The Product Features to Consider When Stocking Pet Toys

Pet owners are seeking toys for cats and dogs that fulfill a variety of wants and needs for both pet and owner, with durability, shelf appeal and the pet enticement factor all being key.

"Most pet parents put a lot of emphasis on durability and how enticing a toy is to play with so they can feel confident it will get use," said Sarah Johnson, account manager for P.L.A.Y (Pet Lifestyle And You), a San Francisco-based manufacturer of pet toys and beds. "It’s important that they get their money’s worth while fulfilling their pet’s playtime needs. At P.L.A.Y., we keep these factors in mind throughout our design process for all our toys. We add a variety of elements such as different sounds, textures, and other special features to our plush toys to keep dogs coming back for more. We also construct them in a way that adds to their overall durability, all the while keeping the cuteness factor in mind to attract pet parents to the style."

P.L.A.Y introduced three new toy collections at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in February. ZoomieRex toys, which are made in the USA, can float, fly and bounce. The Barking Brunch Plush Toy Collection offers five fun food-themed toys including an eggs benedict, chicken and waffles, a bloody Mary, a croissant and avocado toast. The company’s new Party Time Plush Toy Collection has party-themed toys including a balloon, a party crown, a present that opens to reveal a bone-shaped toy on a rope, a party horn that unrolls and a pull-apart cake. Both of the plush toy collections include fun features such as squeakers and crinkle sounds.

Dan Lavallee, manager of Pet World, a retailer in Natick, Mass., said that there is no question pet owners want toys that will promote playtime. But Lavallee said that dog and cat owners are also prioritizing safety more than ever.

"Given the coronavirus and just the current mentality, everyone is thinking about safety first," he said, adding that, for this reason, toys that are made in the U.S.—a characteristic often associated with quality—are particularly appealing to many consumers.

In general, the quality of pet toys continues to improve as pet owner expectations rise. Brittany Toth, marketing and product manager for Royal Pet, a South St. Paul, Minn.-based manufacturer, said the company carefully scrutinizes the quality of its toys.

"If the product isn’t up to our expectations, we do not approve," she said. "We view each of our products as if we were giving it to our own pet. With pets being viewed more and more like children, these expectations increase, and we are fully committed to bringing high-quality and brilliantly designed products to the market that go beyond the standard."

Dogs Versus Cats

At the end of the day, all owners want their beloved pets to be happy—and this is a factor whether they are making a toy purchase for Fido or Whiskers.

"Regardless of whether it’s a toy for a cat or a dog, all pet parents are looking to better engage with their pet," said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore. "When they look for toys, they look for something that will increase their bond with their animal by finding a toy that their pet will enjoy."

Even so, there can be some variations in what dog and cat owners seek.

Kurt Avar, director of marketing and creative services at Cosmic Pet, a pet toy manufacturer in Wichita, Kan., said that cat owners are looking for toys that engage cats using electronic features, catnip, scratchers and interactivity.

"Because cats are left home alone frequently, cat owners feel the need to compensate that time and supplement with toys and interaction, making catnip and silver-vine toys great solutions," Avar added. "Other interactive toys like wand toys are great for bonding with your cat and function as a supplemental way to increase their energy expenditure to help with weight maintenance."

Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for Roseville, Minn.-based DuckyWorld Products, the creator of Yeowww! Catnip products, said that catnip toys are extremely popular for cats because owners see an immediate response. But pet owners also want a toy that is safe, that offers good value and that their cat will enjoy.

"All of our toys are handmade in the USA, something that is important to both us and our customers," Kaiser added. "The fabric is high-quality cotton twill, which is strong enough to withstand scratching, biting, bunny-kicking and slobber."

DuckyWorld launched its Sun, Moon, & Stars toy set at Global Pet Expo. The three colorful toys are stuffed with organically grown Yeowww! Catnip, and the sun-shaped toy features a crinkly perimeter.

Dog owners are looking for several characteristics when it comes to toys.

"As we have seen dogs become much more ‘humanized’ in the last few years, dog owners are looking for toys that help further integrate them as a key member of the family," Avar said. "This includes seeking toys using technology, toys that can stimulate your dog and can help them to learn and evolve, and toys that align with the core morals and needs of a pet owner’s household, whether that be sustainable materials, availability for online purchase, and other characteristics that owners are caring about more than ever before. As always, durability and ‘boredom busters’ remain a top category for dog owners and consumer demand year after year."

Johnson said that plush toys are always a consistently popular toy category for dogs, though P.L.A.Y. is seeing high demand for more durable and interactive toys.

"Our Wobble Ball interactive treat-dispensing toy still remains a top seller as it offers great mental stimulation during playtime, and with a food incentive, dogs do not easily tire of it," she said. "For plush toys, creativity is key to popularity, so something with a unique theme and a variety of features like our new Barking Brunch Collection—or an updated approach to a class theme like our new Party Time toys—can be a draw to this category."

Assortment Optimization

Curation Is Key

The availability of a broad selection is imperative to pet owners as they seek to find toys that will fulfill their individual pets’ needs.

"It’s important to offer an array of toys that hit different categories to fulfill various play needs and styles," said Sarah Johnson, account manager for P.L.A.Y (Pet Lifestyle And You), a pet toy and bed manufacturer in San Francisco. "To maximize the assortment balance, it’s best to keep in mind what the needs of your customers may be based on your region. If you are in an urban area, you may need to focus more on toys appropriate to dogs that spend more time indoors, such as interactive treat puzzle toys or plush toys. Those in rural areas or with large outdoor recreation zones might need a heavier assortment of toys appropriate for outdoor play like water toys, durable balls, or frisbee and fetch toys."

Offering a selection relevant to the region has been key to toy sales success for Pooch N Paws Boutique and Bakery, a retailer in the Atlanta area.

"We happen to be located in an area that is big on outdoor recreation, so our best toy sales are those that allow for lots of outdoor interaction," said general manager Daniel Burton. "That’s meant a lot of throw toys and frisbees."

Dan Lavallee, manager of Pet World in Natick, Mass., said his store aims to carry as much variety as possible but that it can’t be ignored that the toys that sell the fastest—for both cats and dogs—are those that are made in the USA.

Lavallee said that any time they get a new toy in, they give it prominent placement.

"Toys are one of those items that people keep coming in for, so any time a manufacturer puts out something new, we’ll get it on an endcap or, even better, up front by the register," he said. "Then we can gauge whether it’s going to sell well."