BY E THAN D. MIZER
In the staple segment of small animal bedding, litter and substrate, retailers have some competitive advantages when it comes to merchandising and educating customers. Driving sales is often about keeping products front and
center in customers’ minds.
Across the board, customers have been using pa-per-based bedding for many small mammals and birds, and
even exotics have seen a shift away from sand.
“The paper products and wood products are doing very
well,” said Bob Merar, president of General Pet Supply Inc.,
a distributor serving independent pet retailers in the Mid-
west, headquartered in Milwaukee. “The paper bedding
is starting to take over more than it ever has before for the
exotics. Customers went from [using] the pine bedding and
the other substrates they were using for some of the exot-
ics—some of the sands and stuff like that.”
When it comes to shelf space, this can be both a blessing
and a curse, as paper tends to weigh less but might take up
more volume on the shelves, retailers reported.
“Just having [these products] on-shelf isn’t going to do
it,” Merar said. “Retailers really have to have these products
off-shelf near the animals so that consumers can see the dif-
ferent options they have.”
For Kimberley Battistic, owner of Pet Creations in Jack-
sonville, Fla., one of the most important factors when it
comes to bedding and litter products is the color of the prod-
uct, and the selection she
can offer to customers.
“If you can, bring in
a lot of color,” she said.
“Because the children
are going to go for that.”
a variety of litters and
bedding in different colors, with the intent of
allowing customers the
chance to customize an
“There are many
[small animal owners]
that spend hours on
decorating these spaces
for their beloved pets, and these color [options] give them
even more … to choose from and be creative,” said Leslie
Ellis, consumer communication manager for Healthy Pet in
It’s also possible to put together unique bedding, litter
and substrate packages for customers. Battistic has found
success offering bulk litter that she bags in-store and resells.
“We buy trailers full of pine shavings, and because we’re
a big property, we bag our own,” she said. “We sell these
big, huge monster bags that are half as tall as we are for
$6.99. People are more apt to do that.”
Selling small animal litter, substrate and bedding options means
using shelf space effectively and going for the add-on sale.
KEEP KIDS IN MIND
The bulk of small animal sales are made to or for kids, industry participants
“The customer base does skew younger,” said Bob Merar, president of
General Pet Supply Inc., a distributor serving independent pet retailers in the
Midwest, headquartered in Milwaukee.
More often than not, that means driving sales through parent purchases.
“We still see more parents buying for kids,” said Kimberley Battistic,
owner of Pet Creations in Jacksonville, Fla. “Thankfully that trend is increasing.
We’ve had parents that are bringing their children in, especially ones around
8 and a little bit older. I see a turning because people are getting back away
from the computer screens and getting back out.”
When it comes to litter and bedding, the
best tactic is to keep everything located
very close to animal enclosures.
“You’ve got to have some kind of an
endcap near the animals … so that cus-
tomers can see their different options,”
said Bob Merar, president of General
Pet Supply Inc., a distributor serving
independent pet retailers in the Midwest,
headquartered in Milwaukee. “But
because they’re big and bulky, retailers
don’t want to give up that much space.”
Try out different products on in-store
animals so customers can see them in
use, Merar added. It’s helpful for retailers
to display the products they stock on their
shelves inside actual animal enclosures.
“Consider a display that allows consumers to touch and feel the product, as
well as using products for in-store animal
bedding to show consumers how it
works,” said Angie Schmitt, senior brand
manager, pet for Kaytee Pet Bird & Small
Animal, a division of Central Garden & Pet
Co., in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Include signage on or near animal
displays, as well, when using products
in-store, Schmitt said.
If retailers can draw attention to
displays and keep bedding products
close at hand, it’s easy to make the
recommendation to customers in-store,
retailers reported, and gaining an add-on
sale becomes more likely.
DRIVE SALES SMARTLY
Staying educated and keeping staff up to speed allows retailers
to create conversations with customers and help meet their
“The best thing retailers can do is use the product
themselves and understand what the different products do and
what the different animals need,” said Bob Merar, president of
General Pet Supply Inc., a distributor serving independent pet
retailers in the Midwest, headquartered in Milwaukee.
By passing along this information to customers, retailers are
likely to increase sales.
“The more we can educate consumers on the benefits of
paper bedding, [the greater] the opportunity to increase basket
rings,” said Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager, pet for
Kaytee Pet Bird & Small Animal, a division of Central Garden &
Pet Co., in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Sales associates should be well versed in the products
retailers stock and be able to make sure each customer knows
what they need.
“Associates need to be trained in all the needs of the
animal,” said Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for
Marshall Pet Products Inc., in Wolcott, N. Y. “If it is handled well,
the store can get this customer to return forever.”
Some customers tend to neglect cleaning their animal’s
bedding and substrate, so it’s helpful to remind them each time
that they need to purchase fresh supplies when they come in
for food or other items, retailers said.
“They have to be sure they change the bedding and all this
kind of stuff,” said Patricia Cohn, co-owner of Bird Dog and Cat
Fish in Bulverde, Texas. “Sometimes they think they can just do
it that once and that’s done.”
Taking the time to point out that regular maintenance is a
must can help the bottom line, she added.