Gnawing On New Chew Trends
Knowing the market for small mammal add-ons can make the difference for sales success.
Reminding customers that chews and toys are an important part of keeping small animals happy and healthy helps generate repeat sales.
Though sometimes a neglected category, small animal chews and toys can offer retailers the chance to connect with younger customers. There are opportunities to reach out and grow a customer base, especially among children.
Know the Market
The first thing retailers need to focus on in the small animal category is the age group they’re marketing to.
“Customers like things that are a little different,” said Kelly Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. “The straight traditional stick is not as much fun. Children drive purchases [in the category], and they want stuff that looks cute and fun, and that they don’t consider boring.
“[Chews and toys] in interesting shapes, things that move, and wood items that have a nut inside of them are all popular,” Parsons added.
While younger customers are the base in the small animal marketplace, the reality is, retailers have been facing an uphill battle to gain their attention and patronage.
“Small animals were traditionally sold to younger children, and most of these kids don’t have any interest in this stuff anymore,” said Bruce Watts, owner of Whiteway Pet Shop in Elizabeth, N.J. “You look at the mean age of the average customer, and it’s a lot older. Kids want to play on their iPads. I think that’s a critical thing in this industry, and we’re going to have to try to figure out some way to get around that.”
Part of the challenge is to make toys and chews stand out for customers.
“Making them appealing to children is pretty important,” Parsons said. “There’s really not much different or new in the function of the product. Parents just let [their kids] pick what they want. It’s like they’re buying a toy for themselves.”
Fun, colorful chews and toys attract the attention of small animal-owning children, who, many say, are the drivers in this category.
What’s Selling Well?
When it comes to innovation in the category, there are a few trends that stand out. One is the increasing interest in non-wood chews.
“Rice chews from Ware are popular,” said Amanda, buyer for Pet Kingdom in San Diego. “They make two sizes, but the larger one is more popular.”
Other retailers also noted that non-wood chews are doing well, but pointed out that wood is still on top in the category.
“There’ve been a lot more woven chew toys,” Parsons said. “[Woven] balls and other interesting, cute little things small mammals can chew on are popular. Wood [chews are] still probably the No. 1 seller, though.”
Occasionally, there is an opportunity for retailers to cash in on movie trends popular with children.
“Movie-driven chews and toys do well,” Parsons said. “There were some Monsters Inc. [items] that sold really well, but they’re time sensitive. They come in, and then they go out, and [customers] move on to something else.”
Sometimes, older items that sold well in the past become popular again, and retailers who are aware of past trends might be able to capitalize.
“I think customers want more natural products,” said Steve Esposito, owner of Pets Unlimited in Clearwater, Fla. “We’ve done some apple sticks over the years. I get some from Sweet Meadow Farms. They come in a nice package. Those have been extremely popular recently.
“I’ve seen some luffa materials that have done well recently,” he added. “[Luffa chews have] been out there for a while, but it seems to come and go. Manufacturers are coloring luffa products and coming out with different shapes and styles.”
Grab Customers’ Attention
When it comes to marketing for kids, the idea is to get down on their level.
“We have these types of items all at a specific height so children can see them easily,” Parsons said. “They’re the ones who really like shopping for that sort of thing. The parents are more about function, where the kids are more about what’s fun.”
Bright displays and eye-catching merchandise help, too.
“We use shelf talkers,” Esposito said. “We have a whole section of chewies. They’re all together. They’re near the small mammal section.”
Retailers also can let customers see chews and toys in use within store displays, because seeing the merchandise in action is a good way to let customers know that animals enjoy them.
“We display our chews and toys with our small animals,” Amanda said. “[Toys and chews are] definitely an add-on sale. Not a lot of people come in specifically for chews. Customers generally purchase these products when they’re buying a new setup.”
Pet Kingdom keeps offerings fresh, both in display enclosures and on shelves, she said. Customers don’t want to see old, ratty toys in store enclosures, and they want new chew options to pick from, as well.
“People don’t want to buy the same thing over and over,” Amanda added. “They feel like their animal is bored with the same thing.”
This is good for customers’ pets too, because chews and toys are an important part of keeping small animals, both in terms of their health and happiness.
“Dental health is crucial to the overall health of pets,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb. “Many small pets have teeth that never stop growing, so it’s vital that these animals have as many opportunities for healthful chewing as possible.”
Oxbow is releasing additions to its Timothy Club line of woven hay habitats and chews, including Timothy Twists and the Timothy Hideout, Stock said.
Manufacturers are aware of retailers’ need for new
and interesting product, and work to develop new offerings each year.
“We feel chew toys are the most important accessories in the small animal section,” said Heather Cappel, creative coordinator at Ware Manufacturing in Phoenix. “Becuase we feel chews are so important, we create new designs each year so that stores can keep an exciting chews section that always has something new and fun.”
Ware recently released a line of natural chews named Tea Time, which includes hand-woven tea twigs and branches in various shapes and sizes, Cappel said, adding that the company also has released a line of mineral chews in food shapes. Customers are increasingly interested in natural chew materials as they embrace an eco-conscious approach to keeping pets, she said.
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.