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1:33 PM   December 20, 2014
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Manufacturers and retailers remain vigilant for every pet.
By Kathleen M. Mangan

Any tug-of-war toy needs strong materials that hold up to these chompers
With the recent recalls of children’s toys made in China, it would be natural to assume that consumer skepticism has affected the perception of pet toys and accessories, too. It would be equally easy to assume that safety concerns have affected the way the pet supply industry conducts business. The jury is still out on both these issues.  

Certainly some manufacturers have been doing due diligence on product testing for some time, while other industry members are taking new steps to ensure pet product quality and safety. But self regulation is still status quo for this industry segment since there is no impetus for change from government regulatory bodies or consumer watchdog groups.

In fact, those in the industry are seeing only a minor increase in questions from consumers regarding the safety of pet toys and accessories.

Brian Ahearn, owner of Four Your Paws Only, a pet supply store in North Conway, N.H., said safety is not an issue for his customers. Likewise, Jeff Berger, owner of Exotic Birds Unlimited in Palm Desert, Calif., said safety concerns are not impacting customer purchases.

But Terri Grow, owner of PetSage, a natural pet supply store in Alexandria, Va., said her clients are very concerned about the safety of all products their pets can chew. She stocks natural toys made of cotton, hemp or rubber for dogs; cat toys are made of rabbit fur, crocheted yarn and feathers.
 
“I research all the product materials and our staff tests potential new products on their own pets before we stock them,” Grow said. “This enhances customer trust and loyalty, but it gives me a huge responsibility.”

Customers at Two Paws Up, a pet boutique in Frederick, Md., want to know where products have been made, said owner Allison Levitt.

“Many customers say they don’t want anything made in China,” she said, adding that 90 percent of her stock is made in America, a sales point she highlights in her store advertising.

“My store has benefited from the recalls,” Levitt said.

Effects of Recalls
“I think the juvenile toy recalls will be good for the pet industry,” said Bo Nelson of Wholesalepet.com, which represents more than 60,000 product SKUs. “Brand owners will ask more questions of their contract manufacturers in Asia, resulting in safer products.”

Even cats like chew toys. Soft toys should be checked for colorfast dyes and nontoxic materials. (Courtesy of Bamboo)
He pointed out that the human toy recalls were limited to products using lead-based paint, and that only a small percentage of pet toys have paint on the surface. Many of these have been tested to prove they are nontoxic.

Nelson added that many companies have had warnings on their product labels for years. For instance, a plush toy label might state that it isn’t a chew toy, that a dog should be supervised when playing with the toy, and that it should be taken away from the dog when it shows signs of wear.

Manufacturers in the pet bird product segment have quickly addressed concerns that have come up in the past, according to Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a Norfolk, Va.-based distributor carrying 3,000 pet bird products.

“Birds are small, their metabolisms are high and problems manifest quickly,” she said. She points to the concerns over lead solder and zinc in cages, and added that she sells powder-coated cages with confidence.

Still, Wyld is changing the way she conducts business by requiring documentation from manufacturers on the safety of their products.

“I want to know that the company stands behind the product,” she said. “It’s just good business to do this and it’s good for the birds.”

Loveland Pet Products, a Midwest pet supply distributor with 15,000 SKUs, works with companies that have established reputations for quality and has no plans to require proof or certification of safety or quality, said Roger Johannigman, president.

“We expect the manufacturers to respond to the current rash of quality issues by demanding integrity from their suppliers,” he said.

The Kong Co., based in Golden, Colo., works at being an industry leader on safety and durability issues. Chuck Costello, director of marketing, said that Kong rubber toys are nontoxic and made in the U.S. Those that don’t pass the internal quality inspection are recycled.

Kong’s Wubba, tennis ball and plush toys are made in China, but are double tested by independent labs in China and again on U.S. shores to comply with the American Society of Testing and Materials standards for children’s toys. Materials and adhesives are nontoxic, dyes are colorfast, seams are double sewn and squeakers are enclosed in an inner pouch.

“We must have independent certificates of analysis because we ship worldwide,” Costello said. “The European and international communities are implementing stricter regulations for nonfood items and requiring stricter documentation. We’re also seeing increased vigilance at customs in foreign ports.”

When Munchkin, a baby care products company based in North Hills, Calif., launched a pet care division five years ago, they used some of the same materials and design standards as their baby products, said Amy Osete, vice president of marketing for Bamboo.

The Combat and Combat Extreme lines are made of ballistic nylon with triple stitching on the edges, new fiber filling and a wrapped squeaker. They are independently tested to withstand a 200-pound pull test.

“We’ve found that consumers are willing to invest in stronger, more durable toys,” Osete said. 

Domestic versus Imported

Retailer Tip: Sell the Right Toy
 
• Organize toys by activity like pulling, chewing, retrieving, problem solving or cuddling. Or separate toys by material like rope, rubber, plush and vinyl. Dog size and type is another option.

• Find out what kind of toys the customers’ pets like best and what the customers’ expectations are from the toys. Then match this information with products. 

• Train staff so they are knowledgeable about all toys and accessories so they can guide customers to the best purchasing decision.

• Reiterate product label warnings to customers when they purchase a product.

• When there are specific safety questions about a product, offer to call the manufacturer and get back to the customer with answers.

Fat Cat, Inc., of Williston, Vt., (recently purchased by Munchkin) produces fabric-based products with colorful graphics in Asia. John Lika, vice president of creative, said all toys go through a magnetic detector to make sure there are no needles or pins left inside. Production samples are also spot-checked for color, printing and sewing. He added that Fat Cat toys are not meant to be indestructible; they are designed to make people and pets laugh.

Richard Savitt, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Prevue Pet Products, cautioned that imported toys, accessories and cages could potentially be yanked at customs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for inspection since pieces could end up in a pet’s mouth and be ingested. A critical client shipment could be delayed if the USDA decides to send the products to a laboratory for testing.

Savitt noted that Prevue makes independent certified lab test results available for review.

It appears that the retailers and manufacturers that are benefiting most from the 2007 recalls are those focused on natural pet products, durable pet toys and American-made goods. The Good Dog Co., with production in Golden, Colo., is one such business enjoying a surge in sales. Kim Oliver, founder of the hemp pet gear company, said sales have been surging in recent months.

“There could possibly be a recall effect, but we are seeing more educated consumers who want more green products in their lives,” she said. Grow agreed.

“For a variety of reasons, the green market segment is becoming more important in the pet product industry.” <HOME>

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