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Cat Marketplace: Make Way For Play


By stocking a range of toys—from catnip and interactive toys to balls that are perfect for batting—retailers can make this a fun category that keeps cat owners coming back to see what’s new.  

By Keith Loria

Getting a cat to play is one of the most exciting parts of having a pet, which is why pet owners keep looking for captivating new toys for their cats.

Not only do cat toys keep pets from being bored, but they also can stimulate more interaction with pet owners.

Dana Williams, marketing manager for Bergan in Monkey Island, Okla., understands that cats get bored with their environment and their toys, which is why she recommends that companies continue to change their toy offerings.

“Whether it is a new color, new detail or completely new design, toys help keep a cat sharp,” she said. “A good set of toys will help cats maintain their natural instincts by allowing them to play, pounce, hunt, scratch and claw.”

“These are all things cats do in their natural habitat, so offering a safe way to allow them to do this will only keep them healthy,” Williams added.

Janene Zakrajsek, co-founder of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has stores in the Los Angeles area, recommends interactive play and exercise for cats.

“Wand/rod toys are the best for getting cats moving and using their instincts, all important for their overall enrichment,” she said. “We also have the full line of [Nekochan Enterprises’] Nekoflies interactive rod/lure toys and a solid selection of the Vee Enterprises PURRfect Cat Toys—all of which are also among our top recommended (and best-sellers) at our stores.”

The latest trend in cat toys is cat-activated motion toys, said Victoria Coopman, CEO of Innovation Pet in Cedarpines Park, Calif.

“With the active lifestyle of most cat owners, the aging baby boomers and the emerging younger consumer who grew up with automation, cat teaser toys that require little to no human interaction have a place in the array of products cat owners are offering their pets,” she said. “We are in final development phase on a multitude of new products that include both cat-activated and battery-powered motion toys that will continue to explore the boundaries of this technology.”

Make Way for Play
Staff can promote wand toys for interactive fun between owner and cat. Shutterstock

The company recently introduced the Kitty Connection with cause and effect cat teaser toys. The cat plays with a fur mouse on one side of the cat scratcher furniture system, and a feather bundle flicks back and forth on the other side, stimulating the cat’s hunting instincts and enticing them to go for the chase, Coopman said.

What Kitties Want
Catnip toys always are a customer favorite, said Ann Shevin, president of Mickey’s Pet Supplies in Wilmington, N.C.

“Our catnip toys have a potent aroma, so cats are enticed to roll, rub, chew and kick the toys we sell,” she said. “They are popular most of the year, not just holiday time. The price point is small enough that pet parents will see them and just pick them up as a nice treat to bring to their cat.”

Nicole Haefke, marketing specialist for Coastal Pet Products Inc. in Alliance, Ohio, said toys with feathers, catnip, bells, wool materials and crinkle material have been proven winners in the market.

“Coastal Pet now offers Rascals Handcrafted Wool Cat Toys, uniquely handmade with multiple textures and a wool scent that naturally attracts the cat,” she said. “Cats are naturally attracted to wool.”

Diana Greiner, co-owner of Felix & Oscar, a pet food store in Springfield, Va., said a best-seller for 2014 has been Go-Cat Feather Toys’ Da Bird wand toy, which she noted is “very popular with kitties, as it almost acts like a bird flying through the air.”

“We also sell quite a few catnip toys,” she said. “We specialize only in catnip toys that are made with USA-grown catnip and are filled to the brim with catnip.” 

“Of course, we also have lots of little toys for cats to bat around, such as furry mice, Mylar balls, squeaky toys, etc. Motorized and self-timer toys are also gaining in popularity,” Greiner added.

At Pussy & Pooch, catnip toys remain popular; Zakrajsek said the Tickle Pickle from Tipsy Nip is her favorite and most-recommended cat toy.

Jennifer Crotty, director of marketing at Petstages in Northbrook, Ill., said that obesity in cats is rising. Studies suggest that 64 percent of cats are raised indoors and tend to be under-stimulated and prone to a more sedentary lifestyle, she added.  

“Given that indoor cats often miss the variety and stimulation provided by the outdoors, Petstages has launched a new Invironment line, developed to safely bring in the best experiences of the outdoors indoors for cats to enjoy,” she said. 

“The items are meant to stimulate, provide variety, and actively engage cats so they can instinctively experience the same elements they would in a natural environment,” Crotty added.

Interactive cat toys are generating a lot of buzz, said Mark Le Van, product designer for the Cheesy Mouse Hunt, manufactured by For the Ages in Toronto. 

“Consumers are not only buying pet toys as gifts, they are also purchasing them to help keep their pets healthy,” he said. “Cats can get bored with ‘static,’ non-interactive toys over time, and so the interactive toys are more stimulating for the animal. They incorporate movement and sounds to make the toy more interesting.”

Create a Cat Toy Showcase
Displaying toys by offering clean, full presentations with a variety of best-sellers is important, Zakrajsek said.

“We have demo Nekoflies toys that clients can try out in the store,” she said. “And naturally, we are able to demonstrate using our own cats in the store. That helps create a solid sale.”

Felix & Oscar has several displays located throughout the store.

“We are very fortunate as we have four kitties that live in our store, so they are good ‘testers’ for the new products we bring,” Greiner said. “However, we also take pride in educating our staff on every aspect of the toy and why kitties may like them. We have many of our products ‘out’ so people can touch and feel them.”

Innovation Pet’s Coopman said a multimedia approach is the best way to sell cat toys in the retail environment.

“Offer exciting movie trailer-type videos that show the fun and emotion the cat experiences playing with the toy,” she said. “And use ‘try me’ friendly packaging or out-of-the-box product demos so the consumer can touch and feel.”

Retailers who create an interactive area in-store will have the most success selling cat toys, said Bergan’s Williams. Also, she noted, videos and active displays attract attention to the toys.

“People want to play with the toys and see if it is something that will interest their cat,” she said. “Often when toys are in the box or package, you can’t see or feel the components. Let people touch and interact with the offering and you will increase sales.”

Cross merchandising toys in different sections of the store such as in the toy, cat and grooming sections as well as at checkout provides multiple opportunities for purchasing impulse gifts, Coastal Pet’s Haefke said.  

“Toys are fun, so retailers should make the section look fun, too,” she said. “Displaying the smaller toys in clear bins will catch the consumer’s eye and create an impulse buy.  

“Using lifestyle imagery can help achieve this. When you have a large toy section, merchandise it in such a way that the eye tracks to the most colorful, exciting toys first and last—upper left hand and lower right hand. This pulls you in and leaves a lasting impression; you are more likely to remember the first and last things you see.”

Resolutions for the New Cat Toy Year

With 2014 in the rear view mirror, many retailers will change inventory during the first few months of the new year, switching out the items that usually sell best for Christmas and other winter holidays.

While cat toys might do best in December, it’s a category that continues to sell all year long.

Janene Zakrajsek, co-founder of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has stores in the Los Angeles area, said that once Christmas is over, her sales team continues to talk to customers about the importance of cat toys.

“They educate clients on the types of cat toys and the reasons why cat play/engagement is needed to stimulate cats to positively shape their behavior,” she said. “The interactive toys/games are an important aspect in preventing frustration, boredom and potential for unwanted behavior.”

Victoria Coopman, CEO of Innovation Pet in Cedarpines Park, Calif., works with retailers who have a dedicated demo space by offering monthly showcases of innovative toys, complete with a video, so customers have cat toys top of mind 12 months a year.

“This keeps their section fresh and has consumers coming in to see the latest new thing,” she said. “These retailers have realized a measurable increase in sales and consumer loyalty.”—KL 


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