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Small Mammal Marketplace: Profit with Enrichment Products

Posted: June 18, 2012, 6:55 p.m. EDT


From exercise wheels to grooming products to hammocks, customers and retailers can benefit from habitat accessories.
By Sandy Robins

In line with the growing popularity of small mammals and pocket pets, the industry continues to showcase a large variety of fun, new accessories designed to appeal to the critters and to the 5 million U.S. households caring for at least one small animal.

“There is a strong consumer demand for products that will provide both exercise and enrichment for small animals,” said Paul Demas project manager for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y. “This market has simply caught up to provide a similar level of pet care that is considered standard for cats and dogs.

Enrichment products for hamsters, gerbils and other small animals
Customizing a small animal's habitat with tunnels, wheels, hammocks and other accessories is being popular.

“I always recommend that retailers encourage customers to keep a variety of exercise and enrichment accessories because exchanging them regularly is another way to enrich a pet’s life,” Demas continued.
 
All About Exercise
Sixteen percent of small animal owners purchased an exercise wheel in 2010, according to the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey—an opportunity not lost on Ware Manufacturing Inc. of Phoenix. The company recently introduced two new workout products: the Stainless Steel Xercise Wheel and the silent spinning Flying Saucer.

“The Xercise Wheels have a wire mesh running surface to ensure safety for small toes and tails, and it’s chew proof,” reported Heather Cappel, Ware’s creative coordinator. “A center hub ball bearing provides completely silent operation.” 

The small, 5-inch wheel is designed for hamsters, juvenile gerbils and mice. The medium-size wheel, 8.5 inches in diameter, entertains adult hamsters, gerbils and pet rats. Both wheels can stand alone or attach to a cage wire.

“I think they are great,” noted Sue Sarkinen, manager of Falmouth Pet Center in Falmouth, Mass. “They are a really good size and they don’t squeak, which is a question our customers always ask.

“The Flying Saucer is a safe alternative to the traditional running wheel,” Sarkinen continued. “I like the way it’s angled making it easy for pets to climb on and off.”

Both products are recent additions to the shelves at Falmouth Pet Center.

“It’s important for store associates to make customers aware of what’s new in the marketplace,” Sarkinen advised. “But when it comes to enrichment for the pet, there’s no question that exercise wheels are our top seller.”

Wheels are without doubt our top-selling accessories, too, agreed David Rosenberg, manager of Beverly’s Pet Center in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

“All shapes and sizes sell well,” Rosenberg said. “So do free-rolling balls such as the selection from Super Pet that includes ones that glow in the dark and those fun designs such as the car and the new helicopter.”
 
Grooming Accessories and Potties
Ware also has launched two essential grooming accessories for small pets. Chinchilla Bath, a covered enclosure, includes a free sample of natural bath powder formulated to support a healthy coat. The two-piece design is easy to take apart for cleaning and is made from stain- and odor-resistant plastic, the company reported.

The Critter Potty and Dustbath Kit is sized for hamsters, dwarf hamsters and gerbils, and is designed to be used as either a dust bath or as a potty.

“Our customers are always looking for ideas for easy cage maintenance, and litter pans are an excellent choice to keep a cage clean and odor-free,” Sarkinen said. “Tall-sided litterboxes have the obvious plus of containing the litter better, and those that attach to the cage also help to keep the pet’s toilet area confined to a specific place in the cage.”

Hammocks and Sleepers
Perhaps the largest selection of new accessories on the market is in the sleeping and housing department. The choices include everything from blankets and cozy cubes to hammocks and hide-and-seek tunnels.

Industry Voices
What is a successful way to promote small animal accessories?

“We offer a free sample of potty litter and a scoop as a part of our litter box kit. This is a great way for retailers to introduce their customers to the idea of having a litter box in the cage, as small pets can be easy to litter train.”
Heather Cappel, creative coordinator at Ware Manufacturing Inc. in Phoenix

“We often place small mammal accessories on an endcap to draw attention to them in store. We also do promotions on our website from time to time.”
David Rosenberg, manager of Beverly’s Pet Center in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

“When we are inundated with baby hamsters, we will have a Hamster Blitz and give a free hamster for every cage sold with accessories.”
Sue Sarkinen, manager of Falmouth Pet Center in Falmouth, Mass.

Family-owned Webers Pet Supermarket in Herndon, Va., stocks a large number of these accessories.

“Children definitely influence their parents’ buying decisions when it comes to such accessories,” said Britt Ahern, the store’s manager. “Often they will request a plastic igloo, such as those sold by Super Pet, and coordinate it with colored bedding. We also sell a fair amount of hammocks. Although the ones we stock are marketed for ferrets, I see no reason why a guinea pig wouldn’t enjoy such an accessory, too.”

New from Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. of Mansfield, Mass., is a line called Living World Tents and Tunnels. Geared for a variety of small animals—from hamsters, mice and gerbils to guinea pigs and rabbits—the tents offer companion pets a safe, secure and cozy hideout, according to the company. The products come in three color-coordinated sizes and can double as a playroom.

“They can be set up in an indoor or outdoor habitat,” said Abby Fournier, a Hagen spokesperson. “The tunnels are long, skinny polyester fabric tubes that add a new dimension to the pet’s habitat by extending space for play and exploration. They have openings at both ends and the center and attach to a tent with Velcro straps.

“They are a great add-on,” she continued, “as a crinkly material inside the tunnel provides added amusement and an enticement to play.”

The overall accessories concept has Ahern’s support.

“There’s no question that’s its becoming very popular to customize a small pet’s habitat,” she noted. “And because kids themselves love tunnels, they are popular accessories for all small pets, too.”

When it comes to sleepers, Midwest Homes for Pets of Muncie, Ind., reported it makes a luxury sleeper set specifically for ferrets and chinchillas. Included are two cushioned fleece shelf inserts, a plush hammock and a sisal scratcher.

“The hammocks adjust to varying lengths and the soft faux print fabric is designed to tone in with popular home interior colors,” said Jill Lockhart, marketing manager for the company. “All the accessories also are machine-washable for easy consumer care.”

Edible accessories, such the Ecotrition Snak Shak activity logs, houses and treat stuffers from 8 in 1 Products of Hauppauge, N.Y., remain popular with small animal owners, Beverly’s Pet Center”s Rosenberg reported. The accessories are solid performers, he noted, because they are multifunctional, offering small pets a hideout as well as something to gnaw, improving dental health at the same time.

“The bottom line is customers are beginning to realize that there is a huge variety of accessories available to enrich their pet’s life, and they are purchasing accordingly,” he said.

Even though Webers Pet Supermarket offers a wide range of product choices, Ahern often special orders a particular accessory that a customer may have read about or seen elsewhere.

“We take advice from our customers, listening to their wants and needs,” she noted. “Sometimes such items become a permanent addition to the selection on our shelves.”

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