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Fall Emporium: Stuff Those Stockings

Posted: September 24, 2013, 4:10 p.m. EDT


The holidays present the perfect opportunity for retailers to highlight cat toy favorites as gifts for playful felines.

By Sandy Robins

As cat owners learn more about the benefits of engaging their cats in play to keep them both mentally stimulated and physically fit, cat toys have become a very viable gift category for specialty retailers.

"Cat toys both big and small are big business all year ’round,” said Chris Achord, owner of The Cat Shoppe and Dog Store in Nashville, Tenn. "However, business definitely increases during fall leading up to the end-of-year holiday season, because cat owners are not only spoiling their cats but purchasing gifts for friends’ cats too.

"Small assorted toys always make good stocking stuffers, so people often buy several different ones during the holiday season. Also they often stock up on a favorite [toy] to be able to replace it when the original one wears out or loses its catnip enhancement,” she added.

Achord has an entire wall dedicated to cat toys.

"I highlight a different cat toy every month by picking something new and keeping it on the counter by the register to draw attention to it and, of course, whatever is out at the time becomes a popular impulse purchase, too,” she said.

Achord has customers coming in to the store and specifically asking for toys that will exercise and stimulate cats, she said.

"Consequently, wands are a huge seller, and so are the new battery-operated games and laser toys and puzzle feeders,” she said. "But these need to be demonstrated or have their functionality explained to customers.”

These games are best displayed in a retail setting side by side to pique consumer interest, said Mandie Sweetman, product manager for Frolicat battery-operated cat games and laser toys manufactured by Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp. 

"This gives cat lovers an opportunity to see what is out there and decide what is the best type of challenge for their cat,” she added. "Very often cat owners don’t like to leave their cat’s toys lying around. But toys such as the Frolicat Pounce and Dart Duo have chic modern shapes, and feedback has shown that cat owners are happy to display them when company comes over; in fact, they like to demonstrate their cat’s prowess. So effectively, such personal at-home demonstrations are driving sales.”

New York-based cat toy designer and manufacturer Randi Warhol started her company Polydactyl initially as an online Etsy craft-styled store, but her Asian takeout food themed catnip toys are now sold in retail stores nationwide.

"I’ve has personal feedback from customers who tell me that they buy catnip toys for their cats and for their friends’ cats, too,” she said. "And in the latter scenario, nice packaging is part of the overall appreciation of receiving a toy as a gift.

"Our toys are designed to look like real food, such as spring rolls, packets of hot sauce and fortune cookies,” she continued. "Each one comes in what resembles a Chinese take-out food bag with a ‘take-out’ receipt attached in order to address the recipient and give the presentation a very customized feel. The idea is to make buying a simple cat toy a unique purchasing experience in a retail setting.”

While most cat toy gift buying focuses around the end-of-year holidays, Warhol is hoping to extend gifting opportunities well into January, as Chinese New Year falls on January 31 in 2014.

Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio, recently expanded its line of Rascal Cat Toys and showcased them at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in July.

"The focus is on lots of feathers,” said Diane Thomas, communications manager for the company. "From a retailer standpoint, they are packed either in jars or in packs of four that can be mounted on a wall or on a display. Included in the new additions are two kick toys constructed from multiple types of materials for interactive feline kick-play games,” Thomas said, adding that they are small enough to make ideal stocking stuffers or even be hung on a holiday tree.

Swedish pet-toy designer Nina Ottosson of Zoo Active Products AB in Karlskoga, Sweden, whose products are distributed in the U.S. by The Company of Animals in Bridgeport, Conn., designed her first cat puzzle toy nearly 20 years ago but said that only recently have the pet industry and pet owners come to understand the value of such products for their cats.

"Just like dogs, cats can suffer from boredom, and puzzle feeders are a great way to keep them engaged and to avoid feline behavioral problems,” she said. "Some cats need more stimulation than others. For example, Bengal cats really need different kinds of mental stimulation on different levels, as they are really clever and need different challenges.”

Her latest feline puzzle toys include the MixMax Puzzle, which consists of several puzzle boards owners hide food or treats in. The boards can be linked together to increase the degree of difficulty.

"Nowadays there is such a great selection of cat toys on the market that there is something for everyone in all price categories,” said Rory Singh, owner of Purrfect Pet Supplies in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada.

"I highly recommend catnip toys to my customers during the fall season and as it gets closer to the holidays because it revs cats up and gives them energy, and, consequently, they are more inclined to play and be interactive with one another and their owners. This is very important, especially in colder climates where cats tend to sleep more.

"Wands with features make great gift this time of year too. And if pet parents dip those feathers in catnip, all the better!” he added.

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