Pay to Play

A well-chosen and stocked cat toy section can bolster a retailer’s bottom line by helping to drive additional sales.


One of the perks of having a cat is watching them skitter and skid across the floor in pursuit of a toy—as the many cat videos that have captivated the public have shown, cats have the ability to provide endless hours of entertainment and laughter.

Over the last 10 years, manufacturers and retailers have begun to recognize the trend, causing a shift in the footprint of the cat toy category within independent pet retail stores. “There is a distinct cat toy category now, and there’s more awareness about why cats need toys and the benefits of play for both cats and pet parents,” says Aimee Diskin, director of product development and innovation at Worldwise, Inc.

This shift has been partly driven by humanization, which continues unabated, but it’s also been strongly impacted by both Boomers and Millennials. “We see strong activity from aging boomers who enjoy the companionship of pets and a large group of Millennials who view cats as lower-maintenance pets than dogs,” says Diskin. “These factors indicate that we’ll continue to see stability in the pet space, and in cat toys in particular, well into the future.”

As it has gained center-stage positioning within the cat category, the cat toy market has also blossomed, growing in variety and diversity. Whereas once the category was restricted to feathers on strings and balls with bells, today those staples have been joined by laser pointers, remote-controlled mice and other inventions that take advantage of today’s technology. “There’s never been a wider assortment of cat toys available to consumers and retailers. Toys with feathers, ribbons, catnip and especially electronic toys are consistently top performers.” Diskin says, adding that in the last two years, electronic cat toys have come to claim a significant market share.

But successfully stocking and ensuring sell-through in the cat toy category requires more than simply choosing from the many options based on the latest designs. Retailers need to ensure they’re considering the way cats play—and that they’re offering a variety of toys that meet the particular play styles of felines.

“Cats love to bat, swat, chase and kick, and there are toys to support all these activities,” Diskin explains.
Yet the criteria retailers should consider doesn’t stop there. After all, numerous videos exist to provide evidence that cats will play with bags, boxes or a bit of left over aluminum foil—which is why safety and quality are important considerations when a retailer selects which products to bring into the store.

“Many of the lower-priced toys—and even some higher-priced ones—are not safe for cats or kids,” says Diskin. “If your pet can easily pull off a feather or loosen the knot that holds a bell, you have an instant choking hazard.” She says that’s why Worldwise tests its products against child-safety standards.

Once a retailer has considered toys that encompass a variety of play styles and have vetted them for safety and quality, it is time to weigh price points, size and packaging, and how they align with the needs and demands of its customer base.

In neighborhoods full of tech-savvy cat owners, electronic toys may attract a lot of attention and therefore quickly become best sellers. In areas where shoppers are more price-sensitive, stocking a wider variety of toys at a lower price point may be just the strategy to help the store see success in the cat toy category. If locals tend to work long hours, toys that can be activated remotely or scheduled for independent play let owners feel confident that they’re providing the best lives possible for their pets, while for owners who spend most of their time at home, interactive toys (like the classic toy on a string) may be more appealing.

For most stores, however, offering at least some products in each of these categories and at a variety of price points will attract the most consumers, says Diskin. “The lower price point and lower-quality toys tend to be more impulsive and considered almost disposable,” she says. “[But] we’ve had great success with higher-priced electronic toys all the way up to $29.99. Consumers aren’t hesitant to spend a little more on a good quality toy, especially when it’s backed by our satisfaction guarantee.”

Purr-fect  Placement
Once the products are in-store, it is time to decide where to place them and how to display them. Since less expensive cat toys often make for great impulse purchases, cat toys should generally be placed toward the front of the cat section, where shoppers may decide to add an item to their cart on their way to litter or food products. “Ensure that the toy section is visible from the main aisle as a shopper navigates to the everyday staples needed for cat care—food, litter, etc.,” recommends Diskin.

Smaller displays of toys can also be added near other areas cat owners are likely to visit, including near scratchers or furniture products, and flea/tick products. Cross-merchandising cat toys in these other areas helps to encourage shoppers to pick up a toy and drive additional items per basket.

It’s also generally a good idea to arrange a small selection of lower-priced cat toys by the register, where cat owners are likely to see them as they are checking out. Teaching staff to point out new toys or to ask if a shopper would be interested in bringing home a toy that may be on a special when they see someone purchase cat products can also really help bolster the number of purchases that occur; and each additional item adds valuable dollars to the store’s bottom line.

Within the cat toy section of thestore itself, retailers can choose to arrange items in a variety of ways—by price point, play style, brand, toy type, and so on. Diskin recommends merchandising by need. “We believe merchandising by need is the best because it helps consumers easily identify the toys that meet their cats’ needs and can encourage them to purchase additional toys to meet a different play need. It’s especially helpful to include signage within each section to educate consumers on the many play needs of their cats,” she explains.

Stores should make use of signage and point-of-purchase materials wherever reasonably possible. Videos can be particularly effective in this category, causing people to gather to watch the YouTube-like videos on the store’s screens.
Supplementing the store’s signage, a good sales staff can help make shoppers feel good about spending a bit more on their feline friend.  “A sales staff well versed in the features and benefits of the toys they offer can mean the difference between making a sale or not,” says Diskin.

While some toys seem as if they need no explanation, staff should still understand the basics of how cats play and be encouraged to try the toys at home, with their own cats (if they have them). Personal stories about a toy their cat loves or the hilarity of watching their cat chase and pounce after a particular bauble will encourage shoppers to bring a new toy home. Staff should also be educated on the criteria the store applies when deciding when to bring in a new toy. That way, they can also address any concerns shoppers have about safety and quality.

And if the store offers cat adoption days or keeps cats in-store, be sure to allow them access to toys—after all, there is nothing more entertaining or convincing than watching a cat actually play with the toys.

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