April 1, 2016

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy famously exclaims at the conclusion of “The Wizard of Oz.” It doesn’t take a wizard to come to the same conclusion about homes for huggable little animals, either. After all, the habitat is likely the single largest purchase a pet consumer will make beyond the initial cost of the animal. Hence, it makes sense to carry the right cages that promise a decent profit margin and a more satisfied customer.

Indeed, retailers have to be smart about what habitats they choose to stock, according to Kelly Williamson, manager for Austin, Texas-headquartered Gallery of Pets.

“Your goal is to move merchandise; you don’t want your SKUs sitting on the floor forever,” Williamson said. “In our store, small animal owners are typically not willing to pay as much for a cage as bird or reptile owners are. When it comes to a habitat, our shoppers usually won’t pay more than twice the cost of the animal. That means, for example, that if one of our rabbits sells for about $50, they’re willing to invest $100 to $125 for the cage.”

While bells, whistles and colorful new features are nice, “you can’t improve much on a product that has pretty much stayed the same for a long time,” Williamson said. “Our customers want a habitat that is cost-effective, durable, lightweight and easy to set up.”

Nevertheless, it’s essential to offer at least a small variety of habitats for sale in your store to interest and accommodate prospective first-time small animal owners, said Matt Thomas, general manager for Pet Kingdom, a San Diego-based pet retailer that primarily sells guinea pigs, mice, rats and their supplies.

With this in mind, Thomas’ store bundles two different kinds of small animal starter kits together: (1) a basic setup that includes a cage, bedding, water bottle, food bowl, cave/hideout and care booklet, retailing for $70 (versus approximately $90 if customers purchased the supplies separately); and (2) a premium starter package that includes all the former plus treats, toys and supplements, retailing for $125 (versus $150 for separately sold merchandise).

“The key lesson here is to offer value to your customers by bundling a starter cage with carefully selected accessories,” said Thomas.

Spotlight on the New and the Proven

One new cage designed to capture consumer attention this year is Kaytee’s CritterTrail LED Lighted Habitat, which was introduced at last month’s Global Pet Expo 2016. The rodent-friendly enclosure features two battery-operated LED-lighted Bubble Plugs (one for nighttime use, the other for anytime use) that allow owners to more easily view animals’ activities, plus a top-mounted water bottle, exercise wheel and food dish.

“The nighttime Bubble Plug is a red LED that won’t harm the pet’s natural nocturnal sight,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wis. “Both Bubble Plugs have a fully protective lens cover to safely keep the animal away from the battery and light. This product provides retailers with a great way to engage customers with a new trend that will allow pet parents to interact with their pets.”

For shoppers with tight budgets and tight spaces, Prevue Pet Products recently rolled out two new no-frills small animal cages: the Carina for dwarf rabbits and guinea pigs, and the Bella for rabbits and guinea pigs. Each include an all-welded mesh top, large top-opening access door, deep base with an angled hay rack and snap-off mesh top for easy cleaning.

Convenience and portability are enclosure amenities still highly valued by consumers, which explains why products like Marshall Pet Products’ Folding Mansion for ferrets, MidWest Homes for Pets’ Wabbitat folding rabbit cage, Ware’s foldable Small Animal Playpen and Hagen’s Living World Small Pals Pen remain popular years after they were introduced.

Lastly, if you’re looking for the ideal in-store habitat in which to display your live stock of furry critters, consider a Heritage Quad Petting Zoo by Companion Habitats. This large enclosure boasts rounded glass corners, removable dividers and transparent lockable lids to produce a safe environment for patrons to interact with rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and other larger-sized small mammals.

Shelf-help Tips

Even if you don’t opt for a petting zoo pen on the premises, Thomas said it’s important to make cages displaying live animals accessible and accommodating to customers, especially smaller children who want to touch and hold small animals.

“Unpack your cage products,” Thomas said. “When you leave them in the retail packaging, shoppers only see the pictures on the box. They want to see what it looks like fully assembled and stocked with real world supplies. Customers want to see and touch a tangible product.”

It’s also vital to train employees carefully so that they know which habitats to recommend for a particular species.

“The cage should be appropriately sized and fit the customer’s budget,” Williamson said. “But if they’re interested in say, a larger terrarium than they may need, you should point that out and recommend the right product for their needs.”

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