Toying With Sales

By accommodating as many budget levels and feline play styles as possible in their product selection, retailers can find success in the cat toy category.


When it comes to keeping cats and their owners happy, a wide selection of toys is absolutely essential. Whether they are interactive toys that let owners engage with their pets or ones that will entertain cats on their own, playthings both classic and innovative can help keep felines physically and mentally healthy. Retailers can boost sales in this category by staying up to date on the latest trends and consumer priorities, and by keeping their selection fresh and strategically merchandised.

While the classic toy styles are still going strong in this category, retailers can look for options that incorporate the latest trends into their design. For example, manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for attractive design by working to improve the aesthetic appeal of cat toys.

“As always I am seeing that people like trend pieces,” says Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager at Pioneer Pet Products. “They not only want great function and health for our pets—this is number one—but they want the pieces to fit nicely into the home.”

As with many other categories within the industry, Supanich says, pet owners are also increasingly prioritizing health and safety when considering which products to purchase. With cat toys, customers are looking for natural materials and safe toy designs.

“Consumers typically respond well to natural products, since they can rest assured knowing that they are giving their cat something that is completely safe and free from harmful toxins,” says Kristie Hamilton, director of sales at Imperial Cat. “One innovation that has worked well for Imperial Cat is offering several different catnip toys that are not only refillable, but include a bag of certified organic catnip in the header board.”

In addition to applying trending consumer concerns to their products, such as sourcing their catnip within North America and using organically grown catnip, manufacturers are also experimenting with other innovative, but still all-natural, materials. Imperial Cat, for example, has started making toys out of palm leaves. For cats, the leaves offer a new play experience with different sounds and textures, while owners can be confident that the toy is safe and non-toxic.  

However, for Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development at the Worldwise brand Petlinks, cat toys represents a category in which the value of the familiar can’t be overstated.

“I think cat owners still are very price sensitive and [influenced by] the unknown, or known, of will their cat like it?” Diskin says. “Instinctually driven, cats are natural hunters of mice, so cat owners will always buy mice or prey-shapes that they are familiar with.”

One area in which retailers may want to experiment with their product offerings is with electronic toys. While electronic toys sparked much initial interest, manufacturers have seen different degrees of success.

“Following the launch of electronic toys into the market six years ago, there have been many category brand introductions within this space,” Diskin says. “But to be honest, the current climate appears to be a bit flat right now.”

Still, other manufacturers are much more optimistic about electronic toy sales and continue to invest in developing new options. OurPet’s Company, responding to the successful debut of their Catty Whack toy in 2015, brought five new electronic cat toys to display in SuperZoo’s New Product Showcase this year.

“Electronic random motion and action toys that cats can’t predict stimulate the most prey play for the longest periods of time,” says Kathleen Homyock, vice president of sales at OurPet’s. “We have had phenomenal success and great feedback after launching our Catty Whack sound action toy, and we are looking to continue developing our presence in the electronic cat toy category.”

It remains to be seen whether these kinds of toys will see continued growth, or if sales will flatten out. Retailers willl have to assess for themselves if e-toys garner interest with their shoppers, and if their customers are more responsive to particular price points or toy designs. In the meantime, stores that commit to testing the salability of these toys may find it useful to have working samples on display, so consumers can get a clear idea of how they operate. Seeing the products in action  will also help shoppers to envision how their pet might respond to it.

“Ask manufacturers for demo units to run during store hours and attract customers to the aisle,” Homyock says. “Consumer interaction with the toys helps consumers get to really see how the toy works, where packaging alone may lead to misinterpretation.”

In general, retailers can both grow their sales and help ensure their customers find just the right toy for their pet by merchandising their selection to allow interaction with the different options. Diskin advises retailers to encourage their customers to touch and feel the toys, as this is the best way for them to determine the differences between products that seem similar and make the best choice for their cat’s playtime interests.

Cat toys, with their eye-catching colors and fun designs, are also ideal impulse purchases. Diane Thomas, marketing manager at Coastal Pet Products, Inc., encourages retailers to consider placing toys in strategic locations, such as in the grooming section or near the register, to maximize spur of the moment sales. She also advises retailers not to overlook the repeat sales opportunities in the category.

“Refill options such as catnip or replacement scratch pads increase turns and encourage return store visits,” Thomas says. “Compressed catnip and catnip belly toys with refill pouches to insert for a catnip boost are part of the new Turbo cat toy lineup from Coastal Pet.”

With cat toys, there is a seemingly limitless range of options on offer from manufacturers. Retailers can maximize their success in the category by embracing that variety, and offering as many options as they can.

“Retailers have the first-hand and unique opportunity to help people understand their cat’s instinctual needs and offer a variety of play and scratch solutions to meet all of those needs,” says Diskin. “Cat toys are not one size fits all.” 


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