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Toying with Sales

Manufacturers and retailers weigh in on effective ways to merchandise and display this key product category.


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Play is as important for animals as it is for children, and most species of pets can benefit from having a variety of toys at their disposal. Consumers are looking for toys that cannot be ripped to shreds in minutes, as well as toys that are interactive and provide long-lasting entertainment, said Samantha Shipley, merchandising consultant with Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich.

“Puzzle toys and brain teasers are very popular,” she said.

Both Janene Zakrajsek, co-owner of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has stores in Southern California, and Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., agreed that interactive toys designed to combat boredom are at the top of the list. Some of these toys help extend feeding time, such as those in which treats can be stuffed, or game-oriented toys that cause pets to think, Zakrajsek said.

Among Zakrajsek’s favorites in the category are West Paw Design toys, such as the Toppl, a puzzlelike toy.

“ZippyPaws make little hideaway types of toys—those fly off of our shelves,” she added.

Shrout points to West Paw Design’s toys and its Zogoflex line, in particular, as products he has found success with.

“These toys help stimulate the pets to play with the toy for more extended periods using food, treats, motion or catnip for felines,” he said. “We are excited to try [West Paw’s] newest addition, the Qwizl, which can slow down the consumption of expensive stick-shaped treats,” he added.

Other popular trends include squeaker-less plush toys and stuffing-less toys.

“There seems to be something preylike about those squeakers and stuffing that makes dogs want to destroy that toy,” Shrout said. “As a result, the squeaker-less and stuffing-less toys can actually last longer because the dogs are less driven to rip them apart.”

ZippyPaws, based in Chino, Calif., recently launched its Z-Stitch Grunterz toys. Sales manager Mark Watkins said that they “have a rugged zigzag stitching that covers more surface area than linear stitching, making it much tougher for dogs to chew through.”

Plus, the four layers of fabric, including an interior mesh lining, make them able to withstand tough chewing, Watkins said.

Fluff & Tuff is another brand that is winning customers with designs that are both sturdy and appealing, according to Shipley.

“[The] stuffed toys are incredibly popular because they are adorable and extremely durable,” she said.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for larger toys,” added Watkins, so, in addition to the Grunterz, ZippyPaws added Squeakie Tugz and Z-Stitch Snakes.

Also with larger dogs in mind, P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) unveiled a Safari toy line that features supersized, reinforced squeaker bodies.

Tim Blurton, CEO of Hyper Pet, based in Wichita, Kan., said that outdoor fetch toys designed to promote human and pet exercise are popular, such as the company’s Petlogix Zinger, a new launching toy.

Selecting Toys

As the market is deluged with pet toys, the question becomes: How does a retailer cater its merchandise to its unique customer base?

Geographic location, for example, might help sell one type of toy versus another.

“We have a good range of sea-themed toys, and those tend to do well in coastal areas, while our farm animals tend to sell well in more rural areas,” Watkins said.

On the other hand, retailers  should take care not to limit customers’ choices based on the local landscape.

“Although geography can count, it’s important to remember that even if you are in an area with lots of open land, people still want to play with their pets indoors, and, similarly, if you are a retailer in a city, there are always open spaces and increasingly more and more dog parks where owners want outdoor fetch toys to give exercise to their pets,” Blurton said. “So in both cases, having comprehensive ranges of indoor and outdoor interactive toys is critical.”

Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator for San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y., said that taking region into consideration is a great starting point but added, “The best way for a retailer to make sure they have a comprehensive toy selection is to observe and engage with their customers. Having active conversations with customers is immensely beneficial to understanding their needs and preferences, and will help guide how to build or adjust inventory.”

Shipley said that Premier Pet Supply caters to  everyone, as the store sees all types of pets, “from police dogs to teacup poodles to lazy house cats. We have toys for every budget and every consumer’s taste.”

The same holds true for Long Leash on Life, which stocks more than 25 brands of dog toys and 15 brands of cat toys.

“The top sellers are stocked year-round with a rotation of new items, past favorites and slower movers based on season,” said Shrout, who has seen an increase in sales with the opening of the Just For Cats section of the store.

Play on Display

So you have durable stuffed toys, toys that squeak, soft toys in fun shapes and interactive toys—now what do you do with them to maximize sales? This is where retailers can tap in to their creative side.

Themed or seasonal displays work like a charm at Pussy & Pooch. Toys are displayed in baskets and tell a story until they are changed out about every four to six weeks, Zakrajsek said. For example, the stores’ picnic theme features toys in picnic baskets that are set up on grass and with relevant décor.

“Every display looks different and is united by a theme,” she said.

Calling upon customers’ tactile senses is another effective way to sell toys.

“Let consumers feel and play with toys,” Blurton said. “Have a bin with samples that are not attached to packaging so consumers can rummage and feel various toys, and then help them find the ones they like on the shelf.”

Johnson recommends endcaps or floor-stand displays.

“The toys will stand out and allow you to highlight specific items that you want to see moving,” she said. “These categories can be toy specific, like whimsical plush animals or interactive toys, or seasonal themes like summer toys.”

At Long Leash on Life, Shrout arranges toys vertically from smallest to largest and displays an American flag above its U.S. made toy selection. He added that toys often look best displayed by brand.

Colorful displays also attract attention.

“We create unique color backdrops on which to display toys,” Shrout said. “Metallic colors like silver really make the toy colors pop.”

Expanding upon this idea, retailers can station toys throughout the store in different sections, possibly leading to an impulse purchase.

“Toys presented outside of their category section help grab the customer’s attention,” Johnson said.

No matter how the toys are arranged, it is important to delineate between toys that are made for small dogs versus those that are made for larger dogs, Blurton said.

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