items, including freshwater shrimp and live plants. With the prices of some of the ball python color morphs getting more reasonable, they are selling very well.”
Liven up the Store… Literally
In addition to stocking products for these animals, some retailers look to be the one-stop shop for those looking to purchase the necessary products as well as the pet itself. Selling the animals not only offers customers convenience, but it is also a way to get more bodies in the store.
“With the sale of live animals and fish comes the theater that drives traffic,” Wisebram pointed out. “Once a store offers small animals, they usually go full line. Seldom do I see a store with any live animals that does not have aquatics.”
While live animals generate more in-store traffic, Wisebram has a tip for retailers thinking to take the leap: “Do it right.”
“If you are going to offer live, ensure that you have the right equipment, habitats, supplies and knowledge to be successful and, in turn, allow your customers to be successful,” he said. “If a customer gets good advice and inspiration from you and your store, they are more likely to be successful. A successful customer will tell 10 of their friends. A customer who fails will tell 100. This failure will even haunt future generations, as when those kids grow up and have families, they will not allow their own kids to even try to keep the pets that they failed with.”
Petland has had more than 50 years of experience with keeping live animals.
According to Petland Director of Training Andrew Nelson, one of the biggest challenges with selling a variety of pets and pet products is training.
“You must have people on your team that know about the different pets and how to care for them. The pet counselors must understand the daily care needed in the store as well as how the customer must care for the pet at home,” he explained. “The store staff needs to be knowledgeable in every pet offered. Without a system in place to ensure consistent, accurate information is provided to the customer, it can be difficult to do well in the other pet categories.
“At Petland, we have always dedicated resources, time and people to training,” Nelson continued. “Our customer service approach demands we engage the customer to teach and educate about the pet they are getting or the one they already have. We provide online, regional and in-store training for our franchisees and their staff. We are completely dedicated to our mission of enhancing the knowledge and enjoyment of the human-animal bond.”
Manufacturers also realize the importance of offering a line-up that includes products for different pet types. Penn-Plax originally started as an aquatics company in the 1950s. Now, the company has products for virtually all the animal categories. Penn-Plax was able to build the company by taking the experience it had in running a small pet store in Brooklyn, New York, which sold an array of items for all categories.
“Our experience from our pet store days allowed for a natural expansion into categories we identified as lacking in true innovation,” said Marissa Kactioglu of Penn-Plax’s Product Development team. “Today, we continue to be on the lookout for which categories have gaps that need to be filled, and we focus our efforts towards filling those voids.”
From aquarium and small animal, Penn-Plax continued to branch out, understanding the importance of offering a diverse product line-up in order to meet the needs of all pet owners. And according to Katioglu, the company has a few hits in particular right now within its reptile and bird verticals.
“In the reptile category, our Turtle-Topper and our line of Lizard Loungers are a hit among enthusiasts and novices alike,” she said. “The Turtle-Topper adds a level to the existing turtle tank, allowing for a dedicated dry space and freeing up more room in the tank. Our Lizard Loungers come in assorted sizes and offer both the opportunity to climb and a comfortable resting space. We recommend placing them beneath a basking lamp, which makes it easier for the reptile to self-regulate their body temperature.
“In the bird category, there has been a noticeable rise in interest with natural but colorful products,” Katioglu continued. “Brightly colored but composed of natural materials, our line of Weave Kabobs readily meets this requirement. These fun toys securely hang from any wired cage and come in assorted sizes.”
In addition to having space dedicated to pet birds and/or their products in the store, retailers might also want to consider expanding into the wild bird market. In the recent report “Wild Bird Products: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities,” Packaged Facts projected the wild bird product market—which includes packaged seeds, nuts and seed blends, suet and nectar, and non-food products such as feeders, houses and baths—to reach $2.2 billion by 2021. And the group found that “pet owners, regardless of the type of animal they have, are much more inclined to feed wild birds than non-pet owners.”
Central Garden and Pet offers both pet and wild bird products through its Kaytee brand. In addition, Central has a family of brands that supply products for even more types of animals, including reptiles, fish and small animals. According to Kenneth Oh, SVP of Marketing and Sales Support for Central Specialty Pet, the company’s “commitment to all pets has been reinforced through the years with the acquisitions of well-known brands such as Kaytee and Coralife and continues to this day with the recent acquisition of Segrest Farms, a leading producer and distributor of fish, reptiles, small animals and birds.”
“While Dog and Cat are certainly main drivers in the pet industry, as well as for Central Garden and Pet, specialty pet categories such as small animal, bird, aquatics and reptile remain significant contributors to our total pet business,” Oh said. “More importantly, studies… consistently show multiple pet ownership within households. For example, 75 percent of bird owners also own a dog and 35 percent also own fish. Central Garden and Pet is very much dedicated to pet ownership and having a range of products that helps pet owners to care for all of their pets is part of our mission.”
Dog and cat owners also own other pets and will most likely appreciate the convenience of being able to purchase products for all their pets at one store.
According to APPA, among current dog owners, 8 percent own a bird, 6 percent a small animal, 4 percent a reptile and 14 percent fish while among current cat owners, 8 percent own a bird, 6 percent a small animal, 4 percent a reptile and 13 percent a fish.
In other words, bringing in small animals, reptiles, birds, fish and/or their products could not only bring in new customers, but also please your current customers. Sounds like a win-win.