Accessorizing Cage Sales for Small Animals
Affordable and attractive habitats with interactive accessories provide enrichment and play for small animals and boost sales for specialty retailers.
When it comes to cages and cage accessories, small mammal owners look for affordability, safety, quality and added value. They care about their small family members and want to know the products they buy are good for their specific pets.
“Pet owners are looking for an affordable habitat that maximizes space and enhances animal viewing,” said Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for Marshall Pet Products in Wolcott, N.Y. “They’re also looking for features that will provide them more stimulation, social interaction and exercise.”
The American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey shows that 96 percent of small mammal owners have a cage for their pets. While one-half have one cage, households with multiple small animals tend to own more than one cage for their critters, the survey reports.
Retailers stated that quality is an important aspect when picking products to house critters. Mason Hakes, store manager for Miles of Exotics in Kansas City, Mo., said his customers want a one-time investment that is large enough and will last the duration of the animal’s life, and Glenda Bone, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas, said small animal owners want something their critters can’t get out of, as many are escape artists.
Customers also want more than a basic cage.
“Trends are moving toward deluxe cages or kits,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co. “Small animal owners always are interested in new and exciting products.”
As seen in dog and cat housing products, small animal owners also want attractive cages that look more like a piece of furniture rather than a wire enclosure, Juszczak said.
They also seek ways to interact with and provide interesting activities for their pets. This makes enrichment an important theme in this category.
“As pet parents look for new ways to add enrichment to their pet’s environment, the opportunity for success with high-quality accessories continues to grow,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb. “Pet owner data continues to show a trend toward purchases of more and more gifts for their pets. Positioned correctly, items like high-quality accessories can often land directly in the sights of purchasers such as these.”
Stock also said he sees a trend toward all-natural, edible accessories, which present added value, and Juszczak reported that accessories, toys and tunneling tubes are always in demand.
“Pet owners like to watch the interaction with their pet and certain toys while they’re in their cages,” he said. “And it also keeps them active.”
Providing these attractive, affordable and amusing products will keep sales in this category active for specialty retailers.
The Best Way to Display
A common phrase in sales and merchandising is, “the eye buys.” In small animal habitats, enclosures and accessories, displaying complete setups and grouping items help customers envision what setups can look like for their pets.
Glenda Bone, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas, recommends displaying a kit with everything the owner needs by the small animal and pricing it right.
“We also have stuffed animals in those habitats of the small animal that belongs in them,” she said.
At Pet World in Lakewood, Colo., owner Gary Roberts puts kits together because “most of the prepackaged kits don’t have everything the pet needs.” He added that offering a good variety also helps sales.
“An endcap featuring hay, foods, treats, supplements and accessories provides an effective picture of what a pet’s daily experience should strive to include,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb.
Keeping all the embellishment stuff at the front of the store works well for Mason Hakes, store manager for Miles of Exotics in Kansas City, Mo. This way, customers are met with new products when coming in to get their regular purchases such as bunny food.
New Cages for Critters
At Global Pet Expo, held in Orlando, Fla., in March, small animal cages swept the stage in the 2016 New Products Showcase in the Small Animal category.
Central Garden & Pet Co. of Walnut Creek, Calif., received a Best in Show win for its Kaytee CritterTrail LED Lighted Habitat, which features two LED lighted bubble plugs, a top-mounted water bottle, an exercise wheel and a food dish.
With a focus on illuminating its CritterTrail habitats and Fun-nel Tube accessories, the company also launched a Kaytee CritterTrail Fun-nel LED Bubble Plug Anytime, designed for use at any time to enhance the enjoyment of the habitat, and a Kaytee CritterTrail Fun-nel LED Bubble Plug Nighttime, a red LED designed to not harm the pet’s natural nocturnal sight while allowing owners to view their pet’s nighttime activities, said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods.
“Both LED Bubble Plugs are battery operated with batteries included,” Loveland said. “They have a fully protective lens cover to safely keep animals away from the battery and light.”
F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc.’s newly released Tropical Carnival Play Barns With Hay received second place in the New Products Showcase. Designed for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils and other small animals to nest, play, eat and sleep, the barns are stuffed with natural sun-cured hay to entice pets inside, and the barns are printed with nontoxic and safe-to-chew vegetable inks, the Sinking Spring, Pa., company stated.
Third place went to Ware Manufacturing’s Critter X Connect 360. The new habitat features a modular concept with eight connection ports, handles for easy lift, carry and travel, and a removable ball to allow critters to explore outside the cage, said Michelle Diaz, creative coordinator for the Phoenix manufacturer.
On the accessories side, Marshall Pet Products in Wolcott, N.Y., released Starfish and Bear Rug.
“Ferrets and small animals like to tunnel during playtime, and they also like to burrow in while sleeping,” said Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing. “These accessories serve both purposes.”
Both items have holes for small mammals to slip in and out of, and the company said the accessories can be used inside or outside the pet’s cage.
Education Improves Sales, Pets’ Experiences
Educated consumers make better buying decisions for their needs, industry participants agreed.
Some companies use their websites and social media to help educate customers.
“Social media plays a big part, and we encourage consumers to visit us on our website or Facebook page,” said Mary Ann Loveland, associate brand manager of Kaytee Hard Goods of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co.
She added that “retail associates are our best advocates, and we suggest educating your customers.”
A challenge experienced by most retailers is customers who believe they already know what is best. Some find their information online and others from past experience.
“Education is very important for the health of the pet,” said Gary Roberts, owner of Pet World in Lakewood, Colo. “A lot of people come in and have read something on the Internet and think they are experts. That makes it difficult, sometimes, to have them see it the right way. Having a staff that is educated makes a huge difference.”
“We always try to approach all customer interactions with an educational element to them without talking down to them or make them feel like a bad owner,” said Mason Hakes, store manager for Miles of Exotics in Kansas City, Mo. “There are a lot of individuals that have kept a rabbit or hamster before, and [they] think [it] makes them an expert on the animal. I do keep my mind open that I can learn from my customers as well.”
Glenda Bone, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas, emphasized education as important for the safety and health of the small animal.
“It’s difficult to educate people who think they know how to care for animals and really don’t,” she said, adding that staff provide pamphlets and care sheets to customers about those small animals and just try to get the correct habitat, water bottles, toys and food in customers’ hands for the small animal.
“Most box stores don’t have employees that can answer questions about pets,” she said. “Be sure your staff can answer the customers questions correctly.”
And Hakes highlighted the value of speaking from personal experience.
“I always feel like you will be received and heard better if you speak from a place of experience,” he said. “I grab a staff member who has that experience if I don’t have the personal experience. It adds validity when you also have that animal at home. Be knowledgeable and educating, but not a know-it-all.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Pet Product News.