In the dog toy category, consumer interest is up, resulting in positive sales trends, according to industry insiders. Offering engaging products that also nurture the owner-pet relationship is integral for toy sales success at retail.
“Interactive dog toys are doing very well and are continuing to grow in popularity,” said Leah Nagel, B2B marketing manager for ZippyPaws, a dog toy and accessories manufacturer in Chino, Calif. “This is a great category to meet consumer needs. Interactive toys benefit the bond between pet and owner and promote mental stimulation with their unique features.”
Jennifer Rosenberger, director of product management for Petshop by Fringe Studio, an Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer of pet toys, accessories and gifts, agreed.
“Toys and play are something we can do for them every day, and helps us become even more connected to them,” she said. “Playtime is now not just for the dog; it’s for both the dog and the pet parent.”
The top question shoppers ask about dog toys concerns durability, retailers reported. This especially holds true for households with tougher chewers.
“We are asked about 80 percent of the time how long a toy lasts, and that has been a consistent factor that goes into what we recommend as a toy for the pet,” said Christopher Petak, team lead for My Pet Market, a retailer with one location in Irvine, Calif., and seven in Arizona. “Customers want the most durable toy for their dog and do not wish to spend money on more and more toys.”
Safety is another top concern for dog owners, insiders agreed. Petak reported that customers want to know that the materials used in the product are not harmful.
“Being a holistic pet store, we strive to give our pets the healthiest, safest and most organic choices possible, and that reflects in our customers and the products we carry,” he said.
Pet owners are increasingly considering the future of the planet, insiders added, and look for products that will have a positive impact. From eco-friendly to made in the USA, more pet owners and retailers consider these factors before making a purchase.
“Younger pet owners are more conscious of the environment,” said Ward Myers, owner of Spunky Pup, a pet toy manufacturer in Wayzata, Minn. “U.S.-made and sustainable are trending up. These types of products resonate with consumers and have grown more important over the past couple of years. Pulling plastic from the environment, as well as products made here, seem to be a growing demand, especially with what is happening overseas and in our oceans.”
While some shoppers will happily pay a premium for these products, retailers find that price can be a hang-up.
Christine McCoy, owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center in North Royalton, Ohio, said customers want “good price options of made in the USA toys.”
“They just are not price competitive with toys made from China,” she added.
In addition, fun, playful designs remain essential for dog toy shoppers.
“Iconic and eye-catching designs are always trending in the dog toys category,” Nagel said.
“Customers have really fallen in love with our iconic T-Rex and Sloth toys that we release seasonally, our fun alcohol bottles/cans, and the mini, three-piece toy sets we offer for smaller dogs,” she said.
As the holidays approach, retailers expect continued success in this category, given current positive sales trends and the upcoming opportunity to see new products in person at the SuperZoo trade show in Las Vegas this month.
“Toys are still very popular in our store,” McCoy said. “The sales are steady and definitely always increase in sales around the holidays.”
Boosts Sales, Satisfaction
For the best sales results in the dog toy category, pet specialty stores need educated associates, industry insiders said, adding that their knowledge must be well rounded.
“Our employees are trained to have the knowledge necessary to make an informed recommendation to a customer based on the details that the customer gives to us about their dog,” said Christopher Petak, team lead for My Pet Market, which has one location in Irvine, Calif., and seven in Arizona.
That starts with knowing how to communicate with customers and learn about them and their animals, retailers said.
“Be a part of their buying experience; engage in conversation and get to know your customers,” said Christine McCoy, owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a retailer in North Royalton, Ohio. “Don’t be afraid to let them know [when the item they selected] may not be the best choice and help them find the right toy for their dog.”
To help guide customers to the most appropriate toys for their dogs, sales associates must understand dog behavior and needs, insiders said.
“Retailers need to understand how dogs in their market play and what is important to those dogs and their pet parents,” said Jennifer Rosenberger, director of product management for Petshop by Fringe Studio, a dog toy, accessories and gift manufacturer in Irvine, Calif.
To help customers make the best choice for their pets, McCoy recommended addressing the dog’s age, size, activity level and destructiveness.
“We choose toys to try to match all levels, and work with the customers directly when making a choice,” she said.
This also requires knowledge of the toys a retailer carries, said Leah Nagel, B2B marketing manager for ZippyPaws, a dog toy and accessories manufacturer in Chino, Calif.
“Retailers can help promote products to their customers by understanding all the key features and benefits of their dog toys,” she said.
Most manufacturers offer their retail partners valuable product information. ZippyPaws, for example, provides education through marketing materials, a website of key product details and additional information, as well as readily available staff that associates can reach out to, Nagel said.
