Finding Kitty’s Frisky Side

Catnip is a tried and true part of the cat section, but with a well-informed staff and great displays, the category can continue to grow.


Compared to playful pups, cats often get a sourpuss reputation. But, thanks in large part to viral Internet videos and memes, cats are finally being recognized as the rambunctious rascals they really are. 

One of the best ways to bring out a grumpy cat’s frisky side is with a catnip-filled toy. “Cat owners are really looking to please their cats and provide stimulation and entertainment. Catnip is a great way to do that,” says Milia Bell, founder of Tipsy Nip, an organic catnip provider based in Burlington, Va. “It’s also a great way to stimulate a cat’s natural senses.”

The leafy green contains nepetalactone, which can have a powerful effect on cats both big and small when inhaled. So when kitty gets a good whiff of catnip, she might become energized, pouncing and tossing the toy in the air or start rolling, rubbing and flipping her body about.

Although most people have heard of catnip, it’s extremely misunderstood amongst the general public. One common myth about catnip is that it’s intoxicating or addictive.

“When a customer comes in and asks ‘can I give my cat catnip?’ You’ve got to help them understand that you’re not getting the animal high,” explains Kevin Ducky, founder of Minneapolis, Minn.-based DuckyWorld Products Inc., creators of Yeowww! Catnip. “It just puts them in a giddy mood to play.”

Pet retailers are the key to bridging this consumer education gap. Employees should be well versed in the uses and effects of catnip products and able to answer customer questions.

“The more that your staff understands about catnip, the easier it will be to educate consumers, recommend the best catnip for their cat and sell different forms of catnip for different applications and uses, resulting in higher sales across the entire category,” says Susan Pugliese, assistant product manager for Worldwise, Inc. in Novato, Calif., makers of SmartyKat products.

In addition to being a source of enjoyment and recreation for pets, catnip can also be used as a very effective training tool. If, for example, a customer is looking to modify their cat’s scratching habits, retailers direct them to catnip-infused products like SmartyKat Catnipmist spray or scratching posts.

Staff members can also help dispel another catnip misconception—that the fragrant herb affects all cats equally. In fact, an estimated 50 percent of cats don’t respond at all to catnip, according to The Humane Society of the United States. 

“Not every cat will respond to catnip, so it’s important for retailers to understand the needs of a cat. Is the cat young and playful? Is the cat fearful and somewhat timid?” says Bell. “If a retailer really understands the effects of some of the new herbs on the market, including catnip, they can really help their customer make an informed decision about what product to buy their cat.”

Sensitivity to catnip is an inherited trait and doesn’t emerge until three to six months of age. So if a pet owner complains that catnip just doesn’t do it for their cat, retailers should be prepared with alternative herb mixes like the Black Magic and Calm Kitty Chamomile Tickle Pickles.

Catnip has been a staple in pet stores for years, but with more and more people becoming proud cat owners, the category still has great growth potential. According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association’s 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 42.9 million households own at least one furry feline friend, and in 2014 pet owners spent 3.6 billion on toys and accessories. With such a dynamic demographic, it’s crucial that pet retailers not skimp on their cat sections. Luckily, retailers seem to be paying attention and responding with robust offerings.

“Cat sections have been weak in the past, very weak. Just stuff up on a peg board with no real rhyme or reason why they do it,” says Duck. “Retailers are getting schooled on what they actually have, and that makes them order smarter. So the cat sections have been looking better for years.”

The first step to a perfect cat section is product selection, especially knowing what ingredients are going into the product. Pets are important members of the family, so owners want to know that the toys and treats they’re buying are safe for their fur-kid.

“Pet parents are looking for catnip products that are first and foremost safe for their cats,” says Pugliese. “Consumers prefer organic, pure catnip without fillers because they don’t have to worry about what other substances might be lurking in their cat’s catnip.”

Pet retailers can capitalize on this health conscious trend by stocking up on a wide variety of catnip products including toys, oils, sprays, scratching posts, bubbles and loose catnip that utilize 100-percent organic catnip like Petlinks Pure Bliss.

“Marketing the fact that nip is local or grown in U.S. and organic are all really good selling points,” says Bell. “More and more, consumers are caring about what is going in the mouths of their pets. They want to know where products are from, what they’re made of, if they contain synthetics or pesticides, if they’re GMO free, etc.”

Carefully crafted displays and informative signage can be powerful marketing tools to complement a well-versed staff. A special display of organic catnip or signs touting the many uses and effects of catnip are both educational and engaging.

Arguably the most important action retailers can take in regards to catnip products is listening to customers. Retailers should ask themselves: What questions are pet owners asking about catnip? What kinds of catnip products or brands are customers looking for or requesting?

“People come in and ask for something they might not have, and that’s an opportunity to call up their distributor or [the manufacturer],” says Duck.

That kind of customer feedback is invaluable, and retailers should be sure to seize the opportunity to cater to customer needs.

Location within the store is another key marketing element that can really impact sales. Although catnip is certainly a staple of the cat toy section, it should also be stocked in other cat-related areas. Catnip is unique in its varied uses and therefore is a very effective product to cross-sell pet owners.

“Pet retailers should create a go-to catnip section in their stores, ideally near cat toys,” recommends Pugliese. “It’s also beneficial to cross-sell catnip, loose and in spray form, in the cat toy, cat scratcher, furniture and bedding sections, on clip strips or other off-shelf merchandisers.”

A customer might come into the pet store looking for cat food or kitty litter, but with great signage, placement and salespeople, they might leave with a few catnip toys in tow.

“Food and litter really brings people into the store. So I think the more fun they have on the way back, the better,” says Duck. “I’ve seen racks right in the door way and people milling around it before they even get to the other stuff. I’ve even seen people forget to get their regular stuff because they’ve had so much fun talking to the employees.”

If a pet owner is educated about the powers of catnip by either a knowledgeable employee, product display or informative sign, then they’re sure to be as crazy for catnip as their cats.


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