When purchasing treats, chews and toys for small animals, pet owners are being more selective than ever. These pets have become the tiniest members of the family, and shoppers are looking for products that will give them a high-quality life.
Tom Herron, owner of Fins Feathers Paws & Claws, a pet retailer with locations in Harleysville and Quakertown, Pa., said that the small-animal category continues to perform well for his stores. Shoppers are seriously committed to offering their pets the best, and that is translating into more sales.
“People who are buying these pets really care about their well-being and are willing to buy the products needed to set up the perfect habitat,” Herron said.
Matt O’Leary, owner of Felix & Oscar, a pet store in Springfield, Va., said that he’s definitely seen an increased interest from shoppers with small-animal requests.
“These are often customers that know exactly what they’re looking for and have already done their research,” O’Leary added. “The small-animal category seems to be moving away from impulse buys and more toward thoughtful and educated purchases.”
According to Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, a manufacturer in Omaha, Neb., small-animal pet owners have always been passionate and wanted what’s best for their pets.
“But their level of commitment to provide for the total health and happiness of their little loved ones has evolved noticeably in recent months and the last couple of years,” Stock added. “With this, we’re seeing a collective desire to provide an enriching living space that features more than just the bare essentials. That’s where items like chews and toys come in. When properly supported, small animals engage in a number of instinctual activities every day, including chewing, playing, exploring and hiding. Oxbow’s Enriched Life products are thoughtfully designed to provide options to support these key behaviors in fun and engaging ways.”
There also seems to be a trend toward more natural products, said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a West Hartford, Conn.-based manufacturer. She said it’s on par with the increased interest in ensuring these pets are set up with high-quality and safe products.
John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products, a manufacturer in Phoenix, agreed. He said that Ware embraced the concept of “going natural” two years ago.
“We’ve started creating different chew items to support this demand,” he said. “We are always closely following the current trends.”
Dedicated Shelf Space
Displaying small-animal treats, chews and toys in a thoughtful way can help inspire more sales.
“Making the shopping experience as easy for the customer as possible should always be the No. 1 rule,” said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products, a manufacturer in Phoenix. “The internet and search engines have made finding solutions so easy online, and customers will look for the same experience when physically shopping in a store.”
If retailers want to boost their small-animal sales, they need to be “all in,” said Tom Herron, owner of Fins Feathers Paws & Claws, a pet retailer with locations in Harleysville and Quakertown, Pa.
“We have a whole wall dedicated to the category, about 12 feet, so it’s not a small space,” he said. “We have enrichment toys and treats and chews all mixed in and on display. If you want to encourage more sales, you have to be devoted. You can’t have a small section with a handful of items and expect to sell much. I like to call it ‘making a presence.’”
Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a West Hartford, Conn.-based manufacturer, said that using treats, chews and toys in the habitats with the live animals retailers are selling will make a world of difference.
“You can’t tell customers that their small animal will benefit from a particular treat or a certain toy if they’ve never been exposed to it before,” she said. “When you start using the products in the store, you learn what each animal really likes, and then you can make educated recommendations.”
Once retailers put a chew or a toy in with the animal, Tucker said she recommends giving it away with the animal purchase.
“It’s something the animal is already familiar with and that will make the transition home easier for it,” Tucker said. “But you’re also building a camaraderie with the buyer and you’re creating a situation where they’ll want to come back and buy another one because it will likely be destroyed over time.”
Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, a manufacturer in Omaha, Neb., said that chews and toys have previously been treated as an afterthought or impulse purchase for small animals.
“In reality, these items should be viewed as essential purchases to support the enrichment needs of small pets,” Stock said. “These items promote physical and mental activity as well as dental health, which is especially critical for animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, and others whose teeth grow continuously and require regular, consistent wear for optimal health. With this in mind, we strongly suggest committing dedicated shelf space to not just natural chews and toys, but items that support all the instinctual behaviors of small pets, including playing, exploring and hiding.”
Share the Specifics
When it comes to selling treats, chews and toys for small animals, educating shoppers is critical.
While many customers come in believing they’re already educated on the small animal they’d like to purchase, Tom Herron, owner of Fins Feathers Paws & Claws, a pet retailer with locations in Harleysville and Quakertown, Pa., said that the information they get from the internet is not always accurate or up-to-date.
“We often need to gently correct clients so that we’re making sure they have good information to help support their success with their new pet,” Herron said.
Michelle Hughes, manager of One Stop Country Pet, a pet store in Brattleboro, Vt., said that most of the time, the store’s associates need to supply customers with “initial knowledge to get them off on the right foot.”
“We usually educate customers on what treats tend to work best and what playtime should look like to keep their pet happy and healthy,” Hughes explained. “We can make recommendations during that one-on-one conversation of products that would work well for their pet.”
In addition, One Stop Country Pet often hands out the species care guides that Omaha, Neb.-based manufacturer Oxbow Animal Health offers, which have helpful bullet points about their new pet.
John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products, a manufacturer in Phoenix, said that it’s important to remember the small-animal category is no longer the “one-size-fits-all” category that it once was. Customers are demanding customized and breed-specific products and solutions, he said, adding that along with that, they’re receptive to education on their specific animal.
Fun for Critters
For pet owners looking for new small-animal treats, chews and toys, there are several options on the market.
Phoenix-based Ware Pet Products has introduced Dandy Strips, dried/pressed dandelion strips that can make an excellent point-of-sale item, said vice president of product development and sourcing John Gerstenberger. They are shipped in a branded box, and the retailer just needs to tear off the box top and place the box on the shelf. Customers can purchase single-packed vacuum-sealed strips from there.
Ware has also introduced Health e-Duo, a pressed carrot plus pressed timothy hay treat packed in a vacuum-sealed foil wrap to ensure freshness. In addition, Health e-Peachy from Ware is an appealing new take on chews that looks like a slit peach, with the “pit” being made of pressed timothy hay, Gerstenberger said.
Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb., released its Enriched Life Celebration Cake last spring. According to communications manager Lucas Stock, it is crafted with safe and natural materials and is perfect for celebrating special occasions.
West Hartford, Conn.-based Greenfeather Bird Supply recently introduced the Jumbo Critter Jewel Box, a stuffed two-inch parrot ring capped with four thick cardboard discs and thick paper rope. It is stuffed with Oxbow timothy hay and a dry mix containing dried flowers and greens.