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Filling the Toy Box

The market is chockfull of playthings that meet varying canine needs.


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Plush, tough, interactive, entertaining. Today’s canine playthings contribute to myriad facets of a four-legged lifestyle, including exercise, play, prevention of behavior problems, strengthening and cleaning canine teeth, and simply warding off boredom.

“We always encourage owners and families to interact as much as possible by bonding with their dog over a fun activity,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo. “Toys are a great way to use up mental energy as a preemptive measure, or to keep dogs busy when they can’t be taken outside.”

The interactive qualities provided by toys are also a consideration for pet owners when they can’t be with their pets, said Jennifer Cao, co-founder and designer at ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif.

Some dogs are content to carry their toys around or cuddle with them, she added.

“Demand for plush toys is growing substantially, with consumers constantly on the lookout for cute, fun and unique styles that will also satiate their dog’s appetite for play,” Cao said.  

Plush and rope dog toys are seeing steady growth in sales and among the faster-growing segments within the durable pet care category, said Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for Novato, Calif.-based Worldwise, maker of goDog and Hear Doggy brands.

Safety is another focal point when consumers consider a dog toy purchase, Werde said.

Pet owners also look for value and size appropriateness, according to Parness. 

“Chewing habits are a factor; for instance, is the dog an intense chewer or one that likes to cuddle? Another element is how engaging the individual dog finds a toy,” he said. “Age plays an important role as well, because the needs of a puppy are very different than those of an older dog.”

“Seasonal and holiday-themed toys are also hot sellers,” Parness said.

Products that align with the lifestyle of the consumer—such as those that are good for outdoor activities or will travel with ease—are trending, said Bill Parsons, sales manager at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco. 

Active toys created for outdoor play take the sales forefront at Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., said owner Pattie Boden. 

“Our local dog park is right next to a river, so water toys are in demand,” she said. 

More items are featuring sustainable and eco-friendly materials, Parness said. Interactive games, as well as manual and electronic food-dispensing products, with refills sold separately, are in demand, he added. 

“The lines are becoming blurred as to what constitutes a ‘toy.’ For example, hybrid products like treat-dispensing cameras are effectively toys—at least to a dog,” Parness said.
USA-made products comprise a high consumer priority, a category that is lacking in the world of pet toys, noted Boden. 

“There are a few out there, but they don’t have the shelf appeal of some of the overseas designs,” she said. “In my store, we focus on locally and regionally made foods and treats, so the USA toy selection fits right in with our marketing model.”

At The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., owner Cindra Conison said that best-selling toys include those manufactured by West Paw. Soft animals from Purple Pebble, which are squeaker, stuffing and small-piece free, are also popular.

“Truthfully, we do not experience much demand for interactive toys,” Conison said. “Instead, customers buy a lot of my chews to occupy their dogs, but we do find customers buying toys as gifts.” 

Merchandising  

Creating Buzz

“Retailers do a great job in creating displays that really pop with color and attract attention,” said Jennifer Cao, co-founder and designer at ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. “Many set up clip strips or tables near the front of their stores to create buzz, display toy lifestyle photos, or show features and benefits.” 

Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for Novato, Calif.-based Worldwise, maker of goDog and Hear Doggy brands, said that sections and endcaps promoting seasonal fun can highlight products promoting exercise, play and a healthy lifestyle.

“Toys always do well when displayed in theme-based containers or sets,” said Bill Parsons, sales manager at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco.

At Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., toys are often grouped by theme, holiday or season. However, owner Lorin Grow noted that moving and changing displays will refresh the category and catch the consumer’s eye.

“Move them all the time,” she said. “Move them all over the store, hang them in unlikely places—two weeks in one spot is long enough.”

A broad selection of items is another must, Grow added.

“Offer plenty of choices,” she said. “Toys fly out of our store daily; frequent ordering and new offerings are critical to maintaining that momentum.”

At The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., toys are exhibited on a built-in hardwood shelf; however, a real, in-store tree also beckons shoppers, said owner Cindra Conison. 

“My store is so small, there is a natural flow to the bookshelves, but sometimes I hang toys from the tree,” she said. “Apple baskets surrounding the tree also hold toys.”

New Products

Tough & Squeaky Trends

Consumers are seeking innovative, creative and interactive toys for their dogs, said Bill Parsons, sales manager at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco.  

Manufacturers are heeding this call.

After several years’ research, ZippyPaws recently debuted its ZippyTuff line. The tough toys are made with TPR (thermoplastic rubber), a flexible but very durable plastic. 

