Cat owners know just how particular their pets can be about anything from their food to their toys—and the litterbox is no exception.
Fortunately, consumers have an abundance of choice when it comes to finding the right litterbox and accessories for their cats, said Jennifer Baker-Johnson, founder of Kitty Box Ramp in Calabasas, Calif. She said that size, height and aesthetics are factors pet owners examine when considering a product to purchase.
Height, for example, is an important feature to think about when buying a litterbox for senior cats that might struggle to get in and out of the box, added Samantha Henson, merchandising manager at Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan. She said it’s not uncommon for arthritic cats to end up making a mess outside of the litterbox because the high sides make it painful to step in and out.
Darrell Perkins, co-owner of Fin & Feather Pet Center in Richmond, Va., said customers are requesting litterboxes with shorter sides now more than ever before.
"Cats are living longer, and their owners want to accommodate their needs as they age," Perkins said.
Manufacturers are also doing their part to assist pets that struggle to climb into their litterbox, and the Kitty Box Ramp accessory is designed to make it easier for cats to get in.
"Our ramp can work with virtually any style and height of a litterbox to accommodate arthritic, disabled cats, and even kittens," Baker-Johnson said. "We understand as cats age, their needs change."
Cleanliness and odor also are important considerations when shopping for litterboxes and accessories, said Danica Huang, sales and marketing director for Taiwan-based Conary Enterprise Co., maker of Ventifresh, an electronic odor eliminator. But she said it’s not enough for a product to claim it can help with odor reduction—Huang said that consumers are going to seek out products that really do work.
While there are a lot of choices and considerations to weigh, Errin West, co-owner of Cat Connection in Dallas, said that, ultimately, nothing is more important than the cat’s preferences.
Pet owners need to keep in mind that whether or not their cat will actually use the product is the most critical factor, she said.
"We like to say that the perfect litterbox is the litterbox that your cat will use," West said. "That’s not going to be the same for every cat."
Displays and Demos
While it’s not always easy for pet specialty retailers to get creative with litterbox displays, having litterboxes set up for customers to see can be an effective approach.
"It would be perfect if a retailer has an assembled version on display so the consumer can see how it will eventually look," said Chantal Saelen, owner of Moderna in Gaffney, S.C. "My best recommendation is to endcap the boxes in front of the litter section. This will give the parent a chance to think of a new box or accessory when shopping for litter."
Product demos can also be effective at helping sell litterbox accessories, said Danica Huang, sales and marketing director for Taiwan-based Conary Enterprise Co., maker of Ventifresh, an electronic odor eliminator that can be installed in some litterboxes.
"Wouldn’t it be great to be able to have customers ‘smell the difference’ in the store?" Huang said. "That’s something that is possible to deliver in a physical store. Ventifresh has designed a vinegar smelling test for retailers to demo the product’s effectiveness in stores."
Darrell Perkins, co-owner of Fin & Feather Pet Center in Richmond, Va., said that the store’s cat adoption center serves as its own display of litterboxes as customers are often enticed to buy what the store is already using. He said the same goes for litter.
"Customers trust our opinion and would often rather just use what we’re using," he said. "They’ll check out our adoption center and ask what kind of litterbox and litter we’re using."
Litterboxes and Wellness
Being available to answer litterbox questions is important for pet specialty retailers, said Samantha Henson, merchandising manager at Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan.
But, oftentimes, customers don’t even know the right questions to ask. It’s important to educate them on facts they might not be aware of—such as that there should be one litterbox per cat, per level of home, Henson said.
"If you have a two-story home and two cats, you should have four litterboxes," Henson added. "People are often surprised to hear that. We use social media to post tips and advice, and I also host a pet wellness night once a month. When we do cat health, litterbox questions and information is an important part of it. We find there is a lot that people don’t know."
It’s important not to assume that even long-time cat owners are experts on litterboxes, said Chantal Saelen, owner of Moderna in Gaffney, S.C. She said that even "cat people" find they don’t have all the facts. Saelen suggested that retailers start with the basics and make sure cat owners are educated from there.
"For instance, a cat likes space, but we see a lot of cats still using too-small litterboxes," Saelen said. "A question to the owner should be whether they are still using the same box for their cat that they used as a kitten."
Social media also presents a great opportunity for customer education, said Danica Huang, sales and marketing director for Taiwan-based Conary Enterprise Co., maker of Ventifresh. She advised retailers not to reinvent the wheel by creating brand-new content but rather to make use of information that has already been prepared by manufacturers. Huang suggested regularly posting educational content and new product information to keep customers informed.