June 3, 2014

There is no doubt that dog and cat products, foods and related services make up the largest category driving industry sales.

But it is also the most crowded category with competitors such as big-box stores, grocery stores and large pet store chains, which all have tremendous buying power.  They key into these products and services as part of their projected growth strategy.

For example, walk into any Wal-Mart and you will see 80 percent or more of the pet department merchandise is dedicated to dog and cat products. On the other hand, aquatic products are generally dedicated to only 10 percent, or 8-12 linear feet of the total pet department, and reptile products are almost nonexistent. These stores only stock the very basic items, which will leave a lot of choices and variety out of their mix, creating an opportunity for pet specialty stores to satisfy the consumers’ wants and needs.

While detailing pet stores for our vendors, I have even seen regional pet store chains with just about the same product spread as Wal-Mart, and I always wonder why they don’t key into products that are not available in Wal-Mart and other mass outlets.

To me, the aquatic and reptile sections seem to be the best areas for pet specialty growth, with little competition from the big-box stores. Any full-line store willing to dedicate some floor space to display aquariums and terrariums will have the advantage of variety and price. Adding a few impressive freshwater or saltwater setup displays will attract potential new customers.
With the vast amount of products available through distributors, the variety of products available to pet specialty stores is something that mass-market outlets will not try to compete with for many reasons, including the need for a well-trained sales staff and available warehouse space.

Big-box stores that have their own distribution system cannot keep up with the changing technology and bewildering variety of aquatic and reptile products coming to market so quickly these days. This discourages most mass retailers and keeps them from expanding their offerings in any meaningful way.

Aquatic and reptile enthusiasts are generally willing to spend their hard-earned money on new and innovative products.  After dog products, aquarium is next highest, with cat and reptile following in highest average dollars spent per visit.

For those stores that actually sell livestock, their advantage over mass outlets increases exponentially. Being able to offer the pet along with the habitat generally closes the sale. Livestock is sold on the internet, but most pet owners like to see what they are buying in person and get to know more about their pet through conversation.

Try added-value customer services in your store that the big-box cannot offer.  Good examples are having an aquarium water-testing center, or provide specific reptile wellness sheets to hand out at the time of sale. Increase your draw by offering free incentive products at the time of purchase, such as a free chlorine/chloramine-removing water conditioner for aquatics, or maybe a free sample of cricket water gel with any carnivorous reptile that eats crickets.

Little things like these keep the customers coming back — something mass outlets will probably never do because of their size and scope of business.

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