Plush Toys for Dogs

With so many choices in the dog toy aisle, retailers need to be strategic about which items they stock and how they’re presented to shoppers.




Pets’ health is top of mind among owners today. With so much focus on finding the right diet and supplements, it’s easy to overlook another key part of dogs’ well being—fun.


“Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they need sufficient play time to be both happy and healthy,” says Laura Morgan, social media and digital marketing specialist at Pet Lifestyle and You (P.L.A.Y.). “Plush dog toys offer a way to do this that is both fun for pets and their parents.”


Plush dog toys have also long been essential to the livelihood of pet retailers as key sales drivers. Unlike items such as beds or carriers, plush toys have a greater turnover rate and lower price point, which makes them easy add-ons for customers.


“While some consumers will visit stores specifically in search of toys for their furry friend, many will see displays of fun toys as they’re shopping for food or other necessities,” explains Mark Watkin, sales manager for ZippyPaws. “They often decide to reward their good pups with toys.”


However, since plush toys are a dog aisle staple, the category has become saturated. With so many choices available, retailers and consumers alike can easily find themselves overwhelmed with options. That’s why it’s crucial to stock plush toys that help retailers stand out from the crowd and offer shoppers something unique.


Photo and Eco-Friendly

One of the biggest influences on the plush toy category in recent years has been social media. “One of the overall trends in this category is offering toys that are really going to speak to the pet parent who wants to share photos of their dog on social media,” says Morgan. “This means that toys designed to photograph well are likely to sell well.”


P.L.A.Y. often creates its plush toys in themed collections that are designed to draw consumers’ attention and make it easy for retailers to display. These collections range from sea creatures, such as squids and starfish, to back to school supplies, including beakers and diplomas.


“We strive to create toys that are going to make dogs happy with their various squeaky, crinkly, crunchy sound features along with soft fabrics, and that will also make pet parents happy, grabbing their attention with adorably photo-op-ready designs and high-quality construction,” explains Morgan.


In addition to their cute outsides, P.L.A.Y.’s plush dog toys also have eco-friendly insides. All of the figurines are stuffed with the San Francisco-based manufacturer’s signature PlanetFill material, which is made with 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottles.


Long-Lasting and Safe

Of course, pet parents aren’t just interested in toys’ aesthetics. “The questions of durability and safety come up frequently, and we take that extremely seriously,” says Watkin. “Pet parents want to know that toys won’t be harmful and will hold up with normal play.”


In response to these consumer demands, Chino, Calif.-based ZippyPaws created Z-Stitch line of tough toys. All of the Z-Stitch plush toys use a special sewing technique, as well as inner layers of fortifying fabrics to ensure the toys can stand up against even the most aggressive chewers.


In terms of safety, Watkin reminds retailers of the importance of labeling the internal elements of toys, such as squeakers and stuffing, which can be potential hazards if left unsupervised.


Multi-Functional Toys

When it comes to play, every pup has a different style. Some are competitive, always looking for a partner to play tug of war with. Others love to hunt and are excited by a squeaker. Others still are persistent chewers, who work at a toy until it is completely destroyed. That’s why manufacturers like PetRageous Designs are creating stuffed toys to cater to the many different ways dogs play.


“To stand out in this crowded category we aim to offer a different type of look with multiple features and mixed materials,” says Gretchen George, president of PetRageous. “We often mixing crinkle paper with a squeaker or have the toy perform a few different functions.”


The Wilmington, Mass.-based company’s TreatRageous toy line, for instance, features interactive plushes with multiple elements. Each piece of the collection has soft polyester shells layered with crinkle paper inside as well as two squeaker balls, which can be removed to create a hiding spot for treats.   


Fun for All Ages

Dogs also have different needs from their toys at different stages in life. “For a new puppy, bringing comfort is important,” says Leslie Yellin, executive vice president of Multipet. For this age set, she recommends the company’s Aromadog line, which is “infused with lavender to help relax and bring a sense of calm.”


Young adult dogs, on the other hand, need toys that can keep up with their energy. For example, Multipet’s signature Loofa Dog comes in a variety of styles, including a Loofa Launcher, which has a sling shot feature that allows it to be tossed greater lengths.


Toying with Sales

Plush toys are inherently visual merchandise, so retailers should lean into that with their displays. “Merchandise plush toys to be visible so they can be easily seen from the outside or passing by an aisle,” suggests George. “Toy bins near check out areas are a great way to capture an impulse purchase.”


Morgan agrees, adding that “retailers can create fun, themed displays and utilize endcap space to promote new toys or bring attention back to old favorites! It’s important for retailers to make the toys they carry stand out by showcasing the product’s personality.”


To help aid in building these exhibits, P.L.A.Y offers point of purchase display boxes that match the company’s themed collections. For example, the Willow’s Mythical Plush Toy collection comes in a 10-piece set with a castle display.


Another way to bring plush toys to life: consider keeping a few examples of in-stock plush toys on hand for customers to try out in the store with their canine companions.


“All retailers need for a small demonstration is a long enough aisle and an energetic pup!” says Morgan.


As always, it’s important to keep a fresh mix of plush toys in stock to keep customers coming back. That also means staying on top of trends in the category, which experts expect to include exciting new materials.


“Manufacturers are getting more creative with toys and finding ways to make them more interactive and engaging for dogs,” says Watkin. “The use of a variety of mixed materials in the same toy, for instance plush with rubber, rope, corduroy or other fabrics, has been trending and will continue to do so. In general, it’s an exciting time for the plush toy industry as consumers are becoming more excited about the variety of offerings available.”  PB


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