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Cat owners want toys that will help their pets exercise their natural instincts and also promote bonding between pet and human.

Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises, a cat toy maker in Los Angeles, noted that toys that foster interaction between owner and cat are faring well.

“Interactive cat toys continue gaining traction as more and more cat owners are discovering the many benefits that come from these types of toys,” he said. “For starters, an interactive cat toy allows the cat to act out their natural predatory instincts without actually hunting real prey. Most importantly, interactive cat toys are the best way for pet owners to bond with their animal. Thirty years ago, we discovered the importance of interactive play for stimulation and exercise of indoor cats. Hunting, chasing and catching prey is their natural instinct and is an important part of the animal’s well-being.”

Vee’s PURRfect Leather Bouncer is designed to satisfy these instincts. The product features an 18-inch wand with a vegetable-tanned leather cord and a faux-fur end with leather tassels.

“Cats love leather—the smell, the taste, the texture,” Merva said.

Manufacturers are responding to customer demand by offering more choices, and Aimee Diskin, vice president of product development, cat supplies and dog/cat bedding, for Worldwise, a manufacturer in Novato, Calif., agreed that interaction and appealing to cats’ natural instincts are key in the cat toy category.

“There was a time when cat toys were limited to only a small selection of catnip-based products, jingle bells encased in plastic balls or simple strands of yarn cut from grandma’s knitting basket,” Diskin said. “But consumers want products that also serve as solutions that help foster a cat’s natural instincts and forge closer relationships between cat owners and their pets. With growing consumer interest in products that keep cats active, manufacturers are tapping in to the expanding market of feline toys that promote health and interaction.”

Worldwise recently introduced the Petlinks Loopy Laser. A two-in-one toy, Loopy Laser features a laser pointer owners can activate, and the product can be hung from a doorknob so cats can swat at its dangling feathers. The company’s new Petlinks Foxy Frenzy is a spinning electronic cat toy that mimics the thrill of the hunt, encouraging cats to chase, pounce and leap, according to the company.

While cat owners want something that their pet will love, since they’re the ones shopping, the toy has to appeal to humans, too. Mel Abernathy, vice president of sales for Primetime Petz, a pet furniture and accessories manufacturer in Rockwall, Texas, said that cat owners are often looking for décor-friendly solutions that both they and their pet can enjoy. He said the company’s new Hauspanther cat toys are a great example.

“The Hauspanther Cat Toy Collection by Primetime Petz offers each toy in two colorways to appeal to a broader base of customers—[with] many designs looking more like modern art than what one might expect to see in a typical cat toy section,” Abernathy added.

Scott Ragan, managing partner and CEO of Smarter Paw, maker of the Meowijuana brand in Lenexa, Kan., said that retailers are looking for solutions that will make life better for their customers and their customers’ pets.

“We work closely with our retail partners to help promote the importance of products that encourage more stimulation and natural wellness for cats, more exercise and more one-on-one interaction,” he said. “Our message of quality and fun can also be complemented with benefits that promote lowering of anxiety, a calmer balance in the home environment, better sleep and more positive behaviors.”

The company recently introduced three new toys for cats. Two can be refilled with catnip: Get Blasted, a wand toy in the shape of a rocket ship, and Get a Rise, a toy in the shape of a hot air balloon. Get Rocked is a rock-shaped toy that comes prefilled with catnip.

Sales Strategies

Stimulate Impulse Purchases

For pet specialty retailers seeking the best method of promoting and selling cat toys, there are several options to consider. For example, promoting toys as add-on sales to treat or food purchases can be achieved by strategically positioning displays.

Jane Van Heyst, buyer for Wiscoy Pet Food Co., a retailer in State College, Pa., said that cat toys are almost always an add-on purchase—usually to food—so playing up these opportunities is important.

“The only exception is if the cat owner has found a toy their pet absolutely loves and they’re coming in to replenish that,” Van Heyst noted. “Otherwise, cat parents are rarely coming here with the thought of buying a toy in mind. Cat toys are an add-on, impulse buy.”

Mel Abernathy, vice president of sales for Primetime Petz, a pet furniture and accessories manufacturer in Rockwall, Texas, said a great way to promote cat toy sales is through a “gift with purchase” (GWP), whereby a shopper can pick the toy of their choice for reaching a certain dollar amount in store spending, or a “purchase with purchase” (PWP) approach, where the shopper can receive a discount on a toy after spending a certain amount.

