Supplying Small Mammals To the Industry
Wholesalers and retailers aim to keep standards high.
By Michelle Jensen
Small animals travel from the supplier to the retailer and ultimately to a new home. The small-animal suppliers are the crucial beginning of this process. While every component of an industry is important, the companion-animal suppliers are the heart of the pet industry.
“Without livestock suppliers, we do not have a pet industry,” says Jason Casto, director of product development and marketing for Central Avian & Small Animal in Elk Grove Village, Ill. Suppliers provide pets for potential new owners, he says.
“They are key in our business and they get the animals to the retail channel,” says Steve Thomson, director of marketing for Marshall Pet Products in Wolcott, N.Y. “They are our conduit. These are the animals that then create the need for retailers to sell products and manufacturers to produce and sell products for.”
Holding High Standards
If there’s one thing everyone in the pet industry knows, it is that live animals require special care and attention. Standards are important not only for the supplier but also for the retailer. Items continue to appear in the news about the state of companion animals for sale.
“We have standards, and our breeders have standards as well,” says Joe Shamore, manager of the retail store California Pets in Escondido, Calif.
Standards should be clearly communicated between small-animal supplier and retailer. Some ways companies facilitate this include:
• Distributor handbook
• Breed-specific care sheet
• Care guidebooks
• Required vet visits
• Open-door policy
Standards need to be clearly communicated and monitored. One way Shamore monitors standards is through walk-throughs with breeders.
“Their doors need to be open to us 24-7,” Shamore says. “We don’t want [the animals] overbred. They need to have clean environments, nutritious diets and they need to have vet visits.”
Some suppliers have a limited guarantee on their stocks.
“Obviously retailers expect the animals not only to arrive alive but to stay alive,” says Shawn Pearson, manager of Pearson’s Exotics, a live-animal supplier in Dale City, Va. He says his company has a five-day insurance period. If something should happen to an animal, Pearson’s will refund the retailer with no questions asked.
Education is key for the well-being of small animals.
“Part of my business model is that I educate the stores about each animal,” Pearson says. He leaves paperwork about each animal with the stores.
“I don’t care if it’s a goldfish or a monitor lizard, I always make a point of leaving paperwork for each animal,” he says.
The papers Pearson is referring to include adoption papers, a breed-species explanation sheet and suggested retail books about care of the animal.
Other suppliers have similar methods of conveying information about animal care and standard expectations between parties.
“We actually have a distributor handbook that we provide to them,” says Thomson, referring to Marshall’s sale of ferrets and rabbits.
He says it outlines the proper care of the animals and the responsibility between the small-animal supplier and the retailer.
Learning Along the Way
Pearson says the industry has changed since he first started. He had more time on his hands in the beginning. He was able to communicate in depth with some of the retailers he supplied and find out what he needed to do to improve his company. One lesson learned was that he should not assume retailers would know how to take care of the animals.
“I started realizing that everyone had their own area of expertise,” Pearson says.
For example, a retailer may have one employee who focuses on reptiles. But what happens when the employee who takes care of the small mammals is gone?
If the employee with the reptile expertise has to cover, he may not know about the specific small mammal’s proper care. This is one reason Pearson started including explanation sheets with the animals.
Shipping with Care
The delicate nature of live animals requires proper care; most of the time this extends to limited shipping. Commercial breeders and producers across the United States supply regional markets.
“You don’t have one major breeder supplying the whole country,” says Ian Bessell, sales specialist for Zeigler Bros. Inc. in Gardners, Pa.
Shamore says his store, which carries many small animals including guinea pigs, rabbits and birds, receives them from a variety of breeders throughout the United States.
“Our mice come all the way from Mississippi,” says Mike Brown, owner of Exotic Pet and Supply in Hammond, La.
Brown says he gets most of their live animals from wholesalers, but sometimes suppliers are his own clients.
“We like to help out the locals when we can,” he says.
Creating a Buzz
Variety in the supply of small animals can create excitement. Bessell says exotic animals are perceived by the public as new and exciting.
“But sometimes something is too new and exciting,” he says.
New animals at first are expensive because availability is low. The pet industry saw this a few years ago with teddy bear hamsters, he says.
He says other areas of the live-animal industry experience the same thing. When something is new, it causes a buzz, but it’s difficult for manufacturers to make products that are cost-effective in the beginning.
Undoubtedly, availability and product production follows after a certain period of time.
“As small animals gain in popularity, it becomes more attractive for a manufacturer to develop species-specific products,” Bessell says.
More variety in small animals leads to more species-specific products, he says. The industry has seen more species-specific foods, for example.
A lot more ferret and chinchilla products are on the market since they are fairly popular small animals, Bessell says.
Keeping Them Priority
From start to finish—from supplier to retailer to consumer—the animals are important.
“We’ve been in business since 1968, and we’ve always been the biggest advocates for the animals,” Shamore says.
The small-animal distributors are an invaluable step in the supply flowchart.
“The livestock supplier is critical to the success of every company doing business in the pet industry,” Casto says, adding that they are often taken for granted. <HOME>
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