Fetch & Tug Toys
Fetch and tug toys have come a long way in recent years to be more convenient, safer and eco-friendly.
While one of the greatest joys of owning a dog is the ability to engage them in a game of fetch or a round of tug o’ war, most consumers overlook the fact that playtime is crucial for the animal’s mental and physical well being. Fetch and tug toys can no longer be considered a luxury item or an indulgence; they’re as necessary as food or a leash.
“Most dogs need to be active to be happy,” says Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle and You. “Fetch and tug play are [as] natural to them as eating and breathing, and it used to aid in hunting practices for their ancestors. Not only does playing fetch and tug with one’s dog create a natural bond between human and animal, it gives the dog the exercise they need.”
While the category has long been a mainstay for pet retailers, it has expanded in recent years with groundbreaking new designs and materials.
“There is always the traditional rope material or tennis ball for tug and fetch toys, but these days pet parents are looking for something more,” adds Hisamune. “Pet parents are looking for innovative toys that help make fetch and tug play more interactive and convenient.”
The introduction of technology has helped revolutionize the dog toy aisle. Thanks to manufacturers like Austin-based iFetch, consumers can ensure their dogs receive regular playtime, even if they’re not around.
“As pet owners are looking for ways to entertain their pets while they are at work or away from home, pet toys have helped satisfy this need,” explains Debbie Hamill, chief marketing officer for iFetch. “Both of [our] launchers were designed to launch a ball one at a time to encourage the dog to drop and fetch for as long as he or she desires.”
This kind of technology not only lets dogs get physical activity at any time, rain or shine, it is also built with pups’ brain health in mind.
“Physical exercise is only one part of the health equation—pets need mental exercise, too,” says Hamill. “‘Use it or lose it’ is a phrase that applies to dogs just as it does to humans. Keeping their brain active each day is important, especially as dogs age. That’s why the iFetch toys require brain power to drop the ball in and then physical power to fetch away.”
As the old saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, meaning that pet parents’ No. 1 concern must be safety.
“Pet safety is always the top priority for consumers making these choices for their friend,” says Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Texas-based toy designer Dexas. “Safe materials are always important, as well as the flexibility and softness of the materials used. Fetch and tug toys get roughed up by certain breeds, but they still have to deliver a safe and satisfying mouth feel.”
Since there is no regulatory body in the U.S. for pet products, retailers need to pay special attention to the toys they decide to stock. Retailers should look for fetch and tug toys that are made with non-toxic materials and are free of potentially dangerous additives, like phthalates and BPA.
Concerns about safety and well being go beyond the immediate health of the dog. Many modern pet parents also want to know the toys they’re buying are safe for the environment.
“People are always searching for an ‘indestructible’ toy and are more conscious of having it be eco-friendly,” says Hisamune, explaining that many of P.L.A.Y.’s dog toys are stuffed with the company’s signature eco-friendly polyfiber, which is made from recycled plastic water bottles.
The Right Toy
With so many different fetch and tug toys on the market today, it’s easy for pet parents to be paralyzed by choice. Retailers need to act as a guide, providing expertise to help customers find the best toy for their pup.
“Choosing the right toy is always about knowing the personality of the dog,” explains Lindsy Argenti, marketing manager for Ohio-based Coastal Pet.
Salespeople should be trained to ask questions about dogs’ play styles and preferences. For instance, if the dog is a tug o’ war champion, recommend a longer toy with handles so the owner can securely grip or, “if the dog is happier on the move, pick a toy designed to fly distance, like a boomerang or frisbee,” adds Argenti.
Customers should also be asked about other key factors, such as age, breed and size.
“Always pick a toy that is larger than your dog’s mouth because this will keep the dog from accidentally swallowing the toy,” says Mark Pasco, vice president of sales and marketing for California-based Mammoth Pet Products. “The chew factor is important, as well. If your dog is an aggressive chewer, select a toy that is larger.”
In terms of merchandising, ensure fetch and tug toys are set apart from other toys.
“…Getting a display that the vendor provides or having a dedicated wall with a variety of fetch and tug toys will surely impress any customer,” says Hisamune.
Another way to grab customers’ attention is through in-person demonstrations that show pet parents first-hand how pets interact with and enjoy fetch and tug products before they buy.
“Demoing the products in store is also a fun way to build awareness, especially if customers bring their kids to shop! [iFetch] includes a free demo unit with one of our intro wholesale packs—stores can choose to demo or use it as a giveaway to drive traffic,” says Hamill.
In addition to in-store displays, experts recommend harnessing the power of social media to market toys. Fetch and tug products are inherently visual and therefore lend themselves well to photo and videos posts on platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.
“Pet ownership is practically made for social media sharing, so that is always going to be an important tactic for marketing any product,” says Logan. “Video content is a great way to give consumers an idea of how a toy is used and what makes it different.”
No matter what marketing strategy retailers choose, remember to emphasize the importance of play and exercise at every stage of life to ensure repeat customers, says Pasco.
“If a retailer would start a pet owner out with one of these toys when the dog is a puppy,” Pasco explains, “the consumer will continue purchasing these toys for the different life stages of the dog.” PB