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Customer preferences for dog toys often vary with pet size and play styles. A key factor in recent dog toy trends is the way owners view and treat their canine companions.

“As members of the family, busy owners want to give them something that engages them and creates a joyful connection, much like you might do for your own child,” said Spencer Williams, CEO and president of West Paw, a Bozeman, Mont.-based manufacturer of pet toys, beds and treats. “We’re also seeing engaged pet owners becoming savvier and more educated on their pet’s needs.”

The emotional connection that many people have with their pooches is evidenced in the types of toys they select, and more owners are buying toys that evoke these emotional connections, said Jennifer Rosenberger, senior product manager for PetShop by Fringe Studio, an Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer of pet toys and other pet accessories.

“We want our dogs to be everywhere with us, and even more now that we’re going through a pandemic,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to take care of and stay connected with our fur babies. The idea that your dog could play with a toy that reminds you of something you enjoyed from your childhood or something that makes you laugh keeps us feeling more present and connected with them.”

While dog owners are buying playthings that are trendy and fun, functionality is crucial as well, said Leah Angelos, sales manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of pet toys and other accessories.

“There is a high demand for products that can provide dogs with more than just one benefit,” she said. “For example, our Happy Hour Crusherz are perfect for dogs that not only want to play, but may have naturally destructive instincts as well. This type of product allows pets to exert natural behaviors in a positive manner, instead of taking it out on an innocent pair of shoes.”

Brain game or puzzle toys and treat-dispensing items are popular choices to keep dogs entertained and engaged, industry insiders said. And durability is essential for the strong chewers out there.

“We have noticed more destructive dog toys designed for strong chewers,” said Nancy Guinn, president of Dog Krazy, a pet supply retailer with eight locations in Virginia. “That’s what I look for because that’s what my customers are looking for. Toy manufacturers are getting smarter, making destructible toys with another toy inside.”

In addition to a rise in demand for tough material and stronger toys, Becci Scott, owner of Fetching Dog, a pet store in Scottsdale, Ariz., said people want things made in the USA.

“They don’t like the price of American-made, but since COVID-19, the promotion of American-made and companies developing a better skill set here will help the price become the norm,” Scott said.

Assortment Optimization

One Size Does Not Fit All

Dog toys are not a one-size-fits-all category. Savvy pet companies make sure to know their market and provide toy variety to meet demand.

“Retailers should understand who their customers are and what products move the most for them but should also bring in products that might cater to niche groups of customers as well,” said Leah Angelos, sales manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based pet toys and accessories manufacturer. “An ideal assortment will include a range of toys including soft plush, durable TPR [thermoplastic rubber], outdoor toys, stimulating puzzles and more.”

Nancy Guinn, president of Dog Krazy, a pet supply retailer with eight locations in Virginia, agreed.

“With us, we carry everything for dogs of all sizes and type,” she said. “I used to only carry what I liked but learned I had to buy for every person out there to meet their needs.”

For example, Guinn said she carries both toys that are and are not made in the USA for price value range.

“The non-American-made toys may not be as strong and durable,” she said, “but they are the right price for that customer.”

Offering various toy sizes to match the range of dog breeds is helpful, according to Jennifer Rosenberger, senior product manager for PetShop by Fringe Studio, a manufacturer of pet toys and other pet accessories in Irvine, Calif.

“An ideal assortment of dog toys for pet specialty retailers would include our plush mini toy sets, regular size toys and a few large toys for the bigger dogs,” she said.

Industry insiders also recommended keeping chew personalities in mind with toy inventory.

“From tough chew toys to cuddly plush toys, every dog has a favorite, and no two dogs chew or play the same way,” said Spencer Williams, CEO and president of West Paw, a Bozeman, Mont.-based manufacturer of pet toys, treats and beds. “In retail, it is important to have staff trained to ask consumers about the dog’s personality, age and behaviors, as well as the type of play the pet parent wants to encourage.”

