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Small Animal Marketplace: Critter Cages on the Rise

Posted: March 5, 2013, 5:15 p.m. EST


Critter habitats and enclosures grow in popularity and convenience.
By Carolee Anita Boyles

Virtually all small animals are housed in a cage or other enclosure, according to the 2011-2012 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. Of all small mammal owners, more than one-half have one cage for their pet and more than one-fourth own two enclosures, the survey stated.

For this small mammal staple, Annie Marcell, Kaytee brand assistant for Central Garden & Pet in Schaumburg, Ill., noted an industry shift toward less-expensive habitats that maintain their quality.

“There’s a movement towards the economy-friendly cage by those who cannot afford more expensive, feature-loaded habitats,” she said. “However, we still see a definite market and need for the highest quality feature-added cages that come at a higher price point. These two customer bases are opposite groups, yet both demand the highest quality of product.”

The struggling economy drove the trend toward less-expensive habitats, but Brad Stroetz, director of major accounts for BioBubble Pets in Boca Raton, Fla., said he sees a move toward boutique- or specialty-type items, which goes a bit against the grain of a weak economy.

Hamster cage
Convenience is a sought-after feature of small animal cages.
“There was a trend for a while that was just cheaper-cheaper-cheaper,” he said. “Now consumers are starting to look at products that are more specific and more unique. People are looking to spend money wisely,” he said, adding that customers are evaluating the value of the purchase and the benefit that might make them spend a little more instead of going with the cheapest product.

“Consumers want a ‘cheaper’ habitat without sacrificing the overall quality and safety of the cage,” Marcell said. “More consumers are purchasing habitats at the lowest price points, which drives the trend towards the economy-based home. On the flip side, another base of consumers continues to upgrade to the most innovative and feature-filled habitats.”

In response, Kaytee is updating its standard habitats to include new wire and base technology for added security and durability at a low price point, Marcell said.

“The wire sits in the base, and the addition of wire and chew-proof latches creates added security while making assembly easier,” she said.

Customers are purchasing habitats with a more modern appearance, according to Rachael Creech, owner of Adventure Pets in Mandeville, La.

“They’re buying things that are almost European in look,” she said. “People are looking for something new and different. Plus, in some cases they’re a little easier to clean because they have more plastic on them, and they are easier to take apart.”

Convenience remains an important factor in pet ownership, retailers and manufacturers reported. In response, several manufacturers have updated their products and offerings to meet this consumer demand.

“We have focused on new technologies to create habitats that create the ultimate convenience for pet parents,” Marcell said. “For example, the EZ Clean habitat includes removable shelves and a pull-out tray in the base for easy removal of soiled bedding.”

MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Ind., responded to customer demand by adding a “No Tools Assembly” option to its Ferret Nation product line, said Tara Whitehead, marketing manager.

“This has made Ferret Nation compatible with Critter Nation, allowing small mammal enthusiasts to easily attach a Critter Nation to a Ferret Nation,” she added.

Interactive Displays
Want to learn more about displaying small animal habitats?
Click here.

Similarly, the modularity of the BioBubble system allows customers to start with a basic beginner’s setup and customize it to fit the pet and the situation, Stroetz noted.

“They can make it tall, or they can accessorize it,” he said. “They can make it very specific, which is fun and creative for the consumer.”

Most small animals (77 percent) remain indoors during the day and night, and fewer than two in 10 stay outdoors in either the day or night, according to APPA’s survey. In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Tails pet store owner Diane Schickerowsky said she’s encouraging owners to provide larger habitats for their small mammals, whether the enclosure is indoors or outdoors.

“Most of our customers want to be educated and do what’s best for the animal,” she said, adding that. many of her customers want portable habitats so they can put the main enclosures in their cars when travelling to their cottages.

Most customers at Pet World in Lawrence Kan., have both indoor and outdoor habitats and enclosures for their pets, said owner Sherry Emerson. One trend she noticed is cages doubling as outdoor pens.

“A lot of rabbit owners in particular do this,” Emerson said. “They take cages that have a wire bottom and pop the top of the cage off the rest of it so the wire is at the bottom. Then they set the cage on the grass while they clean the rest of the cage.”

Living World cages have jumped in popularity for Emerson’s customers.

“In the past we didn’t sell them very well,” she said. “Now they fly off the shelves for us. It makes a great cage. It has gone from being a small niche to being our No. 1 cage.”

Pet-owner interaction remains important for people with small mammals. Heather Cappel, creative coordinator for Ware Manufacturing in Phoenix, sees this evidenced in a trend toward more interactive habitats.

“People want a habitat that provides a clear view of the pet, where they can more closely observe its activities,” she said. “They also want things that look better than a traditional cage in the living room or main area of the house. They’re learning more about animal behavior, and they enjoy being more interactive with their pets.”

There’s also a big push for natural products, Cappel noted.

“We’re trying to address that with cages that incorporate more natural features and more natural materials added to them,” she said. “We have a new line of kits called the Natural Comfort series that have wooden accessories and  come with natural food and bedding.” 

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