Today’s pet owners are seeking toys for their cats and dogs that will strengthen the owner-pet bond and provide enrichment.
"Customers are realizing the importance of including their pets in their daily lives and creating bonding opportunities," said Mark Watkins, sales manager for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. "This desire to humanize our pets and increase their quality of life keeps our industry booming."
In January, the company launched its Storybook line. The interactive toy series follows the heroes of each storybook—Charlotte the Unicorn and Liam the Llama—and introduces both pet and human to their loveable friends along the way. The Fairytale and Fiesta Storybook collections include a range of toys with various features, such as squeaking sounds and different textures.
Toys that can provide mental stimulation for pets, such as puzzles and treat dispensers, are also seeing a spike in sales, and companies are launching new products that fit this category.
In February, Wichita, Kan.-based Cosmic Pet launched the Hyper Pet brand Crazy Crew, a vibrant line of interactive and durable dog toys. The Crazy Crew is made up of five unique characters, with vibrant "personalities" and features such as treat dispensers and random bouncing. Made from a range of highly durable EVA, TPE and natural rubber blends, the toys are designed to withstand even the toughest chewers, according to the company.
These days, pet owners have a better understanding of pets and their needs, and simple fetch toys are no longer enough, said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets, which has stores in Alberta, Canada.
"Toys are used to subsidize our pets’ physical and mental activities during the times that we are too busy to provide the one-on-one attention that they crave," Janisse said.
While dog toys are experiencing faster growth, the cat toys category is seeing movement as well. Where low-quality, inexpensive cat toys once dominated the scene, the category is starting to see a shift toward interactive products that enhance playtime and build on the bond between human and cat.
"We believe this is due to the increasing popularity of cats, and more cats are being treated as a very important part of the family," said Kris Kaiser, digital marketing specialist for DuckyWorld Products, creator of Yeowww! Catnip products, based in Roseville, Minn. "They are celebrating adoption dates, birthdays and other holidays."
Yeowww! Catnip introduced the Yeowww!-ola Catnip Crayons at Global Pet Expo in March. The set of three colorful toys comes in a fun "crayon" box. The toys are filled with Yeowww! organically grown catnip.
Cat toy manufacturers are seeing an opportunity in toys that integrate with the home.
"There is definitely an untapped market for more sophisticated designs that cater to the design-savvy cat consumer," said Kate Benjamin, marketing director and designer of the Hauspanther Collection for Primetime Petz in Rockwall, Texas.
This assumption led the company to design new cat toys, called the Hauspanther Cat Toy Collection. The products, which will launch in July, are designed to double as both beautiful art pieces that enhance the home and engaging cat toys that simulate the way a cat would interact with prey in the wild, Benjamin said.
Suiting Different Play Styles
Seeking information about a customer’s lifestyle and their pet’s preferences and behaviors will help retailers better determine which toys are right for each individual buyer.
"There are many factors to consider when finding the perfect product, including material, plush, sound-makers, durability and beyond," said Mark Watkins, sales manager for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. "By taking the time to consider these details and how they apply to the consumer, pet specialty retailers can positively impact their customer retention, trust and satisfaction."
Tim Blurton, CEO of Cosmic Pet in Wichita, Kan., emphasized the importance of understanding the chewing behaviors of customers’ pets.
"A toy that is durable with a light chewer may not be long lasting with a heavy chewer," he said. "Also, retailers need to ensure consumers understand that few toys will survive forever in a pet’s mouth, [that they will be] destroyed eventually, just because the pet loves them so much."
Kate Benjamin, marketing director and designer of the Hauspanther Collection for Primetime Petz in Rockwall, Texas, said retailers should explain to customers the type of prey each toy represents for the cat.
"This dictates how the cat will interact with the toy," she explained. "Is the toy meant for bunny kicking, chasing, tossing, biting?"
Benjamin added that contrast between light and dark colors is visually appealing to cats, so more brightly colored toys are really more for the humans.
For some brands, social media does the talking. Kris Kaiser, digital marketing specialist for DuckyWorld Products, creator of Yeowww! Catnip products, in Roseville, Minn., said engaging videos of a cat’s strong reaction to the company’s toys, like a cat digging into its owner’s bag to find the toy on its own, demonstrate the quality of the product and prove high engagement.
Something for Everyone
Due to the wide variety of product demand for dog and cat toys, retailers that diversify their merchandise see more sales.
Emily Lagasse, owner of Petwell Supply in Somerville, Mass., organizes toys by category and places them in various eye-catching locations.
"We have samples dogs can engage with on the floor throughout the store," she said. "[They are] laid out in a way that customers can naturally discover them as they poke around."
Creating specific sections that appeal to pet owners with different needs results in increased sales.
Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore., recently created a "small dog" section in the store.
"It’s been a hit!" she said. "While all the items are also found in their ‘normal’ areas of the store, we found the small-dog parent or puppy parent would end up shopping for more."
Larger retailers that can dedicate entire aisles to toys benefit from utilizing endcaps, sidecaps, and impulse locations near the registers.
Homes Alive Pets, which has stores in Alberta, Canada, takes advantage of different facets of visual merchandising "to draw the customer’s eye to a display that they may have otherwise not noticed," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for the retailer.
Further, Homes Alive blocks in-line items by brand, and then style or function.
"This prevents any one brand from blending into the sea of choices," Janisse said. "Blocking, sizing and proper signage helps each brand pop."