Starting from Scratch

Cat owners love that their feline friends have a wild side, but that means providing product solutions that allow cats to use their skills in a non-harmful way.


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Among domestic cats’ most notable features are their claws. Once essential tools for ancestral felines, claws were crucial when it came to climbing and hunting. However, even indoor cats today retain deep-seated instincts to scratch, claw and climb.

catMost cats happily demonstrate those instincts—whether they are given an appropriate place to do so or not. Cat scratchers and other cat furniture play an important role in helping customers avoid damaged couches, curtains and carpets. They are therefore must-have stock items for pet retailers who cater to cat-owning customers.

The options on the market are nearly limitless. Cat scratchers come in all sizes and shapes and in many different materials, from cardboard and carpet to sisal and raw wood. They also span every price point.

“So much about any business is price point,” says Frank Novak, co-owner of Scratch Lounge. For this reason, his company has recently debuted a new version of the Scratch Lounge that retails for between $12 and $15; the Scratch Lounge Classic retails for between $19.95 and $25.

For some stores, $25 may be a higher-end option; for others, it may be a mid-level option, with premium choices falling higher on the pricing scale. It is important for stores to know how price-sensitive their customers are and what features are most important to them.

“Know your customer,” agrees Josh Feinkind, president of Refinedkind Pet Products. “If you’re not sure, test your market with a few popular high-end products.”

Different demographics tend to favor different features, aesthetics and price points.

“Year after year, we’re seeing a significant increase in the demand for aesthetically designed cat products, as awareness for such products increases,” says Feinkind, noting that the Lotus cat tower is one of the company’s best sellers, with a price point of $399. “If your [customer demographic] responds well to a $399 cat tower, it will respond well to other high-end products.”

Regardless of whether a store’s customers are willing to pay $12 or $399 for cat scratchers and furniture, variety is essential. “It is important to offer a variety of price points that make sense for the trading area the store operates in,” says Nancy Schmid, director of business development at Pioneer Pet Products LLC.

A well-rounded assortment should also include a wealth of various materials, design types, and both single-purpose and multi-functional pieces. “There are the traditional large, carpeted furniture pieces; there are also unique pieces that incorporate wood or sisal into the carpet,” Schmid says. “Some pieces are made to look natural, like trees, [and] there are many small carpeted posts that incorporate toys for smaller environments and kittens.” 


The Struggle for Space
Displaying a comprehensive assortment of scratchers and cat furniture can be challenging for retailers with limited floor space—especially given that it is a category that does not produce high turnover, like food or toys. “The larger price-point items often need to be built to ensure the customer can touch and feel [them],” says Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development at Worldwise. “But the tradeoff is that not as many units are going to sell, and it fills up valuable floor space.”

“Space is the biggest concern; some of the pieces can be very large,” agrees John Farrell, vice president of sales and marketing at Petpals Group, Inc. “We have addressed this by focusing on be a RTA [ready to assemble] furniture company, or the Ikea effect.”

RTA products not only save on shipping costs—shipping assembled items gets costly quick—but they also make it easier for shoppers to get these goods home, since they more easily fit in a compact car or on public transportation.

The packaging itself can also help retailers display large items, Farrell says., and large, colorful pictures help the consumer get a sense of what the item will look like assembled.

Of course, there is a downside. “If you offer furniture and/or scratch items that requires the customer to build them [at home], you do save space,” says Diskin. “However, you are likely missing some sales by not letting the customer touch and feel the product.”

The solution? Diskin says, it’s a matter of balance. “The key is to balance the offering so you have some larger, unique investment items on display, and then offer the more familiar items that don’t need as much explaining in a neighboring space,” she says.

But even for those retailers that assemble an item for display, offering a RTA product with great packaging can be beneficial.

“Larger furniture pieces can be merchandised directly on the floor or a platform to keep them up off the floor—a great location for these is in the front of the store as a eye-catching window display or as a free-standing display near the register,” says Schmid. “Smaller pieces can be easily shelved on traditional shelving.”

She also recommends that retailers with limited space utilize a good-better-best approach that encompasses an opening price point, a mid-range price point and a pre-determined top price that the store’s customers can afford.


Adding Items to the Basket

The sale doesn’t stop once a customer chooses a product from a store’s selection. For the smart staff member, that’s only the beginning. Understanding some of the basics of cat behavior can allow a sales associate to step up the sale once a customer has decided to purchase a scratcher or furniture item.

First, it is important to realize most customers who purchase a scratcher do so for one of two reasons: either their cat has been scratching something it wasn’t supposed to, or they have a basic understanding of their cat’s behavioral needs and want to provide a solution that will provide their kitty with the best quality of life.

In either case, suggesting tips that will help their pet adopt a new product as “his” or “hers” can be an opportunity to add on a few incremental sales. Items such as Pioneer Pet Products’ Sticky Paws, which discourage cats from scratching where they’re not supposed to, can be a great suggestion for cat owners trying to provide an alternate scratching solution.

“Cats can be trained to scratch in specific areas,” says Schmid. “[But] this requires strategic placement of scratching devices in areas that the cat tends to [visit] and preventing or deterring them from scratching off-limit areas like furniture corners.”

Sticky Paws and other products are designed as deterrents, to discourage cats from using furniture instead of their new scratcher.

As for those cat owners who are simply interested in offering behaviorally appropriate products for their cat, staff can suggest specific items for lounging and for play. Both types of customers may be interested in catnip products that can help draw their cat to their new purchase and help their pet learn to love it.

With the right products and add-on solutions, smart retailers can take some of the sting out of cats’ claws, by providing the tools they need to climb, scratch and play without destroying customers’ furniture.

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