Dog Marketplace: Rough And Tumble
Dog owners want durable toys fashioned in fun colors to keep their pets happily entertained.
By Somyr McLean Perry
When it comes to dog toys, it’s all about being indestructible and interactive, said Courtney Hill, manager at Land of Paws, a retailer in Prairie Village, Kan.
“[Carrying toys that fit those descriptions] used to be a very difficult task for us, but now companies are making toys that are specifically geared toward the tough chewers or destructive dogs,” she said, adding that they also are making toys that create a fun, playful and interactive environment for both owner and pet.
Emilye Schmale, corporate communications manager for Arlington, Texas-based Petmate agreed.
“Toys that squeak, bounce in erratic patterns and have multiple uses such as fetch, independent play and tug are in high demand,” she said.
Puzzle toys also have become a popular trend.
“These toys create stimulation for dogs,” Hill said. “Food or small treats are placed inside certain compartments, and dogs must use their noses or paws to rotate or lift certain chambers to retrieve their rewards. These puzzle toys help to eliminate boredom and enrich your dog’s cognitive skills.”
At Global Pet Expo in February in Orlando, Fla., Petmate premiered a number of new toy designs, including an interactive puzzle treat tower under its JW Pet brand.
“This tower has multiple levels that spin, and as the dog manipulates the toy, treats are distributed at the base,” Schmale said.
Other new treat-dispensing toys that hit the market earlier this year include New Angle Pet Products’ QBit treat puzzle box and Cycle Dog’s 3-Play Turtle, which is designed to float, squeak and hide treats in its belly.
Hill said Land of Paws’ customers are definitely looking for toys to keep their dogs occupied.
“Customers come in shopping for a [toy] that will keep their pet busy,” Hill said. “With the development of these new puzzle toys, you can keep your dog entertained and busy for hours. They help to continue the development of their pets’ minds and certain skills that wouldn’t necessarily be used otherwise.”
Besides entertainment, customers seek durability, industry insiders said.
The American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey estimated that dog owners spend $43 a year on dog toys.
“And it estimates there are approximately 78.2 millions dogs in the United States,” said Steve Luhrs, founder of Minneapolis-based Bionic Pet Products.
Those numbers equate to billions of dollars in potential dog toy sales a year.
The APPA survey estimates that 60 percent of dog owners own one dog, while 28 percent own two, said Emily Schmale, corporate communications manager for Arlington, Texas-based Petmate.
“This translates into an increase in business as consumers strive to meet their pet’s emotional and physical needs,” she said. “A toy purchase is no longer simply a way to keep the dog busy; dog owners put quite a bit of thought into purchasing the right toy for their particular dog’s play style.” —SMP
“[Dog owners] demand more for their money and want toys that aren’t chewed apart in 15 minutes,” said Steve Luhrs, founder of Minneapolis-based Bionic Pet Products. “Plus they don’t just want a dumb dog toy—they want the dog to be entertained and the toy to interact with the dog.”
In response, Bionic recently launched a new fetching toy, its Urban Stick.
“This toy was designed for throwing and fetching, and is specifically formulated to handle the most aggressive chewing and playing,” he said.
The stick doubles as a durable chew toy, and its open center can be stuffed with treats for interactive play, Luhrs said.
Five years ago latex toys and rope toys were in high demand, said Doreen Luff, social media coordinator for retailer Animal Kingdom USA in Brewster, N.Y.
“Today, clients are looking for strong, durable toys and ones that make dogs work at getting treats,” she said. “It seems no one wants a toy that will be torn apart in a few seconds. And, if it is, they will not hesitate to bring it back.”
Her customers also are looking for fetch toys, including flying disks and tennis ball launchers, as well as soft toys without squeakers, Luff said.
“Do you know how hard it is to find a soft dog toy without a squeaker?” Luff said.
Quaker Pet Group’s new toys do have squeakers—but they don’t make a sound. The company recently added Martians with Chew Guard Technology plush toys to its Hear Doggy! collection. The ultrasonic toys’ squeakers use a frequency that is out of human hearing range but audible to dogs, according to the company.
On the other hand, Ellen Lawson, founder of Fluff & Tuff Dog Toys, a manufacturer in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is enjoying great luck with squeaker toys. Her 3-year-old company’s sales of plush toys for dogs, which include squeakers, have increased significantly since the company began, she said.
“We’ve introduced two toys for the larger dogs or dogs who like a large toy,” Lawson said. “We have our extra-large, 20-inch, under-stuffed, floppy grizzly bear.”
Most recently, Fluff & Tuff introduced a 40-inch-long python with multiple squeakers, which Lawson said has been very popular with dog owners who want their dogs to be entertained.
Retailers play a significant role in helping dog owners choose toys for their pets’ needs, and Animal Kingdom’s Luff said the more information a toy has on its packaging, the easier the sale.
“I think that the manufacturers need to make more of an effort to inform the clients with the appropriate packaging,” she said. “Also, the more colorful the toy, the easier the sale.”
Manufacturers reported that research and design is a top focus in meeting consumer demand, as is constantly studying the marketplace and listening to pet owners’ feedback.
“While a toy purchase is still considered somewhat of an impulse buy in today’s market, our research shows that a percentage of purchases are planned,” Schmale said. “Many consumers today are researching dog toys before they go to the store. With social media sites focused on the dog-loving community, pet parents are even learning about new toys on the market before they hit the stores. This shift is now creating brand loyalty in a category where at one time there were no well-known toy brands.”