Feline Containment and Carriers
Retailers can capitalize on the increasing number of traveling cats by stocking carriers that cater to felines’ comfort, safety and sensibilities.
Cats aren’t known for being great travelers. In fact, they have a reputation for being finicky homebodies, but that’s changing thanks in large part to a new, younger cohort of pet owners.
“There is a changing demographic in the younger people who are choosing to be pet parents verses actual parents […] they’re treating their pets as their family,” explains Penny Johnson, CEO of Gig Harbor, Wash.-based Sturdi Products, Inc.
Since millennials are a generation of globetrotters, they’re taking their feline family members along for the ride. This increased interest in cat travel has made carriers a must-have product, whether they’re frequent fliers or just need to make the occasional trip to the vet.
A cat carrier is not just any piece of luggage. It’s transporting very special cargo, so pet retailers should be diligent when choosing which products to stock to ensure the selection meets the needs of pet parents and cats.
“Cat owners are looking for durability and safety. A carrier is usually a once in a cat lifetime purchase, so it should be durable. Safety is paramount to the cat owner, so a carrier should be safe regardless of the price,” says Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer of Pasadena, Calif.-based Sleepypod.
Sleepypod offers three different pet carriers—the Mobile Pet Bed, the Air and the Atom—to fit different travel scenarios. The Sleepypod Atom, for example, is the smallest at 17 in. long, 8.5 in. wide and 10.5 in. tall, which means it can easily fit next to you on the train or under most airline seats.
Sleepypod carriers are also made to last. All three models have been crash tested and feature straps for fastening carriers in a car seat. Plus, they utilize ultra-plush padding for maximum comfort, luggage grade, ballistic nylon exteriors and durable mesh for ventilation and security.
“Many cats are fearful of travel and new environments. Cats are clever creatures, so a fearful or anxious cat might try to escape from its temporary carrier home. Soft-sided carriers can be easily torn, but Sleepypod carriers are made with tear resistant mesh,” explains Leung.
Another way Sleepypod is innovating in the cat carrier category is through accessories. One of the newest additions to the lineup is the Assisi Loop Lounge. Made in collaboration with Assisi Animal Health, this therapy bed can be added to Sleepypod Air and Atom carriers to encourage healing and aid pain management.
“It incorporates an FDA cleared, prescription tPEMF (targeted Pulse Electromagnetic Field) technology to deliver a microcurrent targeting the body’s own natural anti-inflammatory process,” says Leung.
Custom Made for Cats
Any pet owner will tell you that cats are fundamentally different from dogs, both in terms of temperament and physicality.
“I think retailers, when they’re buying this [type of] product, should have a basic understanding of what is different for cats versus dogs,” explains Johnson. “As an example, a cat’s spine is built totally differently than a dog’s. They’re able to get out of tight spaces a lot easier than dogs do. They can back out of things better because of the way they’re built.”
Sturdi Products’ signature carrier, the SturdiBag, was originally made with cats’ unique requirements in mind. Over 25 years ago, founder Richard Van Engers saw a need for a feline-focused carrier after spending time on the cat show circuit.
“These are professionals who really know cats and how they want to travel with their cats [and they] told him how to make it even better. He listened to his customers,” says Johnson. The result is a carrier that’s “tried and true by people who are extensive travelers with felines.”
The SturdiBag comes in seven different sizes as well as several divided models for all breeds of felines. The carrier is also made with light, but tough material and features a baseboard, safety tether, leather handgrip and mesh windows. What sets the SturdiBag apart, though, is its flexibility.
“The unique part about the SturdiBag carrier is its flex-height ability. It’s made with a material that allows for height flexibility, so you can bring it on board an airline and compress it so it fits under any seat height ways,” says Johnson. “You just always have to check with your airline first to make sure that their specifications are followed.”
Carrying Sales Forward
Since carriers are often only purchased once or twice in a cat’s lifetime, it’s crucial for retailers to be strategic when it comes to sales. Johnson recommends leaning into the visual appeal of cat carriers by taking models out and putting them on display—even if your store is on the smaller side.
“It is important to have your carriers assembled,” she says. “Your customers need see it, touch it, feel it and have it explained to them by a salesperson. They’re likely to just walk by it if it’s in a package.”
If your customers aren’t regular travelers, there’s still one important place every pet owner has to take their cat—the vet. Leung recommends partnering with an in-house or local veterinary clinic for a cross-promotion about yearly wellness checkups and carriers.
Johnson also urges retailers to thoroughly assess potential carriers before adding the products to shelves. While there are plenty of options on the market focusing on style, it shouldn’t be at the detriment of cats’ well being.
“You have to be really careful as a retailer to make sure that these fashion carriers have all of the safety features built in,” she adds.
As for the future of the category, industry experts expect to see carriers continue to adapt to the new ways owners are traveling—whether by air, sea, rail or road.
“Cat owners, especially younger cat owners, are looking for ways to take their cats with them on day trips and outings, so there will be more innovative containment options to fit this desire for inclusion,” says Leung.
Johnson, too, wants to see manufacturers seek new ways to cater to pet parents’ changing needs.
“I would hope for this category that people come up with some original things,” she says. “That it’s not just a copy in a different color. That you go back to the focus—what are you trying to do? Are you trying to make it safer? More comfortable? It is going to reduce stress? Have a reason for making these changes.” PB