Parents want their kids to enjoy playtime and have fun with great toys. Owners of "fur kids" are no different—they seek toys for their companions that can provide both comfort and stimulation, relieve anxiety and burn energy, and offer up a mental challenge, all while bringing the fun factor.
When it comes to plush and interactive toys, dog owners want playthings that are innovative, durable and fun for all involved, and cat owners seek toys designed to stimulate natural feline instincts and enhance the human-animal bond, said Rachelle Rabasi, marketing director for The OurPet’s Co. in Fairport Harbor, Ohio.
"Overall, consumers are looking for fun, well-functioning toys that provide quality," she said.
Pet toys are more than just fun and games—they’re serious, big business. This single industry category saw sales of more than $1 billion in 2016, up from $851 million in 2011, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4 percent, with similar annual gains expected to continue to 2020, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.
Rabasi forecasts category sales at a slightly more modest 3.2 percent CAGR through 2022.
Both plush and interactive toys perform well in the market.
"As a category, plush is pretty consistent, as it’s a type of toy many dogs really enjoy," said Courtney Lawson Rush, director of sales and marketing for Troy, Mich.-based Fluff & Tuff, adding that consistently offering high-quality, innovative options to retailers and customers keeps the category strong.
In 2016, among surveyed pet owners who bought toys for their dogs, 25 percent of the toys purchased were interactive food/treat-dispensing products designed to help busy owners keep curious and playful pups stimulated and occupied, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey.
Keep It Fun
Pet toys provide an easy way for retailers to add fun and color to their aisles, but perfecting the right assortment is key.
When deciding on what toys to buy, retailers should know their market and continually talk with their customers, said Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt. She displays Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Co. and West Paw plush toys on shelves and in baskets.
"Do your homework," she said. "Ask what kinds of dogs they have and about their play and personalities to help them buy the best toys. I know what price point my customers won’t buy above."
Stores should offer a wide range of product diversity to meet more customers’ needs, said Irene Diaz, sales representative for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. However, in order to maximize shelf space, they should carefully select an appealing and varied assortment that won’t overwhelm customers, she added.
Courtney Lawson Rush, director of sales and marketing for Troy, Mich.-based Fluff & Tuff, agreed that retailers shouldn’t overdo it.
"Give customers options, including an assortment of sizes and price points, but not too many," Lawson Rush said. "Where independents continue to shine is providing great product information and exceptional service. So educating customers on how different sizes and styles offer varying ‘playability’ can help customers select the best option for their pups."
But ultimately, store owners know their customer base best, and there are consistent "staples" that do well regardless of season, Lawson Rush said.
"Playing with seasonal assortments and bringing in a different mix keeps inventory fresh and helps catch the customer’s eye," she said. "It’s important to have fun—they are dog toys, after all."
Interactive Fun and Plush Points
Interactive products that offer engagement rewards are becoming increasingly popular, and companies are offering more toys with various challenge levels to accommodate more pets, said Irene Diaz, sales representative for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif.
Pets of all kinds enjoy interactive toys because they can alleviate boredom, pose a challenge and release pent-up energy, Diaz said.
"Our interactive Burrows are a fun way to engage pets while improving their coordination," she said.
Zippy Burrows, which feature a hideaway with three squeaky toys inside, are available in more than 45 versions that include raccoons, hedgehogs, pigs and many popular foods.
The new Storybook lines, Fairytale and Fiesta, feature an array of different types of toys, including Zippy Burrows, that tie in to stories that revolve around the lines’ two main characters, Charlotte and Liam.
The characters were inspired by a ZippyPaws employee’s children, explained Jennifer Cao, company co-founder, vice president and designer.
"I watched as real-life Charlotte exclaimed her love for unicorns and 22-month-old William loved colors and fiesta-themed movies," Cao said. "These characters are not only fictional, but they take the traits of our ZippyPaws family members."
All over the world, storybook tales are shared with children, so Cao thought, "Why can’t we do the same for dogs?" The Unicorn Fairytale line follows the adventure of Charlotte the Unicorn, a unicorn in search of her magical wand. The Fiesta line follows Liam the Llama, a curious and kind soul who helps his family on a quest to find missing candy. Their full stories can be found on the company’s website.
"ZippyPaws is particularly proud of the Storybook lines because they are the first lines to be made with a direct relationship to the humanization of pets trend," Diaz added.
The OurPet’s Co. aims to deliver toys designed to motivate dogs and keep them active during all types of play. The Grrrassic Bonded Tough Dog Toys line, which debuted in late 2018 and includes the Grrrassic Retrieval, Grrrassic Tug and Grrrassic Toss, is made in the U.S. with high-tear-strength BPA and latex-free rubber bonded directly to durable rope. These toys, which come in yellow and blue (colors dogs can easily recognize), are tough enough to toss, bounce, fetch and tug, and they even float, according to the Fairport Harbor, Ohio-based company.
Product for dogs might account for the lion’s share of pet toy sales—cat toys make up 25 percent of category sales, according to market research firm Packaged Facts—but cat owners, too, seek safe and durable toys that are a good value and encourage an active lifestyle for both themselves and their pets, said Rachelle Rabasi, marketing director for The OurPet’s Co.
"Interactive electronic toys add a lifelike feel for cats because they do more than look like real prey—they act like prey, too," she said. "These toys fulfill your cat’s hunting instincts, keeping them happy and healthy."
In the first quarter of this year, The OurPet’s Co. will launch the Feather Dome Electronic Spin Toy, which features a wild, whirling feather to pique feline curiosity and encourage pouncing as it spins, poking in and out of the dome, providing the ultimate game of hide-and-seek. The feather’s erratic movement paired with the company’s instinctually stimulating, proprietary RealMouse sound can provide the benefits of a natural hunting experience while keeping cats safe and sound inside the home, according to The OurPet’s Co.
Retailers are showing great interest in OurPet’s electronic cat toys, Rabasi said, and the company is responding with displays and demos to help sell them.
When Fluff & Tuff develops new plush toys, which focus primarily on animal designs, the company considers what it calls the "playability" of specific shapes, as not all animals make a good plush dog toy, said Courtney Lawson Rush, director of sales and marketing for the Troy, Mich.-based company.
"For example, the long shape of our fish or caterpillar have little to no extremities to chew on," she said. "While the arms and legs of our sloth and monkey are fun to flip and shake. With over 50 different toys, there is an assortment of shapes, sizes and play styles, ensuring options for every dog."
Some of Fluff & Tuff’s 2018 launches were Gordon Stingray and Manny Lobster, as well as redesigns of Wally Mallard and Monty Python, and a new Camo Ball. Looking ahead, at this month’s Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., Fluff & Tuff will be releasing five new toys.
The company does what it can to ensure playtime lasts a long time by "focusing on the little details that help prolong the life of toys," Lawson Rush said, such as "double-stitched seams, reinforcement where limbs meet the body, and premium exterior and interior fabrics coming together to deliver a well-made, quality plush toy."