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1:02 PM   April 27, 2015
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Function Meets Flair, Traditional Meets Modern

When it comes to cat furniture, trees have some company.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Cat furniture has come of age. Though traditional carpeted cat trees and scratchers remain popular among pet owners, designer furniture choices now run the gamut—from stainless-steel towers and over-the-door space-saving perches to molded plastic beds, recycled cardboard climbers and litterbox concealers.

Still a store staple, the traditional cat tree continues to evolve its look, feel and function.
The newest wave of cat furniture blends seamlessly into today’s home décor, and some designers are even keeping an eye on the environment when creating their pieces.

“Cat furniture now fits in more with the home,” said Wanda Kelsey-Mendez, owner of Gatos Cat Boutique in Kansas City, Mo. “In the past, everything was sisal and carpeted and generic. Now, designers are trying to make the things that cats enjoy and fit more into pet owners’ lifestyles and their homes.”

That gives retailers a fresh, new angle when selling cat condos, furniture and beds to the 38.2 million cat-owning households in the United States, as reported in the American Pet Products Association’s 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey. The survey also shows that nearly half of the cat-owning respondents have a carpeted, corrugated or other type of scratching post at home, while 35 percent have a bed and 16 percent have a kitty condo.

Liz Paik, owner of Cheengoo Pet Boutique in San Francisco said she carries cat beds and condos that blend the function of a scratcher with the style of designer furniture.

“One of our best sellers is the Cheeky Chaise and the Sweet Lounge from Marmalade Pet Care,” she said of the pressed cardboard-turned-furniture that comes in designs that resemble chairs, sculptures and more. “I carry them because they’re very unique. They’re both recyclable, they can be used on both sides, they’re durable, they’re strong and they’re beautiful to look at. You can even sit on them and stand on them.

Industry Voices

What’s your best selling cat furniture?

“Cat trees and window perches are always a great staple product. But we sell a range of cat trees. Some get very built out, but they start with your basic cat tree and all the way up to convenient storage benches and jungle gyms.”
Ashly Hartmann, merchandise manager, dog and cat division, for Drs. Foster and Smith in Rhinelander, Wis.

“One of our best sellers is a sisal scratching post with a little cradle on top. It’s a little bed. Our store cats love those because they can hop up, get on one in the window and they’re happy. They cost $79. We try to keep our price point under $100 for the beds.”
Jay Horwitz, owner of The Cat Connection in Dallas

“I love the Caboodle. Cats love cardboard boxes, and somebody finally came up with a cardboard condo that you assemble in whatever configuration you want. It’s really cheap, and it’s completely recyclable at the end of its life.”
Liz Paik, owner of pet boutique Cheengoo in San Francisco

“A lot of cat furniture out there isn’t very attractive,” Paik said. “And I find Marmalade’s stuff to be not just beautiful to look at, but eco-friendly, and cats love it. They lay on it, they scratch it and they drool on it.”

Marmalade’s new functional furniture styles aren’t alone. More designers have unveiled pieces of furniture with clean lines, flowing shapes, colors that match home décor and functional fabrics that enhance rather than clutter a cat owner’s home, said Gary Hoeflich, president of Pet Supply, a product distributor based in Fountain Valley, Calif. But, he added, cat posts and trees remain staples.

“Some of the cat furniture is unique,” he said. “We have a half

 dozen that look like real trees, mushrooms, things like that. You sell them, but nowhere near as much as the standard cat post. You get a cat post that’s 7-feet tall and has three or four shelves on it with a nest on top, and that’s the most common one.

“We carry a huge selection of high-end cat posts and it just amazes me that people will come in and spend $200 or $300 on one,” Hoeflich continued. “They love it. They’re thinking about the health of their cat, exercise and letting them look out the window. But they have to be stable and heavy duty. Some of these cat posts, if you take them and you wiggle them, these things are junk. And they’re still in the hundreds of dollars.”

Jay Horwitz, owner of The Cat Connection in Dallas, agreed.

“Some of those trees you build yourself, I don’t think they have the integrity of a piece that’s built all as one unit,” he said. “They can be kind of wobbly so we tend to stay away from them. We have more of the traditional and very functional ones.”

 “In the past, everything was sisal and carpeted and generic. Now, designers are trying to make the things that cats enjoy and fit more into pet owners’ lifestyles and their homes.”
—Wanda Kelsey-Mendez, owner of Gatos Cat Boutique in Kansas City, Mo.

