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October 12, 2015

From the diminutive Netherlands Dwarf to the supersized Flemish Giant, there’s a virtually endless supply of cuddly cottontail critters out there to tempt small animal lovers. So what’s your job as a pet retailer? Get customers to pay more attention to these “wascally wabbits” and the important supplies the critters need to stay healthy and happy.

With their cute appearance and gentle demeanor, rabbits can make excellent pets and garner lots of in-store attention, getting patrons to take a closer look at your small animal section. Expanding this zone to include rabbits and related products doesn’t require a wholesale reinvention of the wheel. Many of the same cages and accessories designed for small animal cousins like guinea pigs, ferrets and hamsters can also accommodate rabbits. Stocking specialized niche products is important, especially when it comes to edibles.

Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Nebraska, said the good news is today’s average rabbit owner is more knowledgeable and invested in their pet than ever before.

“With this heightened knowledge and involvement comes an increased interest in not only essential products, such as hays and foods, but enrichment and recreational items as well,” Stock said. “This trend hasn’t been lost on manufacturers, either. The market is seeing more high quality, thoughtfully engineered accessories and toys being released each year.”

Tunnel Vision

A burgeoning trend in this segment continues to be the growth in popularity of value-added items, such as woven hay habitats, toys and chews that provide nutrition and health benefits.

“Pet owners love these items not only because they’re fun, but they provide nutritional benefit in the form of fiber and ever-important dental wear for rabbits,” Stock said.

Oxbow’s 100 percent all-natural Timothy Club Tunnel, for example, provides both a fun hideout inside or outside the cage as well as an edible enclosure that contains no wires, chemicals or threads that would be harmful for a rabbit to ingest.

Ware makes a similar tunnel composed of only woven willow twig—it’s ideal for smaller rabbit breeds.

Indeed, products composed of natural materials are all the rage today in this segment. Capitalizing on that trend, more manufacturers are offering options to transform the typical hutch into a comfortable crib that even Bugs Bunny would be proud of.

Take, for instance, Peter’s Woven Grass line, which includes a pet bed and separate mat that protect a rabbit’s sensitive paws from wire-bottom cages and are safe to chew. The former can be used as a bed or natural bowl and the latter serves as a healthy nest liner.

Home Sweet Hutch

“Another popular trend is to offer a cage kit that includes everything needed to start a pet rabbit experience,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager of Kaytee Hard Goods, a division of Kaytee. “This ensures that pet parents have the basics covered when bringing home their new companion and that adequate living space for their pet rabbit is met.”

To cater to this demand, Kaytee recently introduced its new Complete Rabbit Kit Habitat, the largest cage ever offered by Kaytee in a complete format. Featuring a 42-inch long by 18-inch wide by 20-inch high size, the enclosure provides ample activity space for occupants and boasts chew-proof latches to keep pets inside as well as a large front access door. Rounding out the kit are Kaytee Fiesta rabbit food, Kaytee Clean & Cozy bedding, a water bottle and a food dish.

A trusty outdoor rabbit hutch fits the bill for larger breeds and rabbit owners with more real estate. One of the newest items in this subcategory is the Hoppity Habitat Rabbit Hutch by MidWest Homes for Pets. This weather resistant, durable and easy to clean rabbit home sports an attractive gray tone wood grain finish and includes a spacious fenced run for exercise, secure latches and wire mesh to provide protection from predators, a convenient ramp and a secure locking roof that opens for full access to the interior.

“Merchandising larger hutches and cages outdoors is a great option for retailers in warmer climates and during the summer,” said Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets. “And cross-merchandising with related products, such as feeders and water bottles, helps upsell and saves on display space.”

Smarter Than the Average Rabbit

Whitehead adds that today’s small pet owner is a more educated consumer.

“They do exhaustive online research prior to visiting a retail location, and, as a result, they have in mind what options they want and will search for the retailer that has those options,” Whitehead said. “Stocking a selection of rabbit housing of varying price points and with a variety of features will allow you to be more competitive.”

Unfortunately, with floor and shelf space hard to come by for many retailers, it’s easy for rabbit wares to get lost in the shuffle.

“We recommend working hard and creatively to find space for these valuable items. When made aware of this merchandise, consumers are very receptive to purchasing them,” said Stock, who recommends employing end caps, clip strips, attention-getting signage and live habitat displays to better showcase products in this space.

And, as always, make sure that staff are up to speed on rabbit care, diets, handling and products, “particularly the varying features and price points that are represented in your available SKUs,” Whitehead said.

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