A Scratch Above the Rest

With the number of cat owners on the rise, cat scratchers and climbers are the purr-fect products for retailers looking for a new profit center.


It’s a fact that cats love to scratch. Unfortunately, that means kitty’s claws often leave behind a wake of ruined curtains, couches and coffee tables.

Luckily for pet owners, cat scratchers and climbers can deter bad habits and save owners a major headache. Just like litter and food, scratchers and climbers are an essential part of cat ownership and therefore an important profit center for retailers.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that about 42.9 million U.S. households own a least one cat. Feline friends are especially popular amongst young people; according to a recent survey by Nestlé Purina, almost 50 percent of millennial respondents own a cat.

With cat ownership on the rise, retailers have the perfect opportunity to introduce both first-time and veteran cat owners to what’s new in the world of cat products, especially scratchers and climbers.

“Cat products are a new area for many retailers, and the market has been dominated by the same generic products for the longest time,” says Bills Parsons, sales manager at P.L.A.Y (Pet Lifestyle and You) in San Francisco. “The common challenge is publicizing and marketing a new product to make sure that people know that something new and different is available. If customers aren’t informed of new products, they will simply go on purchasing the same basic boring cat products.”

Gone are the days of simple scratching posts covered in beige shag carpet. Today, scratchers and climbers come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and styles designed to complement modern décor.

“The current trend is toward scratchers that stylistically fit nicely in the home and blend in well with the home’s environment,” says Parsons. “This does not, however, mean that a home gets over-run with cat elements. So many cat products today have style as well as functionality and can complement nicely in the home.”

P.L.A.Y.’s line of luxury cat products, for example, features an assortment of whimsically curved scratchers. These designs not only create multiple alluring angles for scratching and lounging, but also artfully fit in with today’s home décor. Likewise, kathy ireland Loved Ones, part of the Worldwise brand family, includes scratchers with sophisticated wooden accents and stylish fabric colors to seamlessly pair with other household furniture.

In addition to style, pet parents are also concerned with the quality, stability and durability of their scratchers and climbers. “They want to know that an investment piece like a large piece of cat furniture is going to work and going to last,” says Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development at Worldwise, a leading manufacturer of branded pet products based in Novato, Calif. No customer wants to bring home a scratcher only to have kitty destroy it after one vigorous scratching session.

In order to make the most of this category, pet retailers should pay special attention to the options they stock. Not only should the products be high quality, multiple kinds of scratchers should be available on the shelf. “Make sure you provide an arrangement of scratchers for consumers to choose from. That way you appeal to different types of cats and consumers,” says Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager for Pioneer Pet Products, makers of The Ultimate Scratching Post.

There are scratchers that hang from doorknobs, climbing towers that reach the ceiling, loungers for kitty to stretch out on, angled ramps, flat pads and even toys with built-in scratching units—all made with a cat’s needs in mind.

As for placement, scratchers and climbers are obviously at home in the cat section of stores, especially near toys and other entertainment-related products. They’re also ideal products for cross merchandising. Consider placing packages of catnip nearby since owners often use it to entice stubborn cats to engage with scratchers.

Special displays and signs are a tried-and-true method to attract customer attention. While many customers come into the store for things like food and litter, a bright and well-designed display can quickly steer them toward the cat furniture section.

Retailers should employ signage to emphasize the benefits of cat scratchers and climbers. Signs with pointed questions, like “Tired of kitty scratching up the furniture?”, show that scratchers are the solution to a common complaint amongst cat owners. Other sign ideas include listing features of different models, highlighting health benefits or calling attention to new and innovative products. 

Industry experts also recommend that retailers model fully assembled cat furniture on the shelf to elevate desire for the product. “Cat furniture should be assembled in the store so the consumer can easily get a sense of the size, stability and the features and benefits the product has to offer,” says Diskin. “Even if the item is sold unassembled or in a box, it’s vital to have at least one example on display for consumers to see and touch.”

The No. 1 way to make the most of this category, though, is through staff training. With an educated staff, retailers can, in turn, educate consumers about the benefits of cat furniture and steer them toward the right products.

“Staff training is an essential element. They need to understand the reasons why cats scratch and the product features that will best help a consumer with their particular cat or scratching challenge,” says Diskin.

It is important for pet owners to understand that scratchers and climbers aren’t superfluous but rather crucial to the physical and mental health of their furry friend. Cats need to scratch for many reasons: to keep their claws in shape and healthy, to mark their territory, to exercise and tone muscles, and to relieve stress.

Scratchers are the perfect solution to redirect this animal instinct. Retailers should advise owners to place the scratcher near their current scratching target. There are even scratchers that cover and protect the corner of kitty’s favorite couch, such as Sofa Safe by Petlinks, a Worldwise brand.

Retailers should tailor their marketing and displays to the specific needs of different cat households. For example, some kitties are pickier when it comes to scratchers. So retailers should promote the variety of materials scratchers come in—corrugated, jute, recycled cardboard, seagrass, sisal, coconut husk and, of course, carpet. This way, owners can find the right scratcher that fits their cat’s particular needs or preferences.

For cats that still cannot be convinced to use a scratcher, retailers can offer a high-tech solution. The Claw Therapy electric scratcher by Petlinks, for example, features spinning feather toys to appeal to a cat’s playful side and lure her to use the scratcher.

Cat scratchers are also a wonderful choice for multiple cat homes. Cats aren’t always known for being extremely social creatures. However, they tend to convene around scratching posts, making it the perfect way to encourage them to play and interact. Similarly, if an owner is dealing with multi-cat fighting issues, retailers can recommend cat furniture with multiple levels. A climber allows kitty to escape unwanted attention from dogs, young children or other cats. Whenever she feels threatened, she can simply jump to a top perch.

Ultimately, a well-informed staff is the best sales strategy a retailer can invest in. “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,” explains Diskin.

It is the employees that customers turn to seeking advice and counsel about the best products for their furry friends. So if the store’s staff understands that scratchers and climbers are a fundamental part of cat care, then so will pet owners.


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