While there is still a steady market for traditional carpeted cat furniture, the past few years have seen a jump in the number cat trees and related accessories available in more modern, fashion-forward designs, with social media and the crafting community contributing to cat owners’ expectations of seeing variety in cat furniture.
"Cat trees are becoming more like modern art, with sleek profiles and interesting forms," said Kate Benjamin, marketing director and designer of the Hauspanther Collection for Primetime Petz in Rockwall, Texas. "These cat trees are conversation pieces in your home rather than something that needs to be hidden away when guests come over."
The key for cat furniture manufacturers is to strike a balance between making products aesthetically pleasing and providing enrichment for cats.
"Customers want something that doesn’t look overtly like carpet cat furniture," said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore. "So if something looks sleek and modern and could fit into their normal furniture and is a functional cat item, then [it is a] win-win."
In recent years, many cat owners have been spending more on accessories for their companions.
"The inclusion of our furry friends into the family nucleus have prompted consumers to spend larger amounts of their disposable income on lifestyle accessories such as cat furniture," said Vito Sardone, public relations and media manager for On2Pets in Miami.
Further, as cats have spiked in popularity on social media, cat owners are becoming more educated about their needs.
"Five years ago, if you searched for the term ‘cat shelves,’ there would have been almost no results, but today, just on Instagram alone, there are thousands of posts with #catshelves and tens of thousands with #catification or #catfurniture," Benjamin said. "Cat lovers are sharing ideas and products with each other in order to help make the world a better place for cats."
Along with expecting products with more visual appeal, cat owners are increasingly requesting cat furniture that is made in the USA or, even better, locally made.
"Our customers love the locally made natural driftwood pieces we carry from Scratch and Sniff," said Shane Somerville, owner of Paddywack in Mill Creek, Wash. "What is most appealing about them is the look—more art than cat furniture—followed by the quality handmade construction."
Somerville said the cat trees practically sell themselves on account of their appearance, their price and local pride.
On2Pets also makes cat furniture designed to stand out. The company, whose pieces resemble artificial trees, recently debuted Cat Canopy Shelves as a complementary product to its cat trees to give pets additional perches to lounge on using wall space. The company also launched Cat Box Wall Shelves in June.
Both products boast a modular design and attach to walls, providing pets with secure spaces to jump to and from and a way for them to observe the household from above.
A Focus on Enrichment
These days, cat owners have higher expectations for cat products and, in many cases, are ready to spend more time and money when it comes to purchases for their companions. Retailers will be more successful with these educated owners if they are ready to demonstrate how cat furniture can meet pets’ specific needs.
"Retailers that have sales associates who are truly educated in ‘catification’ and environmental enrichment for cats will best be able to help customers make a selection that will make them happy and give their cat what he or she needs," said Kate Benjamin, marketing director and designer of the Hauspanther Collection for Primetime Petz in Rockwall, Texas.
Cat owners also need to understand that providing designated places for their cats to climb and scratch will prevent them from finding their own resources, such as human furniture.
Emphasizing to customers the importance of scratching posts can be helpful "since one of the main purposes of cat trees is to give the fur family a happy place to scratch without damaging the human furniture," said Andrea Kranz, sales and marketing manager for Trevose, Pa.-based AeroMark International, maker of the Armarkat brand.
Shoppers might not be aware that cats prefer certain textures and surfaces, many of which can blend in well with home furnishings.
"These surfaces need to be sturdy in order for cats to be attracted to them," Benjamin said. "Woven sisal, rope, cardboard or attractive carpet all make excellent scratching surfaces while fitting with décor."
Because many retail stores have limited space and most shoppers don’t bring their cats along to test items such as furniture, several manufacturers also supply videos that retailers can share on social media or in person, enabling customers to see cats using and enjoying the furniture.
"Our most successful vendors heavily rely on videos to adequately market and sell our products," said Vito Sardone, public relations and media manager of Miami-based On2Pets.
Those who are able to display cat furniture in stores can demonstrate various features and benefits face to face. However, Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, recommends that retailers choose their assortment and display pieces wisely.
"The old-school carpet towers are breeding grounds for collecting dirt and smells," Redwine said. "We sell the Vesper line from Hagen because it can be sanitized and has replaceable scratch pads and sitting pads. We show [customers] how the memory foam pads can come off and be washed or replaced, as well as replacing the scratch pads if needed."
Help Cat Owners Picture It at Home
Retailers that display cat furniture in-store give shoppers the ability to visualize the piece in their home, which will likely result in more sales, according to manufacturers. Customers can make better decisions if they can see the product in person prior to making such a large purchase.
"We are seeing the best success with our retailers who assemble the furniture for display and hang any wall-mounted pieces on a wall in the store," said Kate Benjamin, marketing director and designer of the Hauspanther Collection for Primetime Petz in Rockwall, Texas. "This helps customers see exactly how big the items are, and they can see the quality of the finishes."
Even with a lack of space, retailers say it is worth it to find a spot to model cat furniture.
"With such large items, sometimes you have to spread it around on top of shelves," said Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas. "For the most part, I have two to three built ones on a podium with ones in boxes underneath it."
When retailers assemble a tree or two in the store, "customers can see the quality of [our] wood-based products, and [retailers can] distribute catalogs showing additional products that the retailer can order from [us] as needed," said Andrea Kranz, sales and marketing manager for Trevose, Pa.-based AeroMark International, maker of the Armarkat brand.