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Get the Small but Important Details Right

Posted: November 25, 2013, 2:45 p.m. EDT


Discover what works—and what doesn’t—for displaying small animal livestock.

By Keith Loria

It’s as important for pet retailers that carry small mammals to highlight them in visible and eye-catching displays as it is for book retailers to prominently display best-selling novels.

The best livestock displays are highly visible either in the front window or near the front of the store where customers will pass and enjoy the view of the animals, said Heather Cappel, creative coordinator for Ware Manufacturing in Phoenix.

"Interactive displays, such as petters with open tops, also can be a great addition, allowing customers to have a connection with the pets as well as providing lots of interaction for the animals to ensure they are tame and friendly,” she said. "Guinea pig sales have been on a steady climb over the past 10 years, and our company believes this is a great opportunity for retailers to capitalize on their continued popularity and capture a young pet owner who may become a lifetime pet supplies customer.”

Small Mammal Livestock
Sherri L. Collins/I-5 Publishing at Nature Pet Centre

New trends include increased awareness about environments that are appropriate for the health and well-being of small mammals, said Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Ind., which specializes in making small animal homes for pet store displays.

"Pet retailers and consumers are increasingly savvy about things like proper cage size and ventilation,” she said. "And because cleanliness is important for small mammal health, housing units that are easy to clean offer convenience and peace of mind for pet owners.”

MidWest Homes for Pets offers Ferret Nation, with 1-inch vertical wire spacing, and Critter Nation, with half-inch horizontal wire spacing, both in single, double and add-on units. MidWest also offers Wabbitat for rabbits and Guinea Habitat for cavies and hedgehogs.

"Most small mammals require proper ventilation as well as places to climb, and a wire habitat offers both,” Whitehead said. "For retailers who sell livestock as well as pet products, like housing and accessories, displaying livestock in housing units that are for sale allows the retailer to display animals while also showcasing the selling features of the habitats and related accessories like water bowls, toys and bedding.”

Role of the Retailer
Betty Keetley, owner of D&G Pets in Fort Collins, Colo., has a wall unit featuring two rows of shower doors with appropriate-sized tanks in a ventilated area to display the pets she has for sale.

"We keep almost all our animals in this one section, although we do have some rabbits and hedgehogs in a more central location on the sales floor,” she said. "This section has been in use since we opened more than 30 years ago and is 16 feet long and runs parallel to the store office, so we can feed, water and clean the cages from the backside.”

One way Keetley draws attention to the small mammals in the cages is with colored accessories.

"We make it a point to use bright-colored bedding and create more of a ‘toy’ feel to get people coming over to see them,” she said. "We haven’t really experimented with the open tops yet, but our salespeople are always available to help those who want a closer look.”

Allowing access to animals is best, said Brad Ringlien, owner of The Pet Pad in Cary, N.C.

"People get pets to play with, pet and snuggle,” he said. "So we try to keep our animals accessible to customers. We keep them in open pens or in cages that are easily opened by staff. We want customers to get their hands on the animals.”

Displaying animals can add a lot to a retailer’s payroll, but Ringlien said that a vibrant store full of living things always will attract customer attention and do wonders for the rest of the store’s product sales.

"We try to show the customer what a setup should look like,” he said. "We have toys and accessories in all small animal pens. It sends the message to the customer that the pet they are considering has led a good life. The big stores can house animals, but we can spoil them with the extra care and attention.”

"Offering specific products and recommended items for the species the store carries is an important way to stand out from other stores with pet products,” Ware Manufacturing’s Cappel agreed. "This paves the way for a loyal customer who trusts the recommendations they were given at the store where they purchased their pet.”

Display Tips
If live animals are displayed, great care should be given to the appearance of their enclosure and the health and appearance of the animals themselves, retailers agreed. Displaying live animals is a big draw to customers, so it is important that their cages and tanks are clean, positioned strategically to provide a clear view of the animal and stocked with relevant accessories.

"Livestock should be protected and placed in an area that receives proper supervision from employees, and protected from other livestock that might be incompatible,” Whitehead said. "They also should be protected from customers and over-handling, while still being able to interact with potential buyers.”

Mistakes retailers make include overcrowding, unclean conditions and missing the opportunity to show products in use.

"Cleanliness is so important,” Ringlien said. "Savvy customers can spot when a store is cutting corners with pet care. It may be cheaper to not change small animal shavings every week, but the smell will turn people off. Customer service after the sale is critical. Animals are living things and sometimes pose problems. You have to be willing and able to answer questions and bend your rules to maintain success in this special area.”

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