A Little Litter Goes a Long Way

With cat ownership on the rise, the litter category is a perfect sales driver for pet specialty retailers.


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Cleaning up after a pet is nobody’s favorite chore. Perhaps that is why some retailers often neglect the litter box category in favor of other products like toys and treats. But this staple of cat care has actually experienced significant growth in recent years, driven mostly by the fact that cat ownership is on the rise. 

Approximately 42.9 million American homes own at least one cat, and there are 85.5 million pet cats in the U.S., according to the 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey

“More cats means more sales of everything cat-related,” notes Maurice Meyerson, vice president of Preferred Merchandising, which offers the Litter Lifter, a range of scoops that feature the company’s patented Triangular-Blade design so cat owners don’t have to shake out the litter. 
The litter category has been a big beneficiary of this growth in cat ownership. It is one of the fastest growing pet categories, accounting for about $1.8 billion in sales during 2015, according to a recent report by Nielsen, a global information and measurement company.

With so much litter to scoop, it’s almost a no-brainer for retailers to invest both their time and resources into litter boxes and related accessories.

To best serve the needs of customers and capitalize on this thriving category, industry experts advise retailers to keep an eye on current trends. “Always stay in the ‘know’ and educated,” urges Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager at Cedarburg, Wis.-based Pioneer Pet Products.

Sanitation, of course, is always a major driving force behind many of the trends in feline waste management products. “Cleanliness and convenience are key in the litter maintenance category,” says Lesley Hill, principal manager at Arlington, Texas-based Petmate. “From our feedback from loyal customers, and our own in-depth research, we have found that top questions and concerns consumers have when purchasing litter boxes are about scatter, odor and easy-to-clean surfaces.”

High and deep sides are a big trend in litter boxes because this helps minimize litter scatter when kitty pushes litter around to cover up her business. The Ultimate Litterbox by Pioneer Pet, for example, stands at 25- x 18.5- x 10.5-in., making it an ideal size for combating litter kick-out. Another great model of this trend is the Petmate Booda Hi-Back Open Litter Pan, with its high-profile back side and lower front side that allows easy access for cats.

New litter box styles that complement modern décor are also increasingly in demand. “Home décor focus is booming with litter boxes,” says Hill. “These new products closely follow the bathroom and laundry room trends because they are the most common litter pan locations.”

Everything from fun and bold leopard prints to litter boxes camouflaged as bathroom stands are on the market today. The best models, though, are the ones that utilize a design that is both practical and stylish, like Petmate’s Booda Dome Cleanstep.  The sleek dome contains scattered litter and ensures privacy while the specially designed steps help catch litter as cats exit the box.

For consumers looking to make the unpleasant chore of cleanup less unpleasant, there are boxes with technological enhancements, like the SmartScoop Litter Box by OurPet’s. This self-cleaning model automatically senses waste and then scoops up the clumps, saving owners time and keeping the box fresh.


What’s in the Box?
The trend toward making kitty cleanup easier is also important in the world of litter itself. Lightweight and dust-free formulas are all the rage, so owners no longer need superhuman strength to simply change out the litter for a fresh batch. SmartCat Lightweight Clumping Litter by Pioneer Pet, for example, is 50 percent lighter than traditional clay litters. It’s also 99 percent dust-free, keeping both owners and cats from breathing in unwanted particles.

The natural ingredient trend, typically associated with food products, has made its way into kitty litters as well. “Now more than ever, customers are looking for products with integrity. This typically translates to products with limited ingredients, simplicity in packaging and transparency in operations and manufacturing,” says Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based Next Gen pet products. 

Next Gen’s line of all-natural cat litters is made from recycled, sustainable wood materials with no chemicals or artificial fragrances. The lightweight formulas are also flushable and naturally combat odors with ingredients like green tea leaves.

By staying up-to-date on all the latest and greatest products in the category, retailers can be sure that their stock can meet the desires and demands of cat owners. Once stores have a solid and diverse selection, the next step is maximizing in-store sales.

Hill recommends displaying a selection of litter boxes fully assembled on shelves so that customers can see exactly what it will look like in their home. “This helps them understand if a pan is the proper size for their cat and if it will fit and complement well within their space at home,” adds Hill.

Signs that clearly state the features and benefits of different litter-related products can be effective sales techniques as well. For example, the Petmate Stay Fresh Rimmed Pan is made with a Microban antimicrobial component, which prevents the growth of odor-causing bacteria, while the Petmate Booda Dome fights odors with a large capacity filter.  

Displays can also aid in answering frequently asked questions that customers have like “How many litter boxes do I need for my cats?” “What part of my house is the best place for a litter box?” or “Why won’t my cat use the litter box?”

Retailers should take advantage of the cross-merchandising potential of the category, as well. “Cross merchandising is always recommended. Scoops and other litter accessories like mats and liners are great add-on items, especially if they are designed to complement a specific pan,” says Hill. 

The Litter-Lifter scoop is a great example of the type of accessory items that retailers will want to merchandise next to other cat items to make shopping easier and encourage add-on purchases. 


Feline Friendly
Of course, litter-related products are right at home in the cat aisle alongside food, treats and toys. Gabriella Chessman, vice-president of marketing for Fairport Harbor, Ohio-based OurPet’s, also recommends placing a display near the kitten adoption area if the store has one.

The most effective sales technique, though, is having an educated sales team. Although packaging can go a long way in educating customers, it’s interaction with helpful employees that can really make a sale. 

If staff members understand the selling points of different litter-related products, then they can help customers find the best litter boxes and other products for their favorite felines.

“Litter maintenance is an essential part of daily cat care, and it’s important to understand that no cat is alike and often have different personalities and habits,” says Hill.

Additionally, by talking directly with customers, staff can get feedback, address concerns and offer specific product commendations.
If employees know what they’re talking about, customers will take notice and see the store as a source of authoritative information about pet cats.

“One of the best ways for pet retailers to increase sales in general is to foster personal relationships with their customers,” says Yamamoto. “If you are able to offer a friendly and warm feeling in your store, customers are more likely to ask for recommendations and even provide you with theirs.”

 

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