Feline Fun

Cats at play have always captured attention, but now that YouTube and internet memes are creating feline celebrities, demand for cat toys continues to grow.




Maru, Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub—these are now household names throughout the United States. Whether they’re diving into cardboard boxes, being the star in one of a dozen of memes or just generally being adorable, the public has become fascinated with watching cats play. Yet retailers, it seems, have been slow to capitalize on the growing interest in feline fun. In many stores, cats still seem to be second-rate citizens, with dog products front and center and cat products off to the side or in the back of the store.


Nowhere is this more true than in the cat toy category. But now that its time has come, it’s critical that retailers adapt their strategies to highlight it more effectively.


“Bring the consumer down the aisle with exciting merchandising and interactive displays,” suggests Lisa Davis, senior product manager at Novato, Calif.-based Worldwise, Inc., which offers everything from electronic cat toys to the new HappyNip product line that combines catnip and silvervine. “Engage and educate the consumer in the little bit of time they will have when they are walking down the aisle. Tell the consumer why they need to occupy their cat and what benefit a new toy or toys will serve.”


Libby He, marketing and e-commerce supervisor at PetPals Group Inc., a City of Industry, Calif.-based manufacturer of cat trees and toys, agrees. She suggests retailers use a sign to label the cat toy section and recommends retailers place cat toys next to the cat food—since food is a repeat purchase that drives customer traffic—or by the register.


Cat toys are often considered impulse purchases, and merchandising them in the right locations makes sure they are seen, as cat owners make other purchases. Furthermore, displaying products out of their packages—perhaps with some educational material—can help capture a shopper’s attention, and keep them in the aisle, and in front of the products, a little longer, says Davis.


Trending in Toys

The products available in the category today are much more diverse than in years past. In addition to the traditional plush, plastic and feathered toys that have long existed for cats, there are now interactive and electronic products, including those that use movement, sound or light to help capture a cat’s attention.


“There is a lot of innovation in the cat toy category related to electronics and design in general,” says Davis. “Companies are investing more and taking more risks with bigger tooled items, hoping to maximize their return with more interactive and engaging products.”


Christopher J. Glissman, CEO of Kansas City, Mo.-based catnip supplier Meowijuana, says interactivity is key.


“If there was a word to highlight the growing trend for cats and cat toys it’s ‘interactive,’” he says. “There’s a high demand to get our feline friends out of their mundane routines with more activity and, with the ongoing emergence of automation through technology, providing animals with things to do—regardless of who’s at home and available for playtime. That is where the market is trending.”


Glissman points to interactive laser toys and motion sensor products now on the market. “They’re much more engaging than the old rubber mouse, and cats really get into the lights and sounds of these products,” he says. “The days of chasing red dogs and rolling balls aren’t going away; they’re simply getting an upgrade to become autonomous with the use of innovative electronics to power more fun at playtime.”


Glissman’s own products are a perfect example of another trend he’s seen in the industry. “Today’s cat toys need to motivate the customer experience as much as the cat experience,” he says.


Meowijuana offers a catnip product line that mimics the budding marijuana industry, providing a creative draw for shoppers while being natural and safe for cats (“without being illegal,” he jokes). The company will also be introducing a treat line—called Munchies—at Global Pet Expo next month.


Glissman obviously understands that unique products attract the eye and increase the chances that the item will become an impulse purchase. However, retailers shouldn’t limit their stock to just those products. “It’s better to carry [cat toys with] different functions, such as training, educating, hunting, simulating, etc.,” says He. The wider the range of products the store carries, the higher the chance that a customer will make a purchase, she says.


Of course, impulse products also have limitations, when it comes to price point. “Pricing is key in this category,” says Davis. “Remember, the consumer probably originally came to the store to buy food for their cat. Once they are down the aisle, the consumer is looking for value, and multiple features and benefits. It’s a steep slope trying to sell them a toy for $10.99 versus $4.99.”


Fortunately, as technology becomes incredibly more affordable, prices are coming down for many of the newer items on the market, and the ‘cool factor’ of these items can sometimes help to increase a shopper’s price tolerance.


Regardless, experts agree that demand for cat toys is increasing, which of course puts additional pressure on store owners to choose the right items to fill their valuable retail real estate. Glissman says manufacturers can help by providing products with well-designed packaging and offering point-of-sale materials and displays retailers can use to maximize the space they have available.


Ultimately, however, that growing demand stems from the same larger trend that has been influencing the pet industry for years: pet humanization. Not only does that mean it’s not going away anytime soon, it also means that retailers can make educated guesses about what products will succeed best at retail by looking for items that allow pet owners to feel like they are treating their furry friend while mimicking their own interests and desires.


After all, while they may not all be Maru or Lil Bub, every cat is a star in the eyes of its owner.  PB


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