Easy-to-Clean Cages Emphasize Interactivity With Small Mammals
Highlight your store’s small mammal section with cool, easy-to-clean cages that emphasize interactivity with pets.
Adding toys, hideaways and other accessories can turn a small animal’s habitat into a home.
Small mammal owners are seeking habitats that are safe, clean and appealing. These shoppers also often look for toys and accessories that will offer their pet enrichment. Retailers that are successful in this category stock a variety of products that help create a positive experience for customers and their pets.
Safety is at the top of buyers’ lists. Even those who are shopping on a budget have a basic expectation that the products they purchase are safe for their small animal. Among those concerns is an increased awareness regarding potentially hazardous chemicals.
“Plastic products that are BPA free are very appealing to the safety- and health-conscious small animal buyers,” said Joy Wood, general manager and marketing for Lixit Corp. in Napa, Calif. “There is a big push for fewer chemicals and more healthful habitats, treats and housing.”
The same goes for toys, said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply LLC in West Hartford, Conn.
“Pet owners do not want anything unsafe in the cage,” Tucker said. “That’s why they’re looking for Made in the U.S. products, whether it be for their pet’s food or their toys. Customers want to feel confident that they purchased something safe.”
Of course, for small animals, safety also means staying inside of the cage. Tom Rogers, owner of Panhandle Pet Supply in Tallahassee, Fla., said that a lot of his customers have other pets in the home. Therefore, keeping their small mammal inside of the cage is a key concern.
“If they’re purchasing a hamster or a guinea pig, they’ll express concern in keeping it safe from their cat or dog,” Rogers said. “That means they want a cage that isn’t just chew resistant, but one that is chew proof. They want to know that their animal is going to stay put.”
Habitats that are easy to clean are much more appealing. Consumers are looking for features such as pull-out trays or easy-to-access doors to make cleaning less tedious.
“The easier the habitat is to maintain, the better,” Rogers said. “The average customer wants a cage that is easy to clean so that it’s not incredibly time consuming or burdensome.”
Heather Anderson, store manager at Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis, said that staffers always emphasize the importance of looking after the health of the animal. With small mammals, this includes maintaining a clean cage.
“Cleanliness equals healthiness in pets,” Anderson said. “We tend to push for the biggest habitat that [consumers] can afford in their budget, even if that means bypassing some of those fancy features. To us, the physical space is more important than added features. A larger cage is not only easier to clean, but also gives the animal more space, which is better for their mental and physical health.”
Some manufacturers are looking for additional creative solutions to help keep enclosures clean. Jason Casto, director of Kaytee Hard Goods/Pets International, brands of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet, said that the company’s research has indicated that cage odor and difficulty in cleaning habitats can be major drawbacks to owning a small animal. But the company has sought unique solutions to simplify the process.
“A product such as our new CritterTrail Quick Clean Habitat featuring a disposable bedding tray cartridge system is an excellent example of an innovation that improves the pet ownership experience,” Casto said. “Our new disposable bedding tray makes it easy for consumers to clean the habitat. They simply dispose and replace the bedding tray once a week.”
In addition to caring about safety and ease-of-maintenance, pet owners want to create an attractive habitat that will enhance their experience with their pet.
“We sell a lot of hammocks, tunnels and hideouts,” Rogers said. “Anything that makes it fun for the pet owners to watch their animal interacting with the cage tends to be popular. We’re seeing more and more interest in two- and three-story cages for small animals. These cages have the same footprint but feature more useable space by going vertical.”
Pet owners are more interactive than ever with their small pets, said Heather Cappel, creative coordinator for Ware Manufacturing Inc. in Phoenix.
“Customers are looking for habitats that feel more like a home than a cage. House-shaped designs have been popular as well as cages with unique multifunction features like shelf/ramp/hideout combinations,” Cappel said.
Larger-sized cages seem to be selling more, as well as multilevel cages, she noted.
“The ability to connect a playpen has also been a very popular feature,” Cappel said. “This allows more space for the animal to play, as well as access for interaction.”
“If the owner is looking for a lot of interaction with their pet, they’ll definitely be willing to upgrade to that larger cage,” Rogers said. “They want plenty of room for the animal to move around and entertain itself—and in turn, [to] serve as entertainment for the owner.”
While Gary Roberts, owner of Pet World in Lakewood, Colo., said that most of his store’s small mammal owners are shopping on a budget, design can be a deciding factor—if the price is comparable.
“If you have two cages that are similar in price, they’re obviously going to choose the cage that has the more interesting design,” Roberts said. “Customers are going to go for the trendier look when they can afford it.”
Set up displays to attract interest, even if you don’t have the animals to go in the enclosure, Greenfeather Bird Supply’s Tucker said.
“You can still set up a great cage display even if you don’t have the small animal in it,” Tucker said. “Customers are not going to be able to visualize the possibilities if you just have a bunch of empty cages. Set them up in different ways so that they can see what accessories and toys are available.”
“[Having], ideally, at least one fully assembled cage on display with accessories of each style in stock helps to sell the cage and can make customers notice accessories they might have overlooked,” she said.
Tucker admitted, though, that nothing beats watching an animal interact with the space.
“Even if your store does not sell live animals, invest in a ‘store creature’ that you can rotate in the various cages,” Tucker said. “It does help to have a live animal in order to show the customers how things are used or how the animal might interact in the cage. In some cases it may even make or break a sale.”
|A changing demographic|
While small animals often are thought of as a child’s pet, many retailers reported that their demographics are changing, and they are seeing increased interest from adults.
“We actually get more interest in small animals from adults than from kids,” said Heather Anderson, store manager of Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis. “It may be that we live in an urban environment where many of our customers can’t have cats or dogs in their apartments. For many, rats or guinea pigs have taken the place as a primary pet.”
Rick Gill, manager of Pets Unlimited in Clearwater, Fla., said he has seen more interest from adults in exotic small animals such as prairie dogs.
Spending habits are different when the pet is for an adult owner, he added.
“When adults are the primary owner of the small animal, they are often willing to invest more,” Gill said. “They’ll opt for the upscale cage or the added accessories.”—LG
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Pet Product News.