Although cat toy sales haven’t caught up to dog toy sales just yet, consumer interest is rising and, with it, a greater demand for more options. Cat owners want more choices and are willing to pay a little bit extra for a toy that will keep their cat engaged.
Carrying a variety of toy formats is key to pleasing pet owners.
Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles, said there are many different types of cat toys on the market right now—interactive wands, teasers, puzzles, lasers, catnip-filled toys, scratchers, mice, balls and technology-based toys.
"Interactive cat toys are gaining in popularity now more so than before," Merva said. "Recent studies have shown that interactive toys play an important role in stimulating cats and help strengthen their mental and emotional well-being."
Vee Enterprises has zeroed in on the concept that play supports feline well-being and offers a variety of products to capture any cat’s attention and to allow them to act out their natural prey-hunting instinct. The company’s products are handcrafted in Los Angeles and manufactured with U.S. parts, Merva said, adding that each toy has unique features.
"For shy cats or show cats, the Wispy Bouncer and Satin Bouncer toys are the perfect introduction to the PURRfect cat toy line," he said. "The Wispy Bouncer features soft, natural iridescent peacock flue that sway gently enough to gain a cat’s interest, while the Satin Bouncer features luxurious satin tassels ready for batting or biting. For cats with endless amounts of energy, the PURRfect Go-Fur-It wand was made with them in mind. Beginning with a tough plastic spring coil that stretches over 8 feet and an end featuring quality faux fur and natural tinted feathers, cats can’t resist the chance to chase and capture it. For the uninterested cat, give the Crinkle Bouncer and Feather Bouncer a shake and watch as your cat’s curiosity sparks from the sound of rustling bushes or a bird in flight."
Nick Yerton, president and CRO of Cosmic Pet in Wichita, Kan., said that, oftentimes, cat owners are more apt to try new things than dog owners are—especially when you consider the number of multiple-cat households. Cat owners are eager to try to find the toys that work best for their pet.
With more options available—and more pet owner interest—cat toy sales seem to be on the rise. Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered, which has stores in Greensboro, N.C., said that there has been an uptick in cat product sales at her stores in general—and toys are no exception.
"The most commonly requested toys right now are those that are battery-operated and animated," Schwartz said. "Cat owners are starting to understand their cats’ needs better—Jackson Galaxy’s ‘My Cat from Hell’ [TV show on Animal Planet] is certainly helping with that—and they’re looking for toys to meet those needs."
Of course, catnip toys are perennial favorites. Scott Ragan, managing partner of Meowijuana, a premium catnip company based in Kansas City, Mo., said that the company has naturally expanded into also making plush and stuffed toys in which its catnip can be used. At press time, the company planned to introduce an expanded line at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in August.
"Fun and engagement are what sell cat toys—after all, it should be fun to have a pet," Ragan said. "Cat parents want to buy toys that make their pet happy—but also put a smile on their face. That’s why our No. 1 toy is a rainbow trout, an 8-inch plush fish that is called ‘Get Smoked.’ We also have a big chocolate chip cookie called ‘Get Baked’ and a bumblebee called ‘Get Buzzed.’ Pet parents appreciate the tongue-in-cheek schematic."
Maximizing Cat Toy Displays
Getting the most out of cat toy displays—and the cat section in general—is important, as many retailers have limited space to work with.
"With space being an issue for most pet boutique stores, displays are definitely a challenge, especially when it comes to cat products, as most retail space is reserved for dogs," said Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles. "We’ve come up with an 8-inch-by-8-inch tube display that doesn’t have a large footprint; however, it is capable of holding about two dozen of our wand toys. Since our products are U.S. made, we always suggest to retailers, with space permitting, to have a made in the USA section where they can showcase products like ours."
As interest in cat toys grows, some retailers expressed that they’re feeling pressure to expand displays. That’s been the case for Tom Rogers, owner of Panhandle Pet Supply in Tallahassee, Fla., who said that the growth in cat toys sales has inspired him to give the category more real estate.
"We have found that a rotating display is important," Rogers added. "So we’re frequently moving things around. We look at it this way—if a customer chooses two toys out of dozens, they’ve essentially rejected those dozens in favor of something else. So we constantly need to be rotating things and freshening it up so that it looks continually new."
There might also be an opportunity for cross-promotion, added Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered, which has stores in Greensboro, N.C.
Although the stores each have a dedicated cat section, they also take advantage of clip strips to display toys in the food and treats sections.
"No matter what type of display you set up—or where you display items—the bottom line is that cat parents want to feel that they’re as valued as dog parents in your store," Schwartz added. "They want to feel like they have options, too."
Meeting a Variety of Budgets
With greater interest in fulfilling their cats’ wants and needs, some owners also seem more willing to spend more money. But having an array of price points available in the toy section will help meet the needs of a variety of cat owners.
"Price point plays a big role," said Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles. "According to most retailers whom I’ve spoken to in the past, the answers are usually the same. Cat parents don’t spend like dog parents; however, there are the exceptions, especially when it comes to millennials, who often spend a little more than the average consumer on these products. Our PURRfect cat toy line has something to fit everyone’s budget."
Some retailers said that the tides are shifting, and spending is on the rise.
"I had a philosophy for years that any toy that costs more than $1.99 in the cat section won’t sell," said Tom Rogers, owner of Panhandle Pet Supply in Tallahassee, Fla. "That’s simply not true anymore. Cat parents are suddenly willing to spend more. Interactive toys as well as catnip toys—even those that are a little pricier—are selling well right now."
However, consumers expect to get more for their investment. They’re willing to pay more if they feel they get more value out of the purchase, said Nick Yerton, president and CRO of Cosmic Pet, a pet toy and accessories manufacturer in Wichita, Kan.
"Consumers want multiple features and benefits to trade up from the basic balls and mice," Yerton said. "However, they feel like they can get a good amount of bang for their buck for under $10. There is a big gap in item availability and consumer spending between $10 and $20, but consumers do show a willingness to spend $19.99 to $29.99 if it’s a great electronic item that they can demo or that has a ‘try me’ function."
Scott Ragan, managing partner of Meowijuana, a premium catnip company based in Kansas City, Mo., agreed that cat owners will spend more when they perceive value.
"If you’re talking about a $3.99 toy from China versus a $6.99 or $7.99 toy that was made in the USA, I think for most pet parents, it’s a no-brainer," he said. "It’s been a long time since there were a lot of new and innovative options in the cat toy market, so when you start giving your customers those options, they’re willing to invest in them. They’re happy to see something fun and new."
Provide a Comprehensive Selection
Choosing the right product mix is an important decision for retailers, as having the ideal assortment of cat toys is a driving factor in sales.
"Considering that most stores reserve a small space for cats, selecting the best products is key," said Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles. "Choosing products that are safe, durable, fun and affordable will be a win for retailers."
Nick Yerton, president and CRO of Cosmic Pet, a pet toy and accessories manufacturer in Wichita, Kan., suggested retailers think about five areas of engagement as they aim to curate an ideal assortment of cat toys. These include customer education on packaging and with merchandising aids; themes designed for Instagram (sharable assortments); "try me" functions on electronic toys; assortments arranged by play type; and cross-promotion with tunnels, sacks and furniture.
Having plenty of options for owners to peruse can really pay off.
"I have noticed that instead of a single-item purchase, cat parents today often buy multiple items for their cat," said Caroline Gunther, owner of Wag! A Unique Pet Boutique in Hendersonville, N.C. "That’s been a big change. In addition, I’ve noticed that cat parents want a wide selection—they feel they deserve the same number of options as dog parents. The more choices you can give them, the more likely they are to make multiple purchases."