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Cat Marketplace: New Developments in Cat Toys

Posted: Sept. 25, 2012, 8:00 p.m. EDT


Encouraging consumers to try the latest cat toys can boost sales and keep them coming back for more.
By P.S. Jones

There is a saying that anything not nailed down can become a cat toy. This is evident every time owners walk in on their cats playing with a piece of lint; but does it mean the cat toy market is not essential? Not so, said Susan McCann, national marketing manager for Ethical Products Inc., a 60-year-old family-owned cat and dog product manufacturer in Bloomfield, N.J.

“Almost 39 million households own cats and more than half have purchased toys for their cat, so there is a large market for cat toys,” she said.

Pet stores may profit from offering toys that bring out a cat’s natural instincts.

Cat toys
Different textures, shapes and colors can appeal to customers looking to treat their cats with a new toy. Carrie Brenner/BowTie Inc. at George
“Felines are natural hunters, and domestic cats can benefit greatly from toys that cater to their wild side and engage them in healthy, active play,” said Kristie Hamilton, director of sales for Imperial Cat in Morrilton, Ark.

This is why toys that mimic hunting activities are tried and true in the industry, she said. Owners will buy anything their cats can chase down and “kill” with the familiar squeak of prey.

Cat owners also are very conscious of the effect toys have on their pets, and they are looking for nontoxic, well-made toys that won’t expose their cats to harsh chemicals, noted Mary Wolff, president of Honest Pet Products LLC, a manufacturer of dog and cat toys in Newton, Wis.

While cats are not nearly as destructive with their toys as dogs can be, consumers want something durable that will last longer than a few plays, said Jessica Lode, a sales associate at Zulu Dog + Cat Boutique, a Chicago pet store.

When choosing which products to stock, retailers need to consider the effect pricing and brand may have on a customer’s choice of cat toy.

“Where I am located, price makes a difference, but also brand and durability,” said Bob Macfarlane, owner of Pet Circus in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

The full-line pet store has been in the same downtown location for 40 years. The urban area is more conducive to keeping pet cats than other large animals, Macfarlane said, so cats are its bread-and-butter.

“This is why Kong’s cat toys sell so well. The brand is well-known for quality and durability, and the price is well within reason,” he added.

This year, the Golden, Colo.-based manufacturer released a variety of cat toys, including the Denim Toys line, Kitty Dipper (a treat-dispensing toy) and Kong Laser Toy, which is designed to be more comfortable in the hand and easier for cat owners to hold than traditional mini-flashlight shaped laser toys, according to the company.

Trends in Cat Toys
One of the biggest trends in cat toys right now is those with a high-tech element, retailers and manufacturers reported. Handheld laser pointers that let a cat’s owner start a game of chase have been popular for a while now, but the market is erupting with timed laser toys that adjust play based on a cat’s movements.

Interactive cat toys
The wide array of available cat toys offers proof that the marketplace is thriving.Carrie Brenner/BowTie Inc. at Pet Country
Ethical Pet’s high-tech, interactive toys are flying off the shelves, McCann reported. This year the company introduced Spot Flicker Fun cat toys, which light up when the toy is tapped, providing extra stimulation for the cat. The Spot Pet Laser 5 in 1 Classic is also a very strong seller, McCann noted.

New electronic toys from OurPet’s Co.’s Play-N-Squeak brand include Running Mouse, Zoom Mouse, Shakin’ Mouse and Wobble Mouse. The toys are activated with the flip of a switch, a tap or a tail pull, and they feature the electronic RealMouse sound, the Fairport Harbor, Ohio, company reported.

Interactive and high-tech don’t have to go hand-in-hand, though. Some very low-tech options can create interactive play time between cats and their owners.

“Our new SuperCat line is great for interactive play because the stickers, markers and spray can be used anywhere. The whole house can be a toy,” said Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Quaker Pet Group, of the New York-based manufacturer’s first line of cat toys.

The products use microencapsulated catnip entrapped in small “bubbles” that break and release catnip each time the cat or owner makes contact with it; this extended-release delivery system makes for a long-lasting catnip experience, Underwood said.

