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Cat Marketplace: Play Up the Appeal of Cat Toys

Posted: January 17, 2014, 12:40 p.m. EDT


In-store demonstrations and catnip spray "samples” can help rejuvenate toy sales.

By Stacy N. Hackett

Something about a feather or a furry mouse draws the attention of cats everywhere—and draws customers in to their local pet store, searching for safe, enticing toys for their cats. From interactive feather wands to simple stuffed toys, manufacturers offer a range of options to keep cats playing. Near the top of most customers’ shopping lists? Catnip.

"What cat doesn’t like catnip?” asked Laura T. Bednarczyk, owner of LuLu & Luigi, which has three stores in Minnesota. "We’ve done well with the E.A.T.s Pawbreakers edible catnip ball, [which] adds the play and eat factor.”

Catnip toys come in many shapes and sizes, providing multiple ways to catch consumers’ eyes. Polydactyl Inc. offers a creative twist on the typical catnip toy, packaging the herb in shapes such as egg rolls, fortune cookies and soy sauce packets in its Chinese Takeout line.

"Each toy supports different types of play,” said Randi Warhol, owner of the Brookhaven, Pa., company. "Our Egg Roll is great for rolling around on the floor, and cats love to chase it. Our Fortune Cookies [also] are fun to chase. Because of their shape, they bounce in unpredictable ways.”

Consumers are showing an interest in catnip toys made with natural hemp fabric and twine, such as those offered by Rainier, Wash.-based From the Field.

Cat Toys
Wand toys offer interactive play, which can strengthen the cat-owner bond. Sherri L. Collins/i-5 Publishing at Petstop Warehouse

"Our mice are made only with hemp fabric and hemp rope,” said Pascal Bedard, president of From the Field, noting that the hemp fabric lends durability to the company’s signature product, Shelby the Hemp Mouse. "Our hemp mice last six months to one year and can be rejuvenated with our catnip spray.”

A fresh catnip scent is key to maintaining a toy’s appeal, manufacturers agreed. To help the catnip effect last longer, Quaker Pet Group uses a patented technology in its line of "play-activated” catnip toys.

"All of our SuperCat products use ‘play-activated’ catnip,” said Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for the Whippany, N.J., company. "Each time [a] cat plays with the SuperCat items, they burst tiny bubbles of fresh catnip oil, releasing the scent.”

The SuperCat collection includes Catnip Stickers, Crumples, Markers, Spray and new Plush Toys, which are "cat-friendly, crinkly, miniature versions of…[the company’s dog toy] Birds, Dinos, Dragons and Yetis,” Underwood said. "Each plush two-pack also contains a SuperCat spray for a safe and catnip-enhanced playtime experience.”

DuckyWorld Products Inc. of Minneapolis also offers a wide selection of catnip toys. One of the company’s more popular shapes is the Yeowww! Chi-CAT-a Banana, according to Randy Thompson, graphic designer and content manager.

"We wanted a toy that could be nibbled, slobbered on and easily bunny-kicked by cats,” he said. "Cats also have limited color vision, so we wanted a toy with vibrant color to get their attention.”

Functional and Fun
A toy that can capture a cat’s attention and prevent damage to household furniture likely will appeal to cat owners. Bergan offers items that give cats a welcome place to scratch and play.

"The benefits of our toys to reduce unwanted scratching or clawing of household items allow an opportunity for interactive play,” said Dana Williams, marketing manager of the Monkey Island, Okla., company. "The Turbo Scratcher and Star Chaser are the most popular toys year after year.”

INDUSTRY VOICES

What methods can retailers use to encourage sales of cat toys?

"In addition to in-store displays and sales, we advertise and promote via print media, Facebook, email broadcasts and our website.”—Steve Shalhoob, project/general manager for Theresa’s Country Feed & Pet in Simi Valley, Calif.


"Let customers touch the toy, feel it and simulate what their cat would do with the toy.”—Dana Williams, marketing manager for Bergan in Monkey Island, Okla.


"I’ve always been a huge fan of ‘try before you buy’ and other demonstration programs that enable customers to experience a product before they need to commit to spending their money.”—Matt Wurtzel, director of field sales for Quaker Pet Group in Whippany, N.J.


"We recommend clerks and owners talk to their customers about the benefit of cat toys for the general health of their cats, especially indoor cats.”—Pascal Bedard, president of From the Field in Rainier, Wash.


"It’s important to first educate the consumer on what their pet needs.” —Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development at Worldwise in San Rafael, Calif.

Popular toys at Theresa’s Country Feed & Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., include balls with bells, toys with feathers and toys that make sounds. Sue Gunter, store manager, tests new products with the cats that the store offers for adoption.

"They like all the toys, but the good old rattling mousies are still the favorite,” she said.

Linda’s Feed and Supplies in Norco, Calif., stocks small furry mice as well as Spot Eco-Cat natural cat toys offered by Ethical Products Inc. The wand toys from the company’s natural line appeal to cat owners, added Tracy Kreun, store manager.

At LuLu & Luigi, Bednarczyk said that simple, natural toys seem to sell best. She also plans to stock an interactive feeder, the Aikiou Stimulo Cat Interactive Feeder, in her cat toy section to see if it will satisfy a crossover market.

"I feel this product will do great since cats are very intelligent and are notorious for eating their food too fast,” she said. "This will stimulate them and help slow down their feeding.”

Toys that solve a particular problem could hold appeal for customers, especially when their nocturnal pets want to play at midnight. R2P Group of Emeryville, Calif., developed its Sprong Catty Coil with nighttime activity in mind.

"The fuzzy foam provides a soft surface that is pleasing to cats and their owners, and prevents loud, startling noises from occurring during playtime,” said Rita Zine-Himy, vice president of product development. "The fun fuzzy texture and durable construction ensure long-lasting playtime.”

R2P Group also offers electronic toys, catnip products and interactive toys that encourage owners to join in at playtime.

In its interactive category, Worldwise of San Rafael, Calif., offers the Plume Crazy teaser wand toy under its Petlinks brand.

"We know pet parents like to interact and play with their cats, and we know cats love plush fabric and feathers,” said Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development for the company.

"Interactive toys strengthen the bond between pets and pet parents.”

Gunter of Theresa’s Country Feed & Pet often demonstrates the appeal of interactive wand toys with the cats that are up for adoption. She said those offered by Vee Enterprises are very popular with the cats.

"I think the customers like them almost as much as the kitties,” she said. "They really get them going and make everybody watching laugh at their antics.”

Product Play
Taking toys out of the packaging and using them in-store is an effective marketing tool, said Williams of Bergan. She suggests setting up "play areas” for consumers to touch the toys and see the items in use.
 
To encourage sales of catnip toys, From the Field provides a bottle of its Catnip Spray Rejuvenator for store employees to use for demonstration purposes.

"We invite the clerks to spray a business card or receipt with our [spray] in order for the customer to go try it at home with their cat,” Bedard said. "Usually the next time the customer comes back, they ask, ‘What did you put on that card last time? My cat was all over my purse when I got home…’”

Quaker Pet Group offers stores a similar marketing tool.

"We have an invisible ink Catnip Marker that can apply our ‘play-activated’ catnip to any surface,” said Matt Wurtzel, director of field sales. "That type of hands-on demo can really boost sales on a product that a customer has no experience with.”

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