Feline Furniture Spotlights Sturdy Style
Top desires for cat furniture and housing focus on secure, well-built items that enrich cats’ lives and fit seamlessly into household décor.
The biggest trend in cat furniture and housing products is more. More interest, more selection and more quality.
“Cats have taken over the internet,” said Amy Cross, buyer for MadCat, which has stores in Madison, Wis. “You can’t go on anything [online] and not see videos of cats doing something silly that people are recording.”
She and others said this popularity has resulted in companies concentrating more on the feline sector.
“The advent of TV shows dedicated to cat behavior has manufacturers focusing on specific cat needs,” said John Gerstenberger, director of product development and sourcing for Ware Manufacturing Inc. in Phoenix. “Clearly, these changes are the result of increased cat popularity.”
Ellen Tsuyuki, manager of Nekochan Enterprises Inc. in Blaine, Wash., said the biggest result of cats’ increased popularity is more selection.
“When I started, there wasn’t a lot of variety for cats,” she said. “As cat ownership mentality began to change, there became more options in furniture available for owners—such as shelving affixed against the wall, window perches, scratch poles—to make things more engaging for cats, safer and higher quality.”
Industry participants added that cat owners want quality products that blend in with their home’s style.
“Pet owners are looking for the best, highest-quality products, because many regard their pets as family members,” said Mike Lambright, director of marketing at Sauder Woodworking Co. in Archbold, Ohio. “They want items that integrate naturally into the common areas of their homes.”
He also sees a rising demand for small space options.
Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco, also reported that consumers want products that easily acclimate into the home.
“There has been a shift toward more creative and stylish furniture, housing and activity centers for cats,” she said. “Consumers want to be able to integrate this cat furniture into their homes without sacrificing too much style from their décor. This has helped to lead this trend toward more styled products that are both functional for the cats and pleasing to the tastes of the cat’s family.”
Carpeted cat towers, which offer basic functionality, were embraced for years because they were all that was available, said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager at The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. But these products “often do not fit within the modern pet parent’s aesthetic sensibilities and may not fully support a cat’s natural instincts and behavior patterns,” he said.
“When designing and developing our Vesper cat furniture, it is imperative to our Catit team that we not only create furniture and activity centers that benefit the cat, but also fit into the pet parent’s lifestyle and décor,” Hall said.
He added that the Catit team spends hundreds of hours researching cat behavior before it even begins designing products.
Communicate the Benefits One on One
Retailers and manufacturers said consumers are more educated than ever on the importance of an enriched environment for their cats that includes furniture and other products that promote activity. Even so, they agreed that education still is required.
The key is to get to know the individual customer and work with them to find out what they already know, because some people know a lot, and some are new to getting a cat, said Amy Cross, buyer for MadCat, which has stores in Madison, Wis.
“If someone new to cats has the old assumption of their basic care, they aren’t going to realize that there are steps they can take to create a home that will be more hospitable to their cat,” said Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco. “Providing activity tools and cat-specific furniture to our cats isn’t just entertaining for them, but can assist in a cat’s physical health and help them feel more relaxed.”
She stressed the importance for store staff to speak with customers about the benefits of these products for cats so they understand that these items serve a vital purpose.
Behavior issues—which might result in damaged human furniture—can occur when cats are not given suitable opportunities to stretch and exercise, said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.
Furniture and other activity products made for cats must fulfill natural instincts and behavior requirements with features that address these, he said.
“Among these are hiding spots, high perches and multiple scratching surfaces at varying angles,” he said. “These features allow the cat to relieve stress and exercise properly.”
Furniture also should have multiple perching levels, he said.
“Cats stretch in various positions, so designs that incorporate multiple angles will allow cats to stretch properly,” he added.
Both Cross and Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., said that talking to customers about what’s worked for them is the most effective way to educate cat owners.
“A lot of our staff have cats and recount experiences they’ve had with their cats to let people know what works and what doesn’t,” Jones-Napier said. “We also have several former shelter workers working in the store, so a lot of training and information gets transmitted in conversation.”
Frank Callari, owner and inventor of Cat House System LLC, the Los Angeles-based maker of Catty Stacks, said that referrals and testimonials are effective ways to educate customers on these products.
