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Play Is Serious Business

Manufacturers take pet owners’ demands to heart when designing dog toys.


Fluff & Tuff

To win part of the purse in the dog toy category, retailers and manufacturers must be on top of their game to meet challenging consumer demands.

“According to the American Pet Products Association, it is estimated that $60.59 billion will be spent on our pets in the U.S. in 2015,” said Ryan Wills, senior product manager, toy division at Petmate in Arlington, Texas. “Much of that spending will go toward pet toys and activities to keep our pets happy and healthy.”

Ask a dozen dog owners what their favorite dog toy is and you’ll get a dozen varied and complex answers that transcend the type, whether chew, plush or interactive. When it comes to toys for their dogs, pet owners have high expectations for retailers and manufacturers to provide new, innovative options that not only entertain and provide mental and physical stimulation for pets, but also are durable, eco-friendly and made in the USA to represent value.

Odyssey Pets

Grouping toys by brand makes it easy for pet owners to find what they want.

“We are seeing more interactive play toys that encourage pet parents to bond with their dogs and that allow the dogs to exercise and play,” said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. “Our Zeus line of dog toys is a great example of this; all of the toys are designed to encourage play and reinforce the bond between pets and their parents.”

The company recently released new dog toys under the Zeus brand, including rope and rubber toys in the Bomber line as well as the DuraSport line of toys. DuraSport toys are made of a soft, durable rubber that bounces and floats, and the toys are great for playing at the beach or pool, Hall said.

Takes a Licking …
Durable, nearly indestructible toys score a TKO in the first round for pet owners, according to industry participants.

“The trend among consumers and manufacturers is durable toys,” said Ellen Lawson, CEO and president of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Fluff & Tuff. “More customers are looking for the same high-quality products—made with safe materials for their pets—that they would seek out for other family members. They are willing to invest in toys that are constructed with more care and quality.”

Most customers want indestructible dog toys, but these don’t exist, said Jamie Parent, CEO at A Place for Fido in Duluth, Minn. 

“Every dog is different, and while some of the toughest toys hold up for some, there are other dogs that can destroy them in minutes,” Parent said.

Retailers reported seeing increased interest in plush toys, many of which are high in quality and durable.

Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, said high-quality plush toys are the store’s big sellers.

“Customers are willing to pay $20-plus for a good-looking, high-quality toy,” she said. “Fluff & Tuff is a great line that is super high quality and ‘rich’ looking. I never thought they’d sell at $20, but they do.”

Parent said A Place for Fido’s top-selling plush toy line is the Tuffy brand from VIP Products, which receives positive feedback from customers.

“With the extra layer of nylon webbing around the outer seams of the toy, and up to three layers of material making them harder to penetrate, this is probably the toughest plush toy we have found,” Parent said.

Alison Schwartz, manager at All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., said the store’s top-selling plush toys are Fluff & Tuff and Tuffy brand toys, and customers seek durability as the primary reason for purchase over a less-expensive option in the category.

“We have worked hard at staff education to help customers purchase the proper toy for their pets [and activity level] to lower requests for returning toys for lack of durability,” she said.

On the topic of price point, Melissa Grosjean, category manager of pet supplies for family-owned Pet Pros, which has stores throughout Washington and Oregon, said customers will pay a higher price for a durable toy that will last, but they also will buy an inexpensive toy they know will be “de-stuffed” or chewed apart within a few minutes because they like to treat their dogs to something fun.

Redwine agreed and said it’s important to carry toys in the $5 or less price range for bargain shoppers.

Within the plush toy category, Fluff & Tuff’s Lawson reported seeing an increase in demand for smaller plush toys—and even mini toys. The owners of smaller dogs expect the same quality, durability and attractive design that is offered in larger toys, she said.

Durability isn’t limited to plush toys; rubber and plastic toys also are held to tough standards. Redwine said the Bionic Pet Products line does well in her store, and Schwartz said the Bionic and West Paw Design lines both sell well at All Pets Considered.

“Our other best-selling tough toy is the entire selection of Zogoflex toys by West Paw Design out of Bozeman, Montana,” Parent said. “Zogoflex is like a hard, rubber-type of material that is BPA and phthalate free, dishwasher safe and floats. They also have a one-time replacement guarantee, and it is 100 percent recyclable. We have had many customers doubt the strength of the Zogoflex toys who have come back a year later to tell us how amazed they were at how long it lasted with their dog.”

Eco-Friendly, Made in the USA
“Consumers also are looking for natural and sustainable products that are healthier for their dogs and for the planet,” said Adam Baker, president of True Dogs LLC, maker of the SodaPup brand, in the greater Denver area. “Not only do they want us to make a great product that works well and lasts, but they want us to do it in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible and helps the American economy as well.”

The company introduced its Can Toy, a high-quality rubber chew toy that dispenses treats, last year, Baker said.

“Our rubber comes from a natural source (latex from rubber trees) and is nontoxic, sustainably harvested and biodegradable,” Baker said. “This material separates us from competitors that use petroleum thermoplastic rubberlike compounds.”

“We source most of the plastic that we use in manufacturing from our Spectrum Plastics Facility, an Edison Award-winning manufacturing operation based in Mansfield, Texas,” Petmate’s Wills said. “At this facility, we compound our own resin from post-industrial, pre-consumer, recycled plastic content to reduce our carbon footprint. We are the only manufacturers in the pet industry that custom blend resin for its products.”

Retailers said they love USA-made products and have customers asking for USA-made toys, but only stocking USA-made toys would limit their selection.

“When we opened our store in 2012, we did our best to find Made in the USA products, and there is not much to choose from,” Parent said. “We were happy to find West Paw, and in addition to West Paw, our Made in the USA toy section consists of Kong, Wigzi and Ruff Dawg.”  

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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