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Cat Marketplace: Clean Up With Litterbox Extras

Posted: June 15, 2012, 3:30 p.m. EDT


Litterbox accessories can help customers keep tidy, odor-free homes.
By Karen Shugart


Litterbox issues can vex even the most dedicated cat owner. The odor. The scatter. The box that clashes with home décor.

Regardless, every home with an indoor cat needs one. So combating the odor, the scatter and the appearance of a litterbox is a mission that several manufacturers reported tackling head-on. With recently released accessories such as scoops, mats and covers—as well as the boxes themselves—retailers can offer their customers products that are aimed at alleviating litterbox-related hassles.

“Consumers and cat owners continue to look for solutions to key litterbox issues: litter flying out of boxes; litterbox odor—basically anything that will make cleaning and changing litterboxes easier, simpler, less work,” noted RuthAnne Miller, president of Cats Rule, a manufacturer in Weston, Fla.

Colorful Covers
In several cases, the inspiration for new products stems from their creators’ own struggles with litterbox concerns. Kelli Phillips, owner of Paws For Thought, is one such manufacturer.

Cat litterboxes and accessories
Manufacturers have created a range of accessories to keep the litterbox area clean and odor-free. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at Nature Pet Center
Phillips came up with the idea for Cali-cuvs, slip-on litterbox covers, while living in a 600-square-foot apartment. She couldn’t stand to look at her ugly litter pan.

“The embarrassment when guests would come over was extremely uncomfortable,” said Phillips, whose company is based in Sarasota, Fla.

She searched for an affordable, simple, space-saving solution to no avail. As she looked, she found several people faced the same quandary. To address it, she created Cali-cuvs. Made in the USA from spandex, the machine-washable covers come in four sizes and five prints, Phillips said.

Kitty A Go Go, a litterbox made by Automated Pet Care Products Inc., also came about because of its creators’ desire to find a litterbox that was both functional and attractive. The covered box, which includes a pull-out litter tray drawer and a rake sifter, comes in several designs—including the most recently released, burl wood and leopard print.

“It seemed that so little style and variety was available to cat owners—unlike the dog accessories on the market,” said Michael Sick, a business consultant for the Pontiac, Mich.-based manufacturer.

Distinctive Deodorizers
In addition to attractiveness, manufacturers and retailers said, odor remains a chief concern among cat owners. While diligent cleaning and maintenance are essential to keeping a tidy litterbox, such work may not be enough to keep smells at bay, said Marcie Pryor, marketing manager of Nilodor, a manufacturer in Bolivar, Ohio.

“The truth is, odors will persist as long as you have the litterbox,” Pryor said. “Maintaining a clean litterbox daily will only minimize odors, it will not completely eliminate odors.”

To help with that issue, Nilodor recently released a new deodorizer, the Purr-Fect Clip, which clips to the outside of the litterbox. Recyclable and made of recycled plastic blends, it has a 25 percent essential oil load, Pryor stated. Its size, she added, means it can be displayed effectively on a merchandising strip or J-hook in any area of the store.

“We need to apply multiple approaches to achieve total odor relief,” she said.

To that end, Cats Rule has a new Gel Refresher that is intended to neutralize odors and add a clean fresh linen scent. It can be attached to the cover of the box or placed anywhere in the box area, Miller said.

The company also has a product designed to aid customers for whom leaning over to scoop the box can cause discomfort. The Stand Up and Scoop, which extends to about 32 inches, is a “huge hit with cat owners, particularly seniors and those who have some difficulty bending over all the time to clean boxes,” Miller said.

Anti-tracking Tools
Even as the variety of litterbox accessories grows, many retailers, such as Michelle King, a sales associate at OK Feed & Supply in Tucson, Ariz., report that their customers mostly seek out the basics.

Reasons to Offer Greater Selection
Many retailers have only a limited amount of space to display litterboxes. While it can be tempting to just carry the standard pans and a few covered boxes, retailers and manufacturers reported that several factors can be considered in selecting stock.

For one, household cats are getting bigger.