Becci Scott, owner of Fetching Dog, a pet store in Scottsdale, Ariz., agreed and said she strives to have a variety of soft, medium and strong toys as far as chewing goes. She also keeps display in mind with inventory selection.

“When I’m placing my orders, I’m mindful of season and I try to order quantity and type,” she said. “I like the displays to flow and not be quite so random. I’m thinking about what will look cute hanging together and what will fit and that kind of stuff.”

Pricing Trends

Quality Counts

There may always be a market for lower-cost toys, but industry insiders report that more dog owners are splurging on playthings for their pets. It all depends on the toy size, quality and durability, said Jennifer Rosenberger, senior product manager for PetShop by Fringe Studio, a manufacturer of pet toys and other pet accessories in Irvine, Calif., who said the pricing sweet spot for these products is $9.99-$24.99.

At Fetching Dog, a pet store in Scottsdale, Ariz., most of the dog toys cost $20 or less, said owner Becci Scott.

“I know in some areas less-expensive toys sell better budget-wise, but my store is where people are willing to pay for good quality,” she said. “When I bring in a good-quality toy, I get a good margin still because my customers are willing to pay for good-quality construction.”

Leah Angelos, sales manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of pet toys and accessories, agreed.

“I see a trend towards pricing increasing in general for dog toys,” Angelos said. “This is largely due to the fact that they’re becoming more sophisticated as time goes on. Many are now made with combinations of materials and tougher stitching and construction.”

Other attributes that consumers are willing to pay more for include toys that solve problems, are eco-friendly and are made in the USA, said Spencer Williams, CEO and president of West Paw, a Bozeman, Mont.-based manufacturer of pet toys, treats and beds.

“While overall the price structure in toys is competitive, we have found that consumers are willing to purchase more expensive toys that bring innovative solutions to their pets,” he said. “Toys that are mentally stimulating or treat dispensing are great examples of where unit sales do not decline with higher pricing.”

Demand for larger toys and multi-packs helps to increase average pricing, Angelos added.

“Dog owners want to spoil their dogs and are now willing to pay a little more for quality toys to do that,” she said. “The market can withstand and flourish with wider price differentials. Luckily, dog toys are still relatively inexpensive, and it won’t break the bank for a customer to splurge a little on their furry friend.”

New Products

Boredom Busters

A side effect of dealing with sheltering-in-place orders this year is people spending a lot more time at home with their pets. The result has been many dog owners seeking entertainment, exercise and distractions for themselves and their pets. Several new and upcoming toy launches are poised to help owners with these needs.

Outside of taking pets out for more frequent walks, owners have found themselves needing indoor distractions. Nancy Guinn, president of Dog Krazy, a pet supply retailer with eight locations in Virginia, said her customers have been asking about toys designed to stimulate their dogs.

“If you have a bored dog at home, you need great toys to keep dogs occupied while you get stuff done,” she said.

This month, West Paw will release a treat-dispensing dog toy designed to encourage healthy play. Rumbl incorporates a unique fish-trap opening that is designed for easing loading and keeps food inside until the toy’s playful wobble sporadically dispenses treats or kibble. The dishwasher-safe toy was designed to fit a range of treats and kibble and can double as a slow feeder, according to officials for the Bozeman, Mont.-based company.

With the holidays and sale opportunities associated with the season coming up in mind, Irvine, Calif.-based PetShop by Fringe Studio plans to offer an assortment of seasonal and everyday toys. At press time, the company planned to introduce Halloween-themed options in July such as Count Slothula, a 3D plush sloth with an extra-loud squeaker, and Spooky-Saurus, a 3D plush T-Rex with a skeleton attached to its back and an extra-loud squeaker.

For winter, the company’s launches will include I Only Have Ice For You, a plush snowflake with an extra-loud squeaker and crinkle paper; Let’s Get Warm and Cozy, a three-piece mini toy set designed with smaller dogs in mind that features unique plush toys with loud squeakers; and Triple Axel T-Rex, a 3D plush T-Rex with an extra-loud squeaker inside.