The Minneapolis-based catnip and catnip toy manufacturer’s enthusiasm extends beyond its products to its customers—both two- and four legged.
By Michael Ventre
Kevin Duck followed the traditional path to pet business owner: He sold cars and recycling equipment, directed cable TV shows, booked music into nightclubs and did lighting for concerts.
All right, so he veered off a bit from the textbook en route to his current position as catnip toy oligarch. But if there is one thing the head of Minneapolis-based DuckyWorld excels at, it’s grabbing onto something that seems like fun and diving into it with every fiber of his being.
“I always wondered what I was going to do when I grew up,” Duck said.
Duck, who co-owns the 13-year-old, organically grown catnip-filled toy business with his wife Lisa, indeed started his professional career on a serpentine road. He worked in sales, did commercials and film work, fell in love with the live music scene and toiled there, almost getting beat up once by the boyfriend of a woman he asked to vacate the stage.
Then he had a heart-to-heart with a friend over coffee one day.
“After about six months of not doing anything, a friend who owned pet stores asked me, ‘What are you going to do now?’ “ Duck said. “People have always been asking me, ‘What are you going to do now?’ They worry about it more than I do.”
That led him to enter the world of dog beds. His friend said nobody was making disposable beds at the time. Duck said he did well with his Cap-Pooch-Ino brand, but soured on those because they were too big and bulky, and he had shipping problems with them. He wanted to stay in the pet domain, but go a lot smaller.
“I always made my cats their own toys,” he said. “I filled them with catnip.”
Kevin and Lisa began by hitting a trade show in Atlantic City with their catnip, in 1/2-, 1- and 2-ounce packages. Even though the enormity of the exhibit and the sheer number of sellers was daunting, “We did well at the show, and we’ve done well since,” he said. “Our products are contagious.”
DuckyWorld’s items bear the Yeowww! brand and consist of toys with organic catnip inside, although the company also sells bags of loose catnip. The toys are done in eye-catching designs, such as the Cigar, Big Baby Cigar, Banana, Pollock Fish (splattered with paint as in Jackson Pollock), Purrr!-Muda Triangles, “Stinkies” Catnip Sardines and more.
At-A-Glance: DuckyWorld Products Inc.
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Owners: Kevin and Lisa Duck
Years in Business: 13
Areas of Distribution/Business: International
Company Mission: “Continue to maintain our customer loyalty and trust in the marketplace. To continue to touch our audience and be accessible to them. To continue the quality and positive ways we do toy making.”
Product/Business Categories: Cat
Product/Business Lines: Yeowww! Organically Grown Catnip toys; also studies and creates developmental and behavioral toys for animals in captivity
Much of the success of DuckyWorld involves its product display rack—it’s all about the rack. On the company’s website, the importance of the rack is underlined and bold-faced. It reminds potential customers, “Find Yeowww! Catnip on the nicest rack in town…If your favorite retailer doesn’t have a nice rack…heck ya, tell ‘em to get one!”
DuckyWorld promotes the allure of the big rack.
“We’ve had the larger rack, 2-feet across, not that big, all around the world,” Duck said.
But Duck’s graphics people, and his sales and marketing folks, convinced him that there’s no need to suffer from rack-nophobia over smaller ones.
“They talked me into the smaller rack, a foot and a half across,” he said. “It’s a smaller footprint. We’ve shown the big rack at the Interzoo show, and we did OK. This year, my image of everything is smaller.
“They had to talk me into it, but I said ‘OK,’” Duck added. “My favorite show was ‘Doogie Howser.’ There was always a line typed at the end with some wisdom. I remember one that said, ‘It takes a strong hand to let go.’ For me, it was a matter of letting other people come up with stuff creatively.”
Duck is also especially proud of DuckyWorld’s G-PEP. The company’s Guaranteed Product Exchange Program takes back Yeowww! catnip toys if they don’t sell.
“On a typical rack, there is probably eight to 12 different toys,” Duck said. “If one of those toys, for color or shape or just in that area doesn’t seem to be selling, you have 60 days to return it and you get full credit. If you pick another toy you get five percent off any SKU you haven’t tried yet.”
He said the G-PEP has been in existence for about three to four years and “It’s been unbelievable.” Duck said it was going so well, the company extended the program to holiday items, too; retailers can have up to 30 days after Halloween or Christmas, for example, to return unsold toys.
But it appears DuckyWorld’s most valuable asset is Duck himself.
“He’s so amazingly helpful,” said Trisha Moreland, who owns UrbAnimal, which sells holistic and natural pet foods from two stores, one in Minneapolis and the other in St. Paul, Minn. “He stops in and checks to see how things are going. He runs product ideas by us.”
Moreland said it is Duck’s unbridled enthusiasm that sets him apart.
“Here’s an example of how fantastic he is,” she said. “They had a new mini-rack. I said I didn’t know about it, and I didn’t hear about it from my distributor. He got right on the phone, ran back to the warehouse and dropped it off here. He wants us to have stuff right away. I think that’s crazy and fantastic.”
She said Duck will walk into her store armed with a bunch of Yeowww! Banana catnip toys just for the opportunity to use the old “Is that a banana in your pocket?” joke with customers.
Now, one of Duck’s primary future goals—besides possibly expanding a currently limited line of toys for lions, tigers and bears —is to make sure that DuckyWorld doesn’t lose the personal touch that has made the company successful.
“One of my pet peeves, now that we’ve gotten larger and are all over the world, is that we’re getting away from touching individual stores, because we’re so busy,” Duck said. “It’s a big deal to touch people and say hi. They love it just when you say hi, when you get to know them, their families.
“We’ve gotten away from that, but I want to get back to it. I want to hire somebody just to walk into the stores,” he added. “We’ll never have an answering machine pick up the phone, unless we’re busy. My wife is the president of the company. She handles customer service stuff.”
Oh, and one last thing: Kevin and Lisa have two cats, Littleone and Betty (along with a mutt named Chowderhead); they’re always around businesses with cats running around; their professional world is linked to cats and catnip; and yet Kevin is seriously allergic to cats.
“Hey, I was allergic to booze for 25 years,” he said. “That never stopped me. I take meds. I go outside. You just deal with it.”