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Sizzling Stock: Dog Toys

Posted: June 26, 2012, 1:30 p.m. EDT

Durability, Uniqueness and Interactivity
Stocking shelves with toys that have impressive features can amp up sales.
By Melanie Dallas

Much like Etch A Sketch and Crayola crayons giving way to iPods, iPads and PlayStations to keep human children busy, the traditional dog squeaky toy is being replaced by more innovative and advanced technology products. Retailers are continually searching for the latest and greatest toy to add to their shelves, and as a result manufacturers are under constant pressure to develop and market creative toys.

Consumers are holding up their end of the bargain as reported last fall by market research firm Mintel, which found that despite the economy, 50 percent of pet owners make unplanned toy purchases for their pets.
The race is on for pet stores and manufacturers alike to identify the next best thing in the dog toy category. New toys need to score high in the areas of durability, uniqueness and interactivity, and it doesn’t hurt to be eco-friendly, too, according to retailers.

Dog toys
Filling displays with toys in bold colors can get more attention from customers—and lead to impulse purchases. Carrie Brenner/Bowtie Inc. at George
One line that embraces the above principles is JW Pet’s Crackle Heads, which was created based on dogs’ love for chewing on plastic water bottles, reported Jill O’Driscoll, a representative for the company.
“JW Pet has taken that fun texture and crackle noise and created a dog toy that is safe for the dog to chew on...unlike the safety issues with a real water bottle,” O’Driscoll said.

The Teterboro, N.J., manufacturer stated that it uses the same water bottle material dogs can’t resist, minus the cap, and that the toys are “100 percent home grown.” The Crackle Head  line wraps the plastic bottle material in three different exterior coverings: plush, canvas and tough rubber, the company added.

Lila Mufti looks for durability when it comes to stocking dog toys.

“Customers want a durable toy and are willing to spend the extra money for something that lasts,” commented Mufti, owner of The Modern Dog Boutique in Clarendon Hills, Ill.

Her 2 1/2-year-old store, located just outside of Chicago, sees mostly big-dog owners seeking “toys that last,” she said. Asked if her customers are sensitive to where a toy is manufactured, Mufti said they are more concerned about how it will hold up rather than where it comes from. Her best-sellers are durable toys from Hyper Pet and HuggleHounds, she added.

The latter comes out with new toys about twice a year, said Julie Krauss, owner of Allure Pet Products in Morristown, N.J., maker of HuggleHounds. Krauss gets inspiration for the exterior of the toys from the fashion industry. Both plaids and bright colors are popular now for dog toys, Krauss pointed out, adding that bright colors make the toys stand out on retailers’ shelves and make the consumer want to purchase the toys for their dog.

However, in the case of HuggleHounds, Krauss said, “They may be super sweet on the outside, but they are extra tough on the inside.”

The newest toy in the HuggleHounds line, Magnus the Elephant, is a perfect example of this split personality. The exterior is made from a velvety soft, nylon microfiber, Krauss said, adding that the inside is lined with Tuffut Technology, which uses three specially bonded layers to provide body armor protection for extra strength, and the toy is finished with X-Brace Construction, meaning each arm and leg is one continual piece of fabric that is knotted in the center of the belly to prevent the accidental loss of a limb.

At my store, Sloppy Kisses, which has two locations in upstate New York, durability is also a concern for toys.
“We’ve found the Tuffys brand from VIP Products to be one of the most durable plush toys on the market,” store manager Eugene Dallas said.

Designer novelty toys from Dog Diggin Designs and Haute Diggity Dog are best-sellers, especially in our Saratoga Springs, N.Y., boutique during the summer tourism season.

“Sniffany & Co. blue box toys, Chewy Vuiton purses and Grrrona beer bottles are huge during the summer, especially for customers looking for something unique for their dogs or their friends’ dogs,” Eugene Dallas noted.

We also carry a wide variety of Planet Dog products, which are both durable and unique.

“While the Orbee balls, the ones that look like Planet Earth, do sell well, we find that the Sport line (golf ball, tennis ball, baseball and football) and the Produce line (raspberry, strawberry, artichoke and eggplant) sell very well during the summer months,” Eugene Dallas commented.

Planet Dog, the company that boasts that its toys are “made for dogs, by dog lovers,” recently introduced the Orbee-Tuff Mazee.

“The Orbee-Tuff Mazee is our fresh take on the interactive toy, stimulating puzzle craze,” said Kristen Smith, brand ambassador for the Portland, Maine, company. “We are excited to offer dog lovers a clear alternative to other puzzle toys on the market.”

With a transparent Orbee-Tuff outer shell, dogs and their owners can watch the treats navigate their way through the inner maze. Although the Orbee-Tuff Mazee is made from Planet Dog’s Orbee-Tuff material, the company reported that the toy is intended for puzzle play, not chewing.

Lynda LaPlante plans to introduce interactive toys to her customers in the near future by hosting an interactive play day for dogs, set up similarly to the game show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”

LaPlante, owner of Paws And Claws in Englewood, Fla., now focuses on “talking toys”—those that make unique sounds when they are activated by the dog. One of her best-sellers is PetEdge’s Grriggles Bubble Gabber, a talking fish that makes gurgling sounds.

Interactivity is one area PetEdge is concentrating on, the company confirmed.

“Interactive toys continue to be stronger than ever,” said Karen Fuhrmann, director of softlines product development. “From treat dispensers to puzzles to toys that offer more than one way to play with them, interactive toys have been top sellers for PetEdge for the past several seasons.”

New toys from PetEdge include Zanies Treat Hunter Puzzles, Slide N’ Seek Puzzles and Interactive Puzzles: Pizza Puzzles and Paws-On Puzzle Squares. The toys are designed to allow pet owners to hide treats in various locations and work with their pet to find them.

To please pet owners seeking extradurable items, the Beverly, Mass., company released its Zanies MegaRuffs line, with toys nine layers thick and manufactured with industrial-grade luggage material, PetEdge reported.

Whether it’s durability, uniqueness or interactivity the consumer is seeking, numerous dog toys on the market excel in one or more of these categories. Pet stroes can benefit from staying current on the hottest trends, as the infusion of technology has resulted in a dynamic retail environment.

Melanie Dallas is the owner of Sloppy Kisses, a boutique business with locations in Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park, N.Y. A retail shop owner since 1997, she opened her first pet boutique in 2006. The second boutique opened in March 2009. Strong motivation and a dedication to marketing have made Dallas a success in the pet product business.


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