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Fall Emporium: Small Gestures for Small Mammals

Posted: September 25, 2013, 10:00 a.m. EDT

How retailers gear up for the surge of small animal gift giving during the holiday season.

By Somyr McLean Perry

Across the country, retailers and manufacturers are gearing up for the fall gift-giving season that brings with it an upswing in small mammal product sales.

Retailer Sarah Holliday, owner of Pet Provisions in Brighton and Howell, Mich., said that small mammal products account for about 15 percent of her sales, but that number kicks up to about 20 percent in the fall.

"We definitely see an increase in small animal sales and small animal products sales with the ‘back to school’ fall season,” Holliday said. "This continues into the holiday season. Our best selling products are food; hay; consumable treats; cage accessories, such as houses and tunnels; and cages; in that order.”

In anticipation of greater consumer interest in small mammal products during the fall, manufacturers such as Murdock, Neb.-based Oxbow Animal Health are gearing up with several new product launches that Melissa Ross, Oxbow’s marketing operations manager, said make excellent gift-giving options.

"In the hay category, we are excited to introduce Harvest Stacks, an innovative new option when it comes to feeding hay,” said Ross. Harvest Stacks are made of Western timothy hay compacted into easy-to-feed portions, which produce less dust and take up less space than loose hay.

"Any of the Harvest Stacks varieties would make fun gifts for the upcoming holiday season,” Ross said. "All small herbivores need to eat hay every day, so any hay-centered gift is appreciated by pets and pet owners. The packaging makes it easy to wrap and put under the tree as well.”

With a company-wide focus on high-quality nutrition for small mammals, Oxbow’s best-selling products in the small mammal category include Western Timothy Hay, Essentials Adult Rabbit Food, Orchard Grass, Essentials Adult Guinea Pig Food and Essentials Chinchilla Food.

Oxbow also has recently added three new supplements to its Natural Science line, which now includes eight supplements, an adult rabbit food and an adult guinea pig food. The company also has expanded its flagship Essentials line with a Mouse & Young Rat diet.

Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Vitakraft Sunseed Inc., in Weston, Ohio, noted that Vitakraft typically sees an increase in its small mammal sales a bit later in the gift-giving season.

"We find the highest level of activity occurs after the holidays when new pets have found their way into the home,” Norsen said.

Vitakraft’s Slims and Drops products for various species represent most of its top 10 selling small mammal products. Over the summer, Vitakraft launched dozens of new small animal treats, including Sunseed Vita Prima Snappers and Salads, which Norsen said would make ideal gifts for the upcoming holidays.

"The new Snappers and Salad products both are excellent treats in that they promote a high level of interaction between the pet and the pet owner,” Norsen said. "This helps to develop the human-animal bond that is so important. They also provide an opportunity to add diversity to the diet.”

Norsen said that merchandising treats with regular diet foods during the gift-giving season promotes higher rates of sales because of customer loyalty and shopping habits

Foods and treats go hand-in-hand and should be within the same line of sight in the merchandising plan,” he said. "Even a small discount in-store will dramatically increase sales without costing the dealer too much in terms of margin. Retailers who are aware of distributor promotions and put them to use in their stores experience the greatest degree of lift in this category.”

Along with high-quality nutrition, every small mammal needs appropriate living quarters, which is what Birds & Beasts Pet Shop in Crystal Lake, Ill., focuses on promoting during gift-giving season.

"We make great kits for hamsters and gerbils that have everything they need, including the hamster or gerbil,” said owners Pat and Paul Nuzzo. "We add cute backgrounds, and they make fantastic gifts.”

To maximize the gift-giving potential of small mammal products, targeting the audience with the greatest potential to buy gifts is key. Retailers report that women with children and families are their largest consumers of small mammal products, and they strategically market to them.

"We set up full cages with accessories and animals to highlight how nice a cage can look,” Holliday said. "A lot of people think that they will have to hide the cage and the pet in a bedroom, but we like to show that with the proper cage and accessories, they can have their pet right out in the living room. The pet is happier and the setup looks really nice.”

During the fall gift-giving season, Ross said Oxbow likes to focus its promotional efforts on products it knows stores will be pushing during this important retail time of year.
"Providing promotional pricing on items such as treats and environmental accessories—our Timothy Club items are very popular sellers during the holiday season—helps facilitate specials stores like to run during the holiday season,” he said.

This approach works in tandem with retailers like the Nuzzos, who hone in on Halloween at their retail store to market to children and families.

"As the weather gets colder and families are in the house more and more, they think about adding a pet,” they said. "For Halloween, we have a Halloween party weekend, where everything in the store is 25 percent off, and we have prizes and reps there to give away some of their products.”

In-store promotional strategies are an important component to pushing the sales of popular small mammal gift items.

"One great way to merchandise and promote seasonal items is to make them into add-ons during the holidays,” Ross said. "You can present special offers, such as a treat or habitat accessory as free with the purchase of an everyday item, such as a larger-size bag of food.”

She also recommends that retailers feature seasonal items on endcaps during the holidays.

"Products that are not weekly buys for customers generally do very well in this setting, especially during the holiday season,” Ross said. "Featuring these items within holiday-themed displays can also be a fun and effective strategy for moving more products during the holidays.” 
Digital media is another worthwhile promotional strategy for the gift-giving season.

Birds & Beasts Pet Shop taps into the powers of texting as a promotional tool.

"We have a text club and send out a text about once a month that [advertises] 25 percent off all small animal products and small animals,” Nuzzo said.

Vitakraft’s Norsen also reminds retailers about the importance of social media powerhouses.

"We have extremely active Facebook pages for both small animals and bird consumers,” he said. "We use these sites to create communities where like-minded consumers can come together to learn, share experiences and have fun. These sites also serve to put promotions and product information into their hands.”



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