“Cats are very much like the American public—percentage-wise, we keep getting larger,” said Rachael Pridham, assistant manager of Clark’s Pet Emporium in Albuquerque, N.M.

Not only that, more households have more than one cat, meaning more cats are vying for the same box space.

“We have a range of people who have a lot of cats, who are interested in larger boxes,” said Amber Stotesbury, assistant manager for Unleashed, a retailer with three locations in North Carolina.

Bob Foster, owner of Brehon’s Pet Supply Outlet in Castle Shannon, Penn., said he’s sold quite a few automated boxes—all of which carry higher price tags, to be sure, he said, but they’re items that some customers seek out.

Displaying higher-end litterboxes—and showcasing their function and construction—will result in higher sales of the more expensive boxes, said Michael Sick, a business consultant for Automated Pet Care Products Inc., a Pontiac, Mich.-based manufacturer.

“While a large portion of cat parents still may opt for a low-price litter pan, retailers do themselves a disservice when they don’t create an awareness of the designer and automated litterbox options available, as many consumers will step up over time,” Sick said.—KS

As far as accessories, she noted, “We just have the scoops and we have a natural baking soda litterbox freshener.”

Among customers seeking accessories beyond the absolute basics, however, mats are popular, retailers reported. Customers are concerned about tracking litter, said Faith Lette, manager of Tom-Cat Pet Food Supplies in Sunland, Calif.

“People who’ve had cats awhile know that they’re going to track that stuff,” Lette said.

One recently updated mat is StiKitty, a lightweight, adhesive-layered mat that aims to stop the spread of germs and litter throughout owners’ homes, said Carol O’Brien, president of Cleanicity, the product’s manufacturer.

Originally launched in June 2010 as the Kitty Litter Gripper Mat, it was relaunched as the StiKitty in fall 2011. And recently, the color of its 20 sticky layers, which are pulled away as the top layer is full of debris, was changed from clear to white, O’Brien said.

“Our customers indicated they wanted to be able to easily see when the layers needed changing,” said O’Brien, whose company is based in Austin, Texas. “For our next production run, we will also be adding a tab to the bottom protective layer to make it easier to remove the protective layer and adhere the StiKitty to the floor.”
 
Another new product, the Tailsweep Litter Box Cleaning Kit, aims to clean up the litter that mats don’t catch, said Neil Meyer, its inventor. A deep-walled dustpan with an upright handle, it contains a scoop and small broom, and a wide 45-degree angle opening to prevent the accumulation of debris. The small unit fits against the corner of the litterbox.

“Mats help a lot, but what do you do about those two or three granules that make it onto the floor? Drag out the broom and dustpan? Scare the cats with the DustBuster or vacuum cleaner?” Meyer said. “All the tools needed to handle anything that happens inside or outside of the litterbox are all right there, ready for action, without taking up a lot of space.”

The product’s manufacturer, Next Gen Pet Products in Laguna Niguel, Calif., showed a prototype of the kit at Global Pet Expo in February. While it’s not yet on the market, Meyer said, he hopes it will be soon.

At Clark’s Pet Emporium in Albuquerque, N.M., assistant manager Rachael Pridham said she’s seen an evolution among some customers’ litterbox spending habits.

“It’s kind of a split,” Pridham said, “You definitely have kind of the old guard of people who just want a basic clay litter and a plastic box, and then you have people who want new gadgets.”

Price, Tom-Cat Pet Food Supplies’ Lette said, remains a limiter.

“Most of the time, people are looking for the cheapest thing they can find,” Lette said. “If they can see that it’s low-cost but built pretty well, that’s generally what they’re looking for.”

That creates a marketing dilemma, retailers and manufacturers noted. Cleanicity’s O’Brien recommended that storeowners put as much color in their litter and accessories aisles as possible.

“If they make it an appealing place, cat owners may linger longer in the area, and it may convince consumers who typically buy cat litter in the grocery store to buy it from their favorite pet retailer,” she said.

Above all, Pridham noted, the items should look appealing.

“I would definitely try and make it look like something that people would want in their home,” she said.

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