Horwitz said he exclusively stocks Molly and Friends cat condos, which are modern versions of carpeted cat trees with lots of scratchable surfaces.

Every piece that we buy has sisal on it,” Horwitz said. “It’s a combination of scratching post and furniture but it gives the cats some different textures to claw. The company that makes them wraps the sisal all the way up the leg—at least a good 30 to 36 inches of sisal on every piece they make.”

Must-Have Furniture Features

When stocking cat furniture, such as condos, scratchers and loungers, retailers should consider three important features, said Wanda Kelsey-Mendez, owner of Gatos Cat Boutique in Kansas City, Mo. They should be stable, scratchable and tall.

“Stability is really important because kitties do like to jump,” she said. “And they like to be high. So if customers buy a tall piece of furniture, they should plan on their cats jumping. They’re not going to just crawl up there and sit nicely. They’re going to jump from there to wherever they want to be that’s high, so stability is really important.”

It should be covered in a material that’s cat-scratch approved, she said.

“I always recommend that customers don’t do carpet unless it’s absolutely necessary because when you give a kitty carpet to scratch on, it tells them basically that fabric and carpet are OK to scratch on,” she said. “In my house, that’s not true. They can scratch on sisal, they can scratch on other things that I’ve given them to scratch on, but the furniture is off limits and they don’t scratch my furniture or tear my curtains and they know what they’re supposed to scratch on.”

And those scratching surfaces should be tall, she said.

"We’re seeing that the scratching post needs to be much taller than we’ve thought of in the past,” she said. “It’s not just for them to sharpen their claws. It’s in fact a marking instinct they have, and they like to stretch up high when they do that. That is going to help protect peoples’ furniture if they get a taller scratching post.” —W.B.W.

Of course, the cat’s comfort remains paramount. Designers recognize this, and they’re creating cat-friendly beds stuffed with fluffy fill that ensure the cat furniture functions as well as it fits into home décor trends.

John Ayres, president of Freedom Pet Supplies Inc. in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, said although his dog beds outsell cat beds considerably, tent-like cat beds that allow cats to cozy under covers have taken off.

“We’re selling a lot more hooded or enclosed bed products for the cats instead of the exposed beds,” he said. “They’ve been doing extremely well. And for whatever reason, the cat beds tend to sell in more brilliant patterns.”

Ashly Hartmann, merchandise manager, dog and cat division, for Drs. Foster and Smith in Rhinelander, Wis., said her company has seen a similar draw.

“Cats love to nestle in and get under the blankets and hide out, and I’d say that’s our biggest customer trend—those little covered nap beds,” she said. “Through the winter, the heated cat beds are popular, too.”

Horwitz reported the same trend. He added that he searches out beds made with recycled materials, such as those made by Big Shrimpy and West Paw, and the Bowser Pet Products’ Buttercup bed, a dog bed that cinches up into a comfy cup—and is “perfect for cats,” he said.

“For us, shopping for the consumer, it’s hard to find cat beds,” he said. “Most of the time, they’re dog beds. So it’s a challenge for us to find good cat beds with good quality materials. There are plenty of cheap cat beds out there, but we go for the more higher-end mid to high priced beds because they last longer.”

Hartmann said her customers appreciate easy-to-clean materials.

“The cat beds are covered in the microfiber fabrics that are easy to clean hair off, just like you’re seeing in home furnishing and couches,” she said.

From traditional to modern, carpet to cardboard, functional to fashionable, cat scratchers, furniture and beds have moved beyond the monolithic designs of years past. Today’s cat furniture takes into account cats’ contentment and customers’ style, Paik said.

“Some people are traditional and some are modern, and now due to demand, there’s cat furniture out there that can accommodate just about anyone’s taste,” she said. “Plus, they’re durable and the cats like them, and that’s the most important thing.”

As designs get more creative, cat owners will be more open to cat décor, Kelsey-Mendez said.

“Maybe in the past customers gave the cat a piece of cardboard and that was it,” she said. “They didn’t need to spend a lot of money on the cat.

We know a lot more about cats than we used to, and we know what makes them happy and content in a household. And with all the love they give back to us, they deserve to have it as good as we would give ourselves.” <HOME>

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