Petshop by Fringe Studio also offers copy content, photos and videos “for easy e-comm posting,” Rosenberger said.
Staff meetings and sharing personal experiences with the toys can be a helpful way to learn about new products, retailers reported.
“In order to educate our employees, we talk as a group and share information that we all know,” Petak said. “Then, for any other questions, we use scientific studies, animal behavioral scientist data and much more to ensure the highest quality of information possible.”
Fun Vibes Only
Toys are a year-round seller for most retailers, and manufacturers continue to innovate and launch new products for stores to offer eager shoppers. These new toys aim to meet key consumer demands, from fun stimulation to earth-friendly vibes.
ZippyPaws offers a collection of SmartyPaws Puzzler toys designed to teach dogs problem-solving skills in entertaining and boredom-reducing ways, officials for the Chino, Calif.-based company said. In March, the company released the SmartyPaws Puzzler Sunflower, an interactive, three-tiered game with rotating levels that can hold treats or kibble. The toy features a non-slip base to prevent sliding and holds up to one cup of food or treats.
Looking ahead to Halloween, which often is the start of holiday-focused fare, Petshop by Fringe Studio unveiled its seasonal collection last month. The collection includes the company’s iconic T-rex and Sloth dressed in fun, new costumes, a book of spells, a dangly-body scarecrow and a candy bag burrow toy designed for owners to take their dogs trick-or-treating with them, said Jennifer Rosenberger, director of product management of the Irvine, Calif.-based company.
At SuperZoo in Las Vegas this month, Petshop by Fringe Studio plans to launch a new Earth Friendly collection of dog toys, Rosenberger reported. Focused on recycled and natural materials, and stuffed with recycled water bottles that are spun into a fiber filling, this collection incorporates a mix of materials including organic cotton faux fur, soy faux fur, eco-friendly jute rope and biodegradable hemp details.
Petshop by Fringe Studio aims to help dog owners eliminate waste from the environment and take a more eco-conscious approach to materials and manufacturing, Rosenberger said.
“We’re even looking into how we can get into more eco-conscious packing down the road for a larger impact in 2023,” she added.
6 Dog Toy Merchandising Strategies
It’s not enough for pet retailers to carry fun, interactive, durable, safe toys; customers must see them and engage with them, industry insiders said. Insiders offered their most successful recommendations for keeping dog toy sales moving in a positive direction.
1. Catch the Customer’s Eye
“If you want a product to sell, make sure the customer can see it,” said Christopher Petak, team lead for My Pet Market, which has one store in Irvine, Calif., and seven in Arizona. “New items are usually pushed more towards the front of the store or front counter to ensure it catches the customers’ eyes.”
Ward Myers, owner of Spunky Pup, a dog toy manufacturer in Wayzata, Minn., agreed, adding that floor displays can help.
“Floor displays and PDQs (pretty darn quicks) tell the story,” he explained.
2. Rotate the Inventory
“We move around our displays periodically so that [customers] see new items, even if they have been on the shelves for a while,” said Christine McCoy, owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a retailer in North Royalton, Ohio.
3. Carry Variety
“Creating eye-catching displays and offering a curated yet wide variety of products can help retailers promote their products,” said Leah Nagel, B2B marketing manager for ZippyPaws, a dog toy and accessory manufacturer in Chino, Calif.
Myers advised avoiding duplication in the sets of dog toys stores carry.
“Be open to new and fun [toys],” he said.
4. Create Themes or Collections
“Our toys look best when they are merchandised by a theme on a peggable endcap or when they are displayed as a collection in the window or on a table,” said Jen O’Brien, key account sales for Petshop by Fringe Studio, a manufacturer of dog toys, accessories and gifts in Irvine, Calif.
This is an effective way to cross-merchandise as well, insiders said.
“We also have two store dogs that get to try out new products, and it starts a conversation at the counter when they see them playing with them,” McCoy said.
Sharing personal experience, and that of other customers, also brings attention to products and boosts sales of dog toys, insiders said.
Petak said he talks to employees about products and why they should recommend them.
6. Promote on Social Media
Several insiders recommended the advantages of utilizing social media to promote and display a retailer’s dog toy offerings.
“Instagram loves cute animals and humor, which our toys definitely have,” O’Brien said.
She also recommended using manufacturer-provided imagery in marketing emails to loyal customers.
At The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, staff “promote on Instagram and Facebook when we bring new products in,” McCoy said.
Petak reported strong sales of dog toys.
“I attribute this to a number of facets, including marketing, word-of-mouth, social media buzz and the overall quality of the products we sell,” he said.