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Companies Promote Functionality and Looks in New Litterboxes

Posted: June 21, 2011, 2:30 p.m., EDT

Sizzling Stock—Litterboxes

From standard to luxury, recent introductions in the category offer convenience and aesthetic features at a range of price points.

By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Retailers whose customers are searching out alternatives to traditional rectangular, plastic litterboxes may want to make room on store shelves and get ready for some up-selling. More than 86.4 million cats are owned in the United States, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA); the newest indoor bathrooms for these felines give their owners more choices than ever before.

Many are designed to improve the cat-owning experience as well. A notable complaint cat owners have about living with their pets is cleanup and odor, according to the APPA. In the organization's 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, 25 percent of cat owners reported that “general cleaning up” was a drawback of owning a cat, and 30 percent chose litterbox odors as a drawback of cat ownership.

In response, manufacturers have unveiled litterbox designs that center on price and ease of use, said Terry Hannaford, chief executive officer of Omega Paw Inc. in St. Marys, Ontario, Canada.

Recent additions to the category include a self-scooping litterbox; a cylindrical, drum-style product cat owners can spin; and a disposable box prefilled with litter.
Recent additions to the category include a self-scooping litterbox; a cylindrical, drum-style product cat owners can spin; and a disposable box prefilled with litter.
Photo courtesy of Sharp Designs
“People are looking for value, but they still want convenience,” he said. “They’re looking for a product that marries those two things. The trend right now, especially with where the economy has been over the last few years, is that the value element really has to be there because the disposable income has shrunk over the past several years, especially in the United States.”

Aesthetics and design are important, too, particularly with customers who want to integrate their litterboxes with their homes’ décor, noted Brett Teper, co-founder of ModProducts LLC in New York.

“Many cat owners want a litterbox that looks like furniture,” he added. “Looks and functionality are very important to today's cat owners.”

Traditional Favorites

Though plastic litter pans have been on the market for decades, manufacturers continue to make improvements to their designs, Hannaford said. Omega Paw is in the midst of updating its litterbox design and packaging to stay current with today's popular trends, he reported.

“We have a wonderful product that's been out for a number of years,” he said. “But there is a need to stay current in design, in colors, and in packaging as well. It's something that has to be revisited continuously. If you don't give it a facelift every couple of years, it could fall by the wayside.”

Automatic Convenience

Automatic litterboxes have also been available for years. The newest design offered by OurPet's Co. in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, caters to customers looking for value, said Rochelle Hartigan, the company's director of marketing.

“Consumers who have converted to the automatic litterbox category are delighted with the results, and they are cautious to find value in the costs of daily maintenance,” she says. “The new SmartScoop Self-Scooping Litter Box unit ships with all the supplies and accessories needed to maintain the litterbox in an average single-cat household for a full six months.”

At this year’s Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., the company introduced the self-scooping box with the motor unit on the outside of the litter area, so it is protected from litter and waste, Hartigan noted.

“This design is distinctively different than the competition and greatly improves the product's reliability and longevity,” she added.

Convenience is King

The Litter Spinner, made by Gig Harbor, Wash.-based Sharp Designs, can make cleanup a snap—or a spin. In this U.S.-made design composed of recycled materials, the litterbox isn't a box at all. It's a cylindrical drum that the cat owner spins, and the action deposits the soiled clumping litter in a removable tray, said David Baumgartner, the company’s co-founder.

“The typical cat owner has to get their little shovel out and pick through the litter,” he said. “This design cleans all of the litter at one time, the same way every time. No matter who does it, whether a 6-year-old or an adult, you get the exact same result.”

Since the litter remains clean, Baumgartner added, cat owners don't have to change it as often, which saves them money and time. His company has priced the Litter Spinner between the traditional plastic pan and the automatic mechanized cleaners, making it a popular choice at retail, he said.

Furniture-like units can be a good fit for customers who want to keep their litterboxes out of view.
Furniture-like units can be a good fit for customers who want to keep their litterboxes out of view.
Photy by Gina Cioli/BowTie
“We're presenting a solution that fits in that middle range but accomplishes what everybody needs to accomplish, and that’s clean litter for the health of the cat, and clean litter for the health of the home,” Baumgartner noted.

No-Hassle Litterboxes

Since convenience remains an important feature of litterboxes, Ben Traylor, president of Kitty Kan LLC in Birmingham, Ala., created a disposable covered litterbox prefilled with litter.

“We were a bunch of guys who got tired of cleaning the litterbox every day,” he said. “So we designed a litterbox that has litter already in it, and when it's time to do a complete litter change, the box collapses and you have a completely contained disposable box that will not spill or even allow waste to come into contact with your hands.”

These disposable boxes are ideal for travelers, Traylor noted.

“And the Kitty Kan is 100-percent biodegradable, so it's earth-friendly and saves on countless plastic litter jugs, litter pans and the plastic bags that are used to discharge the daily poop scoop,” he added.

Fit for the Foyer

When keeping a litterbox clean on a daily basis, easy usage is often crucial; for some cat owners, a litterbox’s looks are equally important.

Litterboxes are not be the most attractive convenience in a cat owner's home, said Teper of ModProducts, and that's why he and his business partner, Rich Williams, designed the ModKat, an award-winning, top-entry litterbox with a swiveling lid and home-decor friendly look.

“Initially, we started out making a litterbox that looked great,” Teper said. “But when we started to research it, one of the top things that people were complaining about was litter tracking. So we included a scoop that has a brush on the side so you can sweep the litter back into the box, and the lid swivels, so any remaining litter will fall back into the box.”

The box itself, a 16-inch cube, is made from durable ABS plastic in a vibrant finish, he added.

“We found that getting that really glossy look with the rich colors was really only attainable by using ABS plastic,” he said, noting that his company has priced the boxes at $180 for retail. “We wanted something that fell as low as possible but in a price niche that wasn't touched.”

A Place of Their Own

While some owners prefer litterboxes that are designed to be seen, however, others may want to keep these products hidden from view.

Paul Pettys, president of Out of Sight Litter Box Inc. in Rock Hill, S.C., constructed a furniture-like unit that contains a litterbox. The unit's design also stops pet dogs from scavenging through the box and prevents litter from tracking throughout the house, Pettys said.

“The litter pan is up off the floor, so it's easy for the human to clean,” he said, noting that cat owners simply lift the lid to scoop the box. “And because it's up on a second level, when the cat jumps out of the litter pan and back to the first level, they land on the artificial turf, and all the litter comes out of their feet so you have no litter coming outside the cabinet.”

Pettys has been selling the cabinets online since 2003. This year, he attended Global Pet Expo and was prepared to take orders.

“We have a new manufacturer, which is one of the largest ready-to-assemble manufacturers in the United States,” he reported. “We are going to be going retail this year, and hopefully by next year internationally.”

The 24-inch by 20-inch unit, which will come in a variety of finishes, holds a standard litter pan and retails for less than $200, he said.

According to APPA statistics, more than 38 million households have cats, and virtually all of those homes need a litterbox. With new designs available to fill store shelves, pet product retailers have more products than ever to help their cat-owning customers find the litterbox solution that's best for them—and their four-legged friends.


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