Small mammal enclosures are being upscaled and
upsized as market pressures create niche space for
EW PRODUCTS ERCHANDISING & SELECTION
BY E THAN D. MIZER
The small-mammal housing category is undergoing transition, with competition from big-box and online retailers setting the tone, industry participants reported. In response, pet specialty retailers are focusing
on offering quality, larger-sized enclosures and customer education to drive
Demographically, the small mammal category is opening up. Pets that
have traditionally been associated with children are increasingly being kept
by young adults and professionals, retailers reported.
“The [type of] folks that are coming in to get those kinds of animals has
broadened a little bit,” said Caroline Janczak, co-owner of Critters Pet Shop
in South Elgin, Ill. “It used to just be kids. Now, I’m seeing young profes-
sionals that will come in and adopt a rabbit.”
This is partly due to the perception that small mammals are easier to care
for than other types of pets, Janczak added. She carries a lot of the Prevue Hendryx
offerings in-store, as well as some of Hagen’s products.
However, for some retailers, this trend tends to skew toward some of the larger
small mammal species.
“When college-age [customers] are moving out, guinea pigs and rabbits tend to be
more popular,” said CJ Rankin, sales associate at Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas. “For
some reason, when people get past a certain age, hamsters and gerbils are too small,
and they’re not as cuddly or easy to play with.”
Part of the appeal of larger species is that they tend to be easier to interact with, and
demand for this type of companionship is cropping up in the millennial demographic.
“There are a few more adults who are living in apartments, and they can’t have cats
or dogs, so they’re doing more hamsters, guinea pigs and a lot of bunnies,” said Kelly
Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash.
As a result, larger enclosures are now more popular, both to house larger animals and because retailers emphasize best husbandry practices and luxury for their
“People want there to be more space,” said John Gerstenberger, director of product
development and sourcing for Ware Manufacturing in Phoenix. “They’ve got an ani-
mal, and they don’t want to feel like it’s in ‘Shawshank Redemption.’”
Linus McKibbin, owner of Pettin Place in Reno, Nev., agreed that many pet owners
want to ensure that their small animals don’t feel crowded.
“Once you get into the smaller rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets, customers seem to
want larger enclosures,” he said.
McKibbin said that Kaytee and Prevue Pet Products’ items both do well in-store.
Parsons has seen customers with interest in all sizes of animals tend to gravitate
toward larger enclosures, and the Kaytee Super Pet line and Hagen OVO sell well at
Denny’s Pet World.
“People want larger enclosures,” she said. “It used to be that we would have to talk
BIGGER AND BETTER
someone into getting an enclosure that was appropriately sized. Now, customers are
buying housing that’s huge for a given species.”
For example, she’s seen customers purchase a single teddy bear hamster and put it
in a 40-gallon breeder. This isn’t very unusual anymore, she noted.
The small-mammal housing category is moving
toward luxury and larger enclosures, industry
“The small mammal category as a whole,
in our opinion, is going through a bit of a
maturation,” said John Gerstenberger, director
of product development and sourcing for Ware
Manufacturing in Phoenix. “In the past, it’s been
Though there is still a lot of demand from
younger customers, Gerstenberger said, the
focus has shifted toward making enclosures
more fashionable in the home.
“In the pet industry as a whole, fashion is
more important,” he said. “You see it, whether
it’s in dog beds or pieces of furniture and
elements along those lines.”
In the past, it was the norm for enclosures
to be kept in children’s rooms, where the
aesthetic of the enclosure didn’t have as big an
impact. Now, Ware is focusing on making the
enclosure more décor-oriented.
The manufacturer plans to release a new
cage in the 35-inch range at Global Pet Expo
in Orlando, Fla., in March. The cage will be
designed with a larger footprint in mind, as well
as premium features to meet current demand.
“It’s [designed to be] safe for animals, to
provide lots of space for them to move around,
but it’s really going to be about the look and the
elements that we’ve applied to it,” Gerstenberg-
Cages and enclosures that work with home
design in mind are increasingly popular with
“They want something that doesn’t look
like it belongs in a circus tent,” said Kelly
Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in
Kirkland, Wash. “Bright colors are much less
popular now. That’s what someone needs to
make: a nice cage that looks like it fits in a
family room instead of something that should
be in the children’s playroom.”
Features are also important to customers,
including access and functionality.
“A lot of people do like the more complex
cages instead of just the regular run-of-the-mill
cages,” said CJ Rankin, sales associate at Gallery
of Pets in Austin, Texas.
Being able to easily handle and play with
their pets is important to customers, industry
“There’s also the element of interaction,”
Gerstenberger said. “People talk about the
importance of being a pet parent and interacting
with the pets themselves. Cages are now being
designed so you can have more of that.”
MAKING ROOM FOR DISPLAYS
Space considerations are paramount in displaying small mammal habitats in-store, and with larger enclosures
trending, this can have an impact on floor space and merchandising strategies as a whole.
“We do have an aisle of guinea pig and rabbit cages, and it does take up a lot of space,” said Kelly Parsons,
manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. “We take things out of the box and put them together so custom-
ers can see what they are and how large they are.”
Allowing customers to see how the enclosures function can help drive sales, Parsons added. It makes it a little
bit easier for customers to understand the differences between enclosures. She also makes sure to display housing
options near the animals themselves.
However, it isn’t always easy to display fully assembled enclosures, and it can be time-consuming to assemble
“If you’ve ever tried to put together one of those cages, it’s a project in itself,” said Caroline Janczak, co-owner
of Critters Pet Shop in South Elgin, Ill. “We’ll try to help them, especially if they’re good customers. That’s a selling
point, if you have the room to assemble the products, because some people don’t want to mess around with
When it comes to displays in-store, housing options are grouped by size, from small to large, with fancier
cages displayed separately, Parsons said.
Making floor space available to larger enclosures can be a challenge, and it means carefully picking what to
offer customers, said Linus McKibbin, owner of Pettin Place in Reno, Nev.
“It depends mostly on what’s selling well,” McKibbin said.
While some retailers with space available on the floor try to offer as wide a variety of cages as possible, sometimes, options are limited by distributor availability. Some will cherry pick a line, Janczak said.
“It’s driven by the vendor to some extent,” she said. “But our personal taste definitely plays into it. You don’t
get into the pet industry unless you’re an animal lover.”
In some cases, retailers even offer custom options when possible.
“We make our own enclosures,” said Kimberly A. Morgan, owner of Reedley Feed & Pet in Reedley, Calif.
“I educate people on what they need. [Commercial habitats] are cute and pretty, but they don’t air out well.”
Morgan no longer offers commercially manufactured enclosures, she added, noting that competition
is too difficult.
Retailers reported that
many consumers are
seeking larger enclosures
and those that take design
elements into account.