Savvy Stores Share Their Deciding Factors
Overall, retailers report steady sales in cat furniture. Carrying quality products, displaying them well and having an enthusiastic staff talking with customers rank among the reasons why.
When choosing feline furniture items for their stores, retailers said sturdiness and quality came in on top.
“Sturdiness is a huge part,” said Amy Cross, buyer for MadCat, which has stores in Madison, Wis. “Midwestern-sized cats don’t like small things that might tip over. Also, if the store cats aren’t willing to go on it, they’re probably not going to move in our store.”
Chris Achord, owner of The Cat Shoppe & Dog Store in Nashville, Tenn., agreed, adding that she and her customers gravitate toward natural products with wood for the cats to scratch on.
Products that are made in the USA also are more popular because the quality tends to be better and there isn’t the cost and hassle of having to ship it across the ocean, Cross said.
“Our customers do like to know it’s made in the USA,” she said.
Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., said the store is on the greener, eco-friendly side, so the cat trees it carries are sturdy, well-made items from a local company.
“Instead of going into the trash heap, people are having their trees repaired for additional years of use,” she said. “We look for long life cycle and have a strong focus on what will make a nice habitat, and we want more natural products.”
A successful part of displaying these products is the demos provided by in-store cats, retailers reported.
“Our sales in this category are pretty steady overall, and it’s probably the cats in the store,” Cross said.
Achord reported similar experiences with the in-store cats.
“Our sales are about the same every year because of how we display [cat furniture] here, and customers see cats using them in-store, so they know cats use it,” she said, adding that they “don’t carry [many of] them in-store because the cats will use them and then when people take them home their cats will not like it.”
New Housing on the Market
Owners can choose from myriad options in cat furniture and housing.
Los Angeles-based Cat House System LLC has redesigned its Catty Stacks to be perfect cubes that can be rotated and stacked in any direction and always line up and clip easily, said Frank Callari, owner and inventor. Last year, the company introduced a bridge component that connects the cubes to challenge and motivate cats while creating an interesting visual cue for the structure, he added.
At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March, Archbold, Ohio-based Sauder Woodworking Co. debuted several prototypes for the feline furniture market in its Sauder Pet Home collection. Some of the prototypes include:
• The Cat Nap Pod is a small-scale option designed for easy accessibility for aging felines. The pod is constructed with natural woven hyacinth and features solid wood legs and a machine-washable cushion.
• The Cat Cradle Side Table doubles as a side table and a cat hideaway. Available in a light natural finish, the product features a removable suspended gray felt cradle and a rear panel with a natural sisal scratching surface on both sides.
• The Pyramid Cat Nester features a 2-inch cushion with a removable cover nestled in a pyramid made with hand-woven hyacinth. Owners can easily activate the suspended toy via a pull tab for interactive play.
The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., launched its Vesper brand Cubo and Cubo Tower at Global Pet Expo, said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager.
“The Cubo series features fabric-wrapped pieces that offer multiple levels and hiding spots,” he said.
For cats that love to burrow, Nekochan Enterprises Inc. in Blaine, Wash., is redesigning its Sleeping Bag, which features plush material for sleeping and the sound of crinkly paper for play. The new design is scheduled for release this fall.
The Way to Display
Manufacturers agreed that cat furniture and housing products are best displayed fully assembled in-store. Because of the size of many products in this category, however, spacing can present a real challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers.
“Setting up product displays in retail stores allows customers to feel the rigidity and durability of Catty Stacks first hand,” said Frank Callari, owner and inventor of Cat House System LLC, the Los Angeles-based maker of Catty Stacks.
Being able to touch furniture samples is important.
“Pet parents prefer to touch and feel the furniture piece to best determine if it will meet the needs of their cat,” said John Gerstenberger, director of product development and sourcing for Ware Manufacturing Inc. in Phoenix. “This includes checking for stability by moving the furniture back and forth and checking for material texture and quality.”
At MadCat, which has stores in Madison, Wis., the staff stage the furniture in different places around the store and group different tree pods together so customers can shop them all at once, said Amy Cross, a buyer for the store.
The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., displays its cat trees staggered on and off a 12-foot-long wooden bench by the front window, said Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner.
“We have a whole area of the store related to cats, and that’s where we put a lot of our scratchers and fountains,” Jones-Napier said. “That makes it easy to shop in that area for cat-specific items.”