Nerf Goes to the Dogs

David Sarnowski, COO of Gramercy Products, Inc., discusses how his company's Nerf Dog line is leveraging a well-known brand and innovative product design to generate excitement in the toy category.





David Sarnowski



Pet Business: What makes Nerf a good brand for pet products?
David Sarnowski:
Nerf originated as an indoor-safe toy line, but over the past 50-plus years, it has evolved into a diversified global toy and game brand with sales of over $1 billion. Today, the Nerf line is known for innovative, durable and fun toys that promote an active lifestyle.

Before we even considered entering the toy category, we wanted to fully understand how a licensed name might translate into the products. Prior to designing the Nerf Dog line, we conducted extensive consumer research and found that brand awareness among consumers in the pet toy space is very low. The top-three selling toy brands in the market had brand awareness figures of 88 percent, 67 percent and 55 percent among pet specialty consumers.


Removing the top three names, surveys revealed that consumer awareness dropped to below 15 percent for all other toy brands. When added to the same survey, we found that Nerf had a consumer brand awareness of 96 percent.
Additional research confirmed that if we could marry the brand awareness of Nerf with the design and durability the products are known for, we would have a successful pet toy line. We spent over a year researching and designing a line that would emulate the same qualities that Nerf is known for. Our team worked tirelessly to ensure that the completed line would represent the brand well, satisfy our retailers and appeal to consumers. 


PB: How did you keep the classic Nerf aesthetic while making the products safe for pets?
The Nerf name and look has been built over the past 50 years. So, when designing the line, it was very important to our company and to Hasbro (the licensor) that the Nerf Dog line maintained the look and feel of the brand. We first surveyed pet owners to find out the features that they liked and disliked in current pet toys. From there, our design team spent a long time looking at the current Nerf (human) toy line for design elements that could be incorporated into pet toys. The football would be a perfect example of the conversion. By taking a popular foam or light rubber football and converting it to a thickly-molded natural rubber dog toy, we maintain the aesthetics of Nerf, while adding the durability needed for pets. Safety and durability are always paramount, so steps like using natural rubber (as opposed to latex) and triple stitching in our plush items were taken to ensure quality.



PB: What are some of your top products?
Our ball toys seem to resonate well with pet owners. When we designed the line and surveyed pet owners, they identified “durable” and “fun for my pet” as the two top attributes they look for when buying a toy. So, we took classic designs, like the football and round ball and integrated new features. These features range from simple touches—like adding a crunch or squeak interior to a football—to more radical [changes]—like putting a protective rubber grid on a tennis ball. Pet owners scanning the shelves first see a brand that they recognize in Nerf and are drawn in further by fact that our toys all maintain a rugged and durable look.



PB: How should products like Nerf Dog toys be merchandised to their best effect in pet stores?
As with any licensed line, the name and look (logo, packaging, colors, etc.) are the first thing that customers will see and are keys to getting them to stop and look closely at a product. Research tells us that a product often has less than a second to be seen by a customer walking through a retail store.

Therefore, with any licensed line, it’s important that retailers take full advantage of the name that they are selling and make a statement with the line in their stores. With Nerf Dog, we offer three different pre-designed plan-o-grams to show retailers how to best display and merchandise the products.  Each of our plan-o-grams includes brightly colored header graphics for the shelves to help draw the attention of passing customers. In addition to our plan-o-grams, we also offer a number of brightly colored floor display racks with marketing graphics to make a bold statement in any store. 

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