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Fall Emporium: Think Outside the Box

Posted: September 25, 2013, 9:40 a.m. EDT


With a little creativity, retailers can promote litterbox accessories as gifts this holiday season.

By Patricia Morris Buckley  

The way Maurice Emyerson sees it, cat owners spend more time cleaning their cat’s litterbox than they think.

"At three minutes a day, that adds up to 18 and a half hours a year,” said Emyerson, marking director for Litter-Lifter in Atlanta. "That’s a lot of time.”

For cleaning and maintaining the cat box, pet owners have many options to choose from, including litterbox liners, litter scoops, mats, caddies to organize accessories, deodorizers and litter attractants. 

"People think of cleaning a litterbox as a dirty job,” said Kristie Hamilton, director of sales for Imperial Cat in Morrilton, Ark. "So litterbox accessories aren’t typically giftable items.”

That’s the issue that Mitchell Bearg, owner of Bow Wow Meow in San Francisco, Menlo Park and San Carlos, Calif., sees every holiday season.

"They’re fairly personal items,” he said of litterbox accessories. "You wouldn’t see them as gift-giving possibilities, especially when there are other fun items such as cat toys to consider.”

Yet some manufacturers, such as Hamilton, see the potential for that to change.

"It’s a think-outside-the-box type of gift,” she said. "It’s for people who don’t want to spend extra money on themselves. So there’s potential for friends and family to give an item as a gift.”

There are four factors that take a litterbox accessory from a personal item hidden away from outside eyes to something that’s perfect to tie a bow on during the holidays, according to manufacturers and retailers. Function, uniqueness, high-end products and low-end products make litterbox accessories appeal to gift givers.

As for the giftees, they suggest this category as a gift for roommates, elderly parents, younger children and clients of pet services, such as cat sitters. Some owners just like to gift their favorite feline.

Functional Gifts
Imperial Cat recently introduced the Neat ‘n Tidy Litter Scoop, which is made of a durable, lightweight metal and has a long, vinyl-coated handle, Hamilton said. The longer handle means that owners don’t have to lean over much, which is perfect for older or health-compromised users, she pointed out.

"This solves a problem for some people,” she added. "I know I’d appreciate getting one as a gift. And we do know of instances where people ordered them as gifts to give to friends. If people like a product, they will gift it out, especially for friends and family who wouldn’t spend the money on a more expensive item. Retailers will want to point out the quality of material for an item like a scoop so the customer sees they won’t have to replace it every month. That’s worth the extra premium they pay.”

Emyerson echoed Hamilton’s assessment as he’s seen the same thing with the Litter-Lifter, a clog-free scoop that uses triangular tines so the user doesn’t lift any litter but the clumps, making the scoop lighter and easier to use, he said. It comes in 14 colors with different cat designs on the sifter.

"We see people on the website buying several at a time and sending them to different addresses,” he said. "And every December, we sell a lot of scoops.”

Unique Gifts
The Refined Feline Temporary Cat Cover from RefinedKind Pet Products fits over the litterbox to cut down on smell as well as to hide the box itself, said Josh Feinkind, owner of the Irvington, N.Y.-based company. The corrugated plastic cover is meant to be set up by the customer, complete with a set of decals for decorating.

"It’s functional but also stylish,” he said. "It’s a great gift for someone who doesn’t want an exposed litter pan and has a smaller living space, or someone whose cat can’t make it all the way to the basement to use the litterbox.”

Feinkind recommends placing unique items in a window display.

"People passing by know you have cat food,” he said. "This shows that you carry different items and piques their curiosity to come in.”

High-End Gifts
George Richter, owner of DogDogCat in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., sees high-end accessories as giftable, as many owners don’t splurge on themselves. Items such as wooden litter pan covers that look like furniture are a perfect example, he added.

"Definitely a premium type of item is an excellent gift,” said Imperial Cat’s Hamilton. "Not the items that retail for $1 or $1.50. Something they wouldn’t spend the extra money on for themselves.”

Affordable Accessories
Yet there is something to be said for those $1.50 products as gifts, as they are perfect for impulse buys, said Emyerson.

"Put a gift tag on litter scoops or liners and stick them near the cash register,” he suggested.

Yvonne Guibert, owner of Groovy Cats & Dogs in Tampa, Fla., goes one step further and sticks many small items into stockings and hangs them around her retail location as last minute gift ideas.

"It’s important at that time of the year to make them look more festive,” she said.

She also puts together gift baskets and new kitten baskets. It’s all about suggesting to customers visually the gift-giving potential of these items.

"People need different ideas that they wouldn’t normally think of,” she said. "People don’t naturally think of litterbox accessories that way, so they have to see it in a stocking or gift basket.”

Rob Morgan, COO for San Rafael, Calif.-based Worldwise, which makes the Petlinks line of products, suggested a gift-giving area or aisle with signage.

"Gift giving can grow even more if promoted in-store and through advertising around the holidays,” he said. "The promotions create awareness and often create an impulse to purchase a gift for the pet or a loved one who has a pet. "

Hamilton further suggested incorporating litterbox accessories in holiday email blasts.

"Most people just don’t think of giving litterbox accessories as gifts,” she said. "But I really don’t see why not. They just have to learn to think differently.”

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