BY E THAN D. MIZER
Though the exotics category isn’t burning up any sales charts, the segment has been
a steady performer for retailers
and benefits from some insulation from big-box and online
competition, industry participants
The small animal segment has
plateaued, said Bob Merar, president of General Pet Supply Inc.,
a distributor serving independent
pet retailers in the Midwest, headquartered in Milwaukee.
“It’s not growing like it used
to,” he said. “Maybe that’s where
our sales drop is coming from.
… Our sales are still increasing,
Retailers reported similar
steady progress in the small animal
and exotics marketplaces.
“We haven’t seen a decrease in
any category, period, whether it’s
small animal or any other,” said
Chris Nakagawa, co-owner and
CEO of Centinela Feed & Pet Sup-
plies, which has stores in Southern
California. “We have been grow-
ing—at a small pace—but we have
Centinela doesn’t focus heavily
on the exotics market, however, be-
cause while the gross margin is always good, Nakagawa said,
the dollars aren’t worth chasing considering the amount of
space he has to dedicate to small animal products.
“You’ve got to be pretty selective of what you put in the
stores,” he said.
Though exotics hasn’t been a big performer for most, in
recent months, sales figures might have signaled a change in
“In the last couple of months, since the election’s been over,
I have seen money be turned loose,” said Kimberley Battistic,
owner of Pet Creations in Jacksonville, Fla. “We just got our
figures back this morning. It has ;umped exponentially.;
Foods for exotics continue to do well, retailers reported.
Small animal dietary offerings have done well for Patricia
Cohn, co-owner of Bird Dog and Cat Fish in Bulverde, Texas.
“[The exotics segment has] been doing well for seven
years,” she said.
Customers are increasingly aware of what ingredients go
into their small animal’s food.
“People have become really educated on the ingredients
[in foods] for small animals,” Battistic said. “The awareness of
the dog food kind of brought a lot of that around.”
Small But Steady
The small animal categories are experiencing even sales
and some insulation from competition.
In general, online competition isn’t as big a threat to independents in the small animal categories, industry participants
“Online retailers may have less of an advantage in the small animal and exotics categories,” said Bob Merar,
president of General Pet Supply Inc., a distributor serving independent pet retailers in the Midwest, headquartered
in Milwaukee. “People do really like to go to [physical retail locations] and talk to the retailer because they have
some education and some knowledge about what products do. I think it’s more of a one-on-one situation than just
Most retailers reported that online business hasn’t affected their bottom line in the category. Patricia Cohn, co-owner
of Bird Dog and Cat Fish in Bulverde, Texas, hasn’t noticed a drop in sales over the past seven years, and she said people
are still coming into the store to make purchases.
At Pet Creations in Jacksonville, Fla., owner Kimberley Battistic offers customers bedding for small animals that is
packaged in-store at a competitive price point, which she believes insulates her from online competition.
“I don’t think [online sales] hurt us,” she said.
ONE-TIME AND DISPOSABLE ITEMS
When it comes to enclosures and one-time sales items,
such as toys or exercise items, sales have been steady,
with innovative products performing best, industry participants reported.
“Our sales are holding up,” said Bob Merar, president of
General Pet Supply Inc., a distributor serving independent
pet retailers in the Midwest, headquartered in Milwaukee.
“The exotic [species] aren’t something you’re going to
go buy, and then take home and [go online] and buy a
containment area. Customers buy at least the starter
enclosure from the brick-and-mortar pet stores. Customers
may go online if they want to expand the enclosure. But I
think they like to go into the store to see them and what
features they have.”
When it comes to housing for exotics, Merar said he
sees a trend toward customers seeking products with a
higher price point.
“The expandable and the larger, more premium sizes
are growing, and it’s more expensive stuff,” he said. “
Customers want the safety. Also, the bigger the environment,
the better it is for the bird, the mammal or the exotic pet.”
Herps aren’t excluded from this trend, either.
“With the lizards, we’re seeing it go to the 125s a lot,”
he noted. “Fortunately, those are not easy to ship via UPS,
so that still goes to the pet store.”
Add-on sales seem to be growing as well, according
“I’ve noticed an increase of add-on sales,” said
Kimberley Battistic, owner of Pet Creations in Jacksonville,
Fla. “Where not a lot of add-on sales were there before.
[Customers] would buy the basics and what they needed
and walk out. Now we’re turning merchandise faster with
This is reflected in the popularity of some new types of
toys that offer customers the ability to treat their pets at
the same time.
“Customers are looking for a more premium treat,”
Merar said. “Some of the toys we’ve seen have some
[sales] growth are those that have the treats in them, so
customers’ animals are both playing and being treated at
the same time. They’re a little bit more expensive because
they’re a dual-purpose SKU.”
Some of these new toys allow customers to refill the
treat part, so the toys last a little longer, Merar added.
In general, customers are looking for toys that offer
engagement, said Paul Juszczak, director of sales and
marketing for Marshall Pet Products Inc., in Wolcott, N. Y.
“[Customers] want more new and exciting toys,” he
said. “They are also looking for items to interact with their
pets as well.”
RODUCT SALES TRENDS
“In the last couple of months, since the
election’s been over, I have seen money
be turned loose.”
—Kimberley Battistic of Pet Creations