“We’re debuting this exciting assortment of ball, stick and dumbbell shapes, which will be the beginning of many more designs to come in 2019,” said Jennifer Cao, co-founder and designer at the Chino, Calif.-based company.

In addition, the company’s new ZippyBurrows feature bright-colored designs with a unique approach to food-themed interactive toys. Selections such as Coffee and Donuts, Popcorn Bucket, and Milk and Cookies keep dogs busy and engaged as they bury their noses to dig out squeaky components, Cao said.

“We are also excited to announce a new toy for our ZippyCharity line, Drake the Dragon,” Cao added. 

Sales proceeds from this toy will benefit Michigan’s Paws with a Cause, which enhances the independence and quality of life for people with disabilities, including autism, through custom-trained assistance dogs.

Creating fun, excitement and interactivity for dogs and pet owners, P.L.A.Y. recently released the Mutt Hatter plush toy collection, a whimsical line of hat-themed toys featuring hidden squeaks and crinkles, Parsons said. Two built-in loops allow hats to be secured on a dog’s head with a strap, providing the perfect photo-op.

“Mutt Hatter Toys are, first and foremost, toys to be played with, but they can also be easily turned into a photo accessory when worn by the dog,” Parsons said.

Perfect for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or any occasion, P.L.A.Y.’s Puppy Love plush toy collection includes a bouquet of soft Rover’s Roses, a Fur-ever Hearts rope toy and posh Barking Bubbly champagne, Parsons added. 

Outward Hound is working to keep dogs guessing and interested by offering new ways to play better with toys that fly, float, wobble, whistle, bounce, roll, smell great and squeak, said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer of the Centennial, Colo.-based company.

New Tough Skinz feature exotic animal skin prints with the company’s Invincibles Squeakers. Strong-stitched seams and durable construction sport a colorful top layer of strong material.

Outward Hound’s Chew Shield technology makes these plush toys great for chewers and players, according to Parness. 

Outward Hound’s Tootiez vinyl toys, available in hedgehog, sheep and bear shapes, make a tooting sound matched with a ‘who, me?’ expression. Dogs grabbing hold of this toy will be enthralled by the grunting sound, Parness said. It is available in large and small sizes. 

The company’s new Petstages Bacon Bone chew toys will keep chewers busy and teeth clean with bursting bacon flavor and multiple layers and textures to expand chew time, Parness said. 

The new Petstages Bully Chew toy offers all the beefy flavor of a real bully stick with no mess or smell, he added.

Worldwise recently added the RopeTek collection to its goDog toy line. The collection combines the strength and durability of climbing rope with flexible TPR and ThermaFuse technology for a squeaky toy that will stand up to tough play, according to the company. 

“ThermaFuse Technology is an exciting new patent-pending manufacturing process that fuses nylon climbing rope to a TPR surround, making a more durable product than standard rope toys,” said Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for Novato, Calif.-based Worldwise, maker of goDog and Hear Doggy brands.

Product Development

Playtime by Design

When designing dog toys, Jennifer Cao, co-founder and designer at ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., employs a variety of methods.

“I might create a toy designed around an exclusive new squeaker or discover a creative way to use an awesome new fabric,” she said. “Throughout the design process, I focus on the core essence of a toy — what purpose does it serve, and why is it unique?”

ZippyPaws toys are first tested for tensile strength and breaking point at the manufacturing facility, Cao said. 

“We also test the toys with our employees’ dogs, with a variety of sizes and breeds amongst us,” she said. 

Outward Hound has a similar approach to designing dog toys. 

“From concept to production, we design toys around the many ways dogs and pet parents interact, from alleviating boredom and chewing to mental stimulation, training or behavior modification,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer of the Centennial, Colo.-based company. 

A variety of office dogs serve as toy testers, as does the Outward Hound Woof Pack, a 5,000-plus-strong member group of pet owners who weigh in to assist in product development, Parness said.

P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) is another manufacturer that uses its employees’ dogs to test new toys, said Bill Parsons, sales manager of the San Francisco-based company. 

“All of our toys go through rigorous testing utilizing the best of chewers and toy testers: our own dogs,” Parsons said. 

Creativity and engagement are key concepts, he added. 

“Interactivity is another focus that is paramount to providing dogs with an enriching play experience,” Parsons said.

At Worldwise, maker of goDog and Hear Doggy brands, toy innovation is focused on fun, high-quality product solutions and safety, said Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for the Novato, Calif.-based company.

“We take great pride in the fact that we adhere to ASTM child safety standards, addressing the safety of the entire household,” he said.

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