Another emerging trend in the sector is larger-size cat toys. Many companies are moving away from the old, stereotypical small-size toys to offer king-size alternatives. Imperial Cat is seeing a resurgence of an old favorite based on this current trend, Hamilton said.

“In the early ’90s we introduced a larger catnip toy called the Rowdy Rat, and it is still one of our most popular toys,” Hamilton said. “At about 7-inches long and 4-inches thick, it’s comparable in size to your average plush dog toy. We also introduced a snake catnip toy that is 20 inches in length that cats love to wrestle with.”

Pass the ’Nip
An always-popular category of cat toys is the one that incorporates catnip.

“The current trend in all pet products is toward natural, organic products,” said Mary Wolff, president of Honest Pet Products LLC in Newton, Wis. “Our toys are made of hemp, the most durable natural fiber on earth, and natural, organic wool. Our catnip toys use only organic catnip.”

The buying public has become more concerned whether the pet products they choose use environmentally friendly materials and processes, according to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2011 Pet Products Trend Report.

Honest Pet Products’ two newer cat toys, the Eco Cat Fisher and the Eco Kitty Catcher, are becoming customer favorites because they offer organic catnip to stimulate interactive play between owners and pets, Wolff said.

Paying attention to organic catnip toys can benefit retailers, said Julie Krauss, owner of Allure Pet Products. The Morristown, N.J., manufacturer has produced dog toys for more than three years and recently began production on organic catnip toys. Its new HuggleKats line leans heavily on organic catnip, Krauss noted.

“The cat toys use the same plush corduroy fabric we use to make our popular dog toy line HuggleHounds Knotties,” she said. “The cat toys are also stuffed with U.S. grown, organically certified fresh catnip to arouse a cat’s feel-good senses.”

Retailers can encourage consumers to experience the catnip for themselves, said Kristie Hamilton, director of sales for Imperial Cat in Morrilton, Ark.

“Our Cat ‘n Around organic catnip toys are very popular,” she said. “These toys are stuffed with fresh, 100 percent certified organic catnip. Our product packaging encourages consumers to ‘Smell the Catnip.’” —PSJ

Not only do these supersized options provide much-needed exercise for cats, they provide an excellent opportunity for retailers to increase purchase prices with larger products and therefore larger prices, said Ethical Products’ McCann.

Selling Big in the Cat Toy Aisle
“The most common error with pet store owners is that they neglect the cat section,” said Zack Grey, owner of The Urban Pet in Los Angeles and Silver Lake, Calif. “In many stores it often feels like an afterthought.”

The Urban Pet caters to the feline enthusiast. As an owner of six cats, Grey considers himself fluent in cat.

“Our customers definitely appreciate the wide variety of products we offer, from raw foods to treats to toys.”

One way retailers can increase sales at the register is to offer promotions that put cat toys in the hands of consumers already shopping for cat merchandise. At Pet Circus, Macfarlane said he often stimulates business with giveaways.

“I run promos occasionally giving a free toy with every bag of cat food sold,” he said. “Most of these customers will start buying toys almost every time after when they buy food.”

Retailers also can use manufacturer samples or promotional giveaways to target customers buying other cat products, such as food, treats or litter, he added.

Sometimes it takes something as simple as starting a conversation to stimulate cat toy sales. That’s where a well-trained staff can come in handy. Grey advised retailers to go beyond simply keeping staff well-informed about toys.

“Most important is having one-on-one interaction and talking about the toys,” he said. “I allow my staff to try new products at home and get their feedback. This can personalize the experience with customers when they hear testimonials like, ‘My cat loves that toy!’”

Manufacturers frequently offer giveaways and samples in their marketing packages. By giving these to staff to use at home, retailers can help ensure that they can provide customers with detailed information about day-to-day use. It’s like having reviewers right in the store—a useful resource to the buyers and a sales tool for the retailers, said Zulu Dog + Cat Boutique’s Lode.
 
Less traditional marketing methods also can move cat toys. With the influx of cat-themed videos on the Internet, using social media to showcase cats playing with real toys can spark sales.

“Trends are definitely driven by social media,” Lode said. “Nothing sells a laser pointer faster than a YouTube video of a cat trying to run up a wall.” 

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