“For example, [for the GWP approach,] ‘Free toy with a $75 minimum purchase of cat food’ or ‘Free toy with a $100 or more cat furniture purchase,’ can be used,” Abernathy said. “This is a great way for customers to sample a brand of cat toys and have them come back for more.”

Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises, a cat toy maker in Los Angeles, said that suggestive selling—where an employee suggests additional items—is a tactic that retailers should utilize to their advantage.

“Retailers and staff should know this is the most important tool one can have when it comes to increasing a sales transaction,” he said. “It’s important to educate the sales staff on the many benefits cat toys have on cats. Vee Enterprises offers a sell sheet for retailers that highlight the various features of our toys along with key information explaining why our products are better than your average run-of-the-mill cat toy. Having a knowledgeable sales staff can turn that ordinary single-food-item purchase into a multi-item purchase.”

Sometimes, it can be as simple as keeping everything fresh and new to inspire unexpected sales. Tom Russell, owner of Andersen’s Pet Shop in Montrose, Calif., said that his cat-owning customers often make an add-on toy purchase as long as he freshens up displays or rotates products.

“I’m always refreshing things or adding something new,” he said. “The cat people that come here are always going to buy something if I keep it interesting for them.”


“Interactive cat toys continue gaining traction as more and more cat owners are discovering the many benefits that come from these types of toys.”—Eric Merva of Vee Enterprises


Merchandising

Utilizing Displays and Offering Variety

In-store displays can go a long way in helping shoppers connect to certain products—or inspiring a purchase they hadn’t intended to make.

Jane Van Heyst, buyer for Wiscoy Pet Food Co., a retailer in State College, Pa., said that the store tries to make cat toys an easy grab-and-go item, as these products are usually an impulse buy. The store has displayed wands in barrels or decorative vases and had customers grab one while shopping for food.

For cat toys made by Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles, getting creative with displays is a necessity, said sales manager Eric Merva.

“Unlike other consumer packaged goods that hang from pegs or sit on shelves, our toys are all on wands,” he said. “This can sometimes present a challenge for retailers, so it can take some creativity. I’ve seen some stores utilize vases as a way to display our products. This tends to be very eye-catching as it looks like a bouquet of flowers at first, but if one looks a little closer, they’ll see our natural feathered toy ends. Of course, we do manufacture display stands, which don’t take up much floor or counter space as they are an 8-by-8-inch square display stand.”

Merva added that Vee Enterprises toys are all handmade in Los Angeles using U.S.-made parts.

“I always suggest creating a ‘made in the USA’ section where they can showcase brands like ours as well as others manufactured right here in the U.S.,” Merva said.

While displays can help catch shoppers’ attention, Van Heyst said that nothing beats variety.

“You have to be able to accommodate different needs,” she said. “Catnip toys, for instance, are an example of a toy type that some cat owners absolutely love but others do not like how their pet responds to it. You have to be able to accommodate both types of shoppers.”

Karen Rashap, store manager for Pawsarotti’s, a pet store in Santa Rosa, Calif., agreed.

“Cats are so finicky and what one loves another might not,” she said. “It’s important to have a variety of toy types to meet all shoppers’ needs. It doesn’t always have to be complex—plenty of cats like simple toys. You just need to have some variety.”


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“With more than 50 percent of cats struggling with physical and weight management challenges due to inactivity—and also increasing numbers of cats showing behavior patterns or stress that can be challenging in the home—it is very important for retailers to promote toys that tackle these common issues and problems and help promote a healthy lifestyle. Education is always key and vital for adding to routine sales. Also, let’s not discount the power of fun! Cat owners want to offer their cats toys that promote fun through instinctual behaviors such as hunt, chase, etc., to get cats engaged and moving.”—Scott Ragan, managing partner and CEO of Smarter Paw, maker of the Meowijuana brand in Lenexa, Kan.


“Feathers and furry mice historically have drawn the attention of cats everywhere—but what draws customers in to pet retail stores needs to stay fresh and innovative. Cat owners are searching for safe, enticing toys for their cats that incorporate solutions that entice based on instinctual and unique behaviors. Cat toys not only incorporate interactive designs and materials like feather wands, catnip and stuffed toys, but the colors, designs and textures must appeal to the humans first.”—Aimee Diskin, vice president of product development, cat supplies and dog/cat bedding, for Worldwise in Novato, Calif.


“It’s important to cater to what the cat owner’s goals are. Most of the time, simple, old-school toys are what cats prefer most. But technology-driven or interactive toys can work well when the owner is playing with the cat. It comes down to keeping the cat’s interest.”—Tom Russell, owner of Andersen’s Pet Shop in Montrose, Calif.