Starting from Scratch

Cat scratchers play an important role in cats' lives, and not surprisingly, this category can be a strong profit generator for retailers.


The virtual jungle gym of sisal, carpet and cardboard found in pet specialty stores’ cat scratchers and climbers sections could make for any cat’s dream play land. For retailers, on the other hand, the category can be an important profit center.

“Sales of cat scratchers are increasing,” says Gabriella DeSantis, vice president of marketing at OurPet’s Company, who attributes this to the growing innovation in the category. “New designs and materials are being introduced all the time to appeal to the savvy, growing audience of cat consumers,” she explains.

Choosing an assortment from the many options, however, can be a real challenge for some retailers. “Scratchers come in vertical, horizontal and angled designs, in a variety of surfaces like carpet, sisal, seagrass and corrugate,” says Aimee Diskin, director of product development and innovation at Worldwise. In addition to scratching orientation and materials, retailers also have to consider how much floor space they have available for these products and which price points will work best in their stores.

Stores need to balance carrying the latest designs, which often have a slightly higher price point, with stocking an appropriate number of entry-level options. That means being aware of the latest trends when it comes to scratchers—and being highly aware of what the store’s customers are willing and able to spend.

The latest big trend? “Consumers are looking for materials and designs that coordinate with today’s home décor,” says DeSantis.

“The stores that are successful in this category offer a variety of products; they’re not over-SKUed in one segment or another. They carry designs, shapes and colors that are attractive and on-trend,” she says.

Diskin agrees that the category is trending toward more modern, home-décor friendly design. “More and more consumers want items that blend into their home environment,” she says.

The demand for décor-friendly cat items, Diskin says, is driving more consumers toward premium products. Yet, pricing is still a real concern. “Pricing remains highly sensitive due to the consumable nature of the products,” Diskin says. “Commodity items are driving the price points down.” She says that is why it is so important for retailers to pay attention to trends—stocking quality items with innovative features and designs makes the value of spending more on a scratcher clear for the shopper.

“Price points range from single-wide corrugate scratchers that cost less than $5 all the way to elaborate cat furniture that can cost hundreds of dollars,” DeSantis says.

So, how do retailers choose which to stock? The best way to think of price points is to envision them on a sliding scale—each store should figure out which range on that scale their customer base fits into. So, for some stores, that will mean carrying items from $5 to $100 because that’s the price range cat owners in that retailer’s demographic will pay. For another retailer, the range may be $50 to $300 or $75 to $1,000.

The retailer should review the options available in the market within the price range they’ve determined will be a good fit for their store, try to find options that match the latest trends, and then choose several options at different price points with different designs so that their customers can choose the best option for them.

Built to Last
Of course, visual appeal isn’t all cat owners expect of a scratcher—they also want items that are functional. Pet parents are seeking quality scratchers that are stable and will hold up to a good deal of scratching. For many shoppers, those features have a significant impact on their perception of value. “They want to know that an investment piece like a large piece of cat furniture is going to last,” explains Diskin.

That’s why, if possible, DeSantis says retailers should display all available scratchers, furniture and trees, regardless of size, so that customers can see and feel what they’re buying and get a better sense of how it will work in their homes.

Displaying scratchers also offers retailers another advantage—in an age where independent retailers have to contend with Internet competition, having items set up and displayed helps customers feel confident in what they’re buying. Purchasing these products online can be tricky. It can be hard to accurately judge how stable an item is from a review or visualize how much space it will take up in someone’s living room from a product description.

“If space is an issue, always provide images of fully constructed cat furniture and trees next to their packaging,” says DeSantis. While that doesn’t offer all the benefits of having an item actually assembled, when coupled with having the packaged item available, it can still provide retailers with a slight edge over online competition.

However, the store may want to allow shoppers (or employees, at least) to take an item out of the packaging when shopping, so that they can at least evaluate quality and get a sense of the assembly required.

Taught to Sell
The final piece of the puzzle when selling scratchers is employee training. All too often, employees get an in-depth education when it comes to nutrition and dog training products, but get little to none when it comes to the cat scratching category.

Many people—pet store employees included—don’t realize the reason cats scratch. “As cats’ nails grow, their nails become encased in a scaly coating called a sheath,” explains DeSantis. “If cats don’t scratch, the sheath can build up and cause the cats discomfort when they retract their claws. Scratching is how cats keep their nails healthy.” 

Not only is it important for the cat, it’s often important for the cat owner’s furniture, too. “If there is no appropriate outlet for a cat’s scratching instinct in the home, she will often turn to items like curtains or furniture,” DeSantis says. “Scratchers are an absolute necessity for cats in the home, both for their health and to avoid unwanted behavior.”

Ensuring that employees understand that scratchers are a necessity and not a nicety for cats, and that they can explain that idea to shoppers clearly, is important. They should also be educated on the individual features of the products the store carries, and even be given a bit of information on the companies that produce the products.

“Educating consumers in this way not only drives sales, but it also creates a relationship between the consumer and the store that can result in repeat visits and purchases,” says Diskin. Ultimately, product knowledge is what makes the difference between a store where cat scratcher play land draws shoppers in and boosts its bottom line and a store that struggles to turn over products in its cat aisle.

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