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Let Playtime Lead to Profits

Call attention to this fun category with colorful displays.



All pets need toys to keep them active and stimulated, and more consumers are turning to interactive toys as well as chew-worthy plush and squeaker toys for both cats and dogs.

“Interactive toys for cats allow them to use their instincts, such as hunting,” said Andrea Margelis, owner of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich. “A lot of pet parents realize pets will begin to act out if they are not getting enough exercise and if you don’t mentally exhaust them. Toys such as the West Paw Qwizl is a great option for dogs and the [PetSafe] Egg-Cersizer for cats.”

Jennifer Lord, owner of Martin’s Paw Mart in Elkhart, Ind., agreed that interactive toys are all the rage. 

“People want something to keep their pet busy,” she said. “They are also looking for strong dog toys that are good for the tough chewers.”

Caitlin Hyma, social media manager of Nooga Paws in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that more customers are coming in to the store asking for indestructible toys or toys to keep dogs busy.

“Toys that make the dogs ‘work’ for the treats allow for more brain stimulation, which, in turn, tires the dog mentally,” she said. “We find that giving a hyper, ‘destructive’ pup an interactive toy will have him napping after.”

Mark Watkins, sales manager at ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., said the company has seen an increased demand for large toys and has created quite a few new products to fulfill that demand, both in year-round and holiday items.  

“Also, there is a huge call for food-related products and a strong interest in party- and birthday-related items as well,” he added. 

Products that are durable, unique and high quality are key to category success, said Ellen Lawson, owner of Fluff & Tuff in Troy, Mich.

“Pet owners today are tired of products that are poorly constructed and are interested in a higher level of quality and durability,” she said. “Paying more for the right product isn’t out of the question when it comes to pet owners now. Consumers are more apt to take their time to research products before they purchase—reading online reviews and gathering information from retail associates.”

Jane Yeung, marketing manager for foufouBRANDS in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, said the latest trends are toys that are either multifunctional or have multiple different fabrics in one. 

“The toys must be long-lasting and stimulate their pets in different ways, in terms of chewing textures, unique shapes and sounds, etc.,” she said. “Other trends that we notice are socially significant toys and novelty toys.”

New Products

Make Room for More Play

Building on the popularity of ZippyPaws’ line of NomNomz plush food-shaped squeaker toys and other food-themed toys, the company recently spun off larger versions, such as its Jumbo Taco and Jumbo Donutz plush toys, said Mark Watkins, sales manager for the Chino, Calif.-based company.

“Our designer, Jen Cao, really stays on top of trends and is great at anticipating demand for such products,” Watkins added. “So we’ve introduced many new food-related items, like our Milk and Cookies and Coffee and Donuts Burrows, among others. In addition, our new Birthday Cakes have been in very high demand and are great for celebrating special occasions with your dogs.”

Fluff & Tuff in Troy, Mich., debuted four plush dog toys this spring: Tico the Sloth, Violet Unicorn, Gordon Stingray and Manny the Lobster, said owner Ellen Lawson.  

“Our new spring batch is fun and colorful,” she said. “This helps our retailers freshen up their offering for the new year—and their customers look forward to our new releases. We receive multiple inquiries each day on when our new toys will be available. It’s fun—we love their enthusiasm.”

Mark Pasco, vice president of sales for Mammoth Pet Products based in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., said that the manufacturer has created a new toy category by introducing its Flossy Chews Extra Fresh product line, which consists of “rope bones” and tugs that feature real mint dental floss woven into the outer core.  

“These toys will help control tartar and freshen breath while the dog chews, tugs and plays,” he said. “This category consists of two-knot bones and three-knot tugs, plus we will have six new SKUs being kicked off later this year.”

This year, foufouBRANDS in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, has expanded its 2-in-1 toy collection with new characters and shapes. The 2-in-1 line features toys with a soft plush shell on the outside and, on the inside, a rubber squeaker toy that can be taken out for extra playtime fun. 

“We’ve also added toys to our collection that mimic our human culture,” said Jane Yeung, marketing manager. “What we have and enjoy in our lives our dogs can also enjoy in the form of a fun toy. We have our Jumbo Plush Toys that are popular snack foods, like tacos and chips, in the form of cuddly plush with embroidered details and a squeaker. We also have our Emoji toys, which are also 2-in-1 toys.”

Earlier this year, Ethical Products in Bloomfield, N.J., added Chenille Chasers to its Spot brand. The cat toys feature silky-soft chenille intertwined with satiny ribbons and are available in three styles: mouse, ball with feathers and oval roller with feathers.

Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore., said the manufacturer has many new made in the USA dog toys available this year, including Duraplush Monsters, the Treat-Hiding Super Ball and Duraplush Animals.


Getting the Word Out

Mark Watkins, sales manager at ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., said the company helps retailers build a better understanding of the unique selling points of its toys and accessories through catalogs, sell sheets and website information. 

“We place a strong emphasis on products that are made with quality, but are also exciting for dogs and their owners,” he said. “We want to make that a focal point of our products.”
Andrea Margelis, owner of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich., said that in order to sell more cat and dog toys, all employees are taught about the importance of physical activity for a pet. 

“We also use social media such as Facebook and Instagram to get the word out to a large group of pet parents,” she said. “When using social media, customers share their experiences and share our posts, which reach farther than any advertising we could do in-store.”

Fluff & Tuff in Troy, Mich., recently created a video about its products and company for retailers to use while training their staff, and offers a point-of-sale piece to retailers that concisely highlights the key points of its toys along with a sample of an inside-out toy to show its materials and construction, said owner Ellen Lawson. 


Calling Attention to Toys

Most of today’s beloved dogs and cats have toys; however, when pet owners walk into their local pet specialty store, buying a new toy is not necessarily top of mind. That’s why Jennifer Lord, owner of Martin’s Paw Mart in Elkhart, Ind., said eye-catching toy displays and signage that directs people to new items are important for retailers looking to boost sales in the category.

“Endcaps make for a nice callout to get attention,” she said. “Running initial sales to get toys moving is also always a good idea.”

Caitlin Hyma, social media manager of Nooga Paws in Chattanooga, Tenn., said the store highlights what interactive toys can do.

“We have them all displayed together, with a sign that says, ‘Exercise their minds!’” she said.

Toys are the perfect item to generate excitement for consumers, with their bright colors and fun characteristics. Creative retailers will find ways to capitalize on that and draw consumers to alluring displays.

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