Pouncing on Toy Sales

Cats are more popular than ever, which means retailers have the chance to drive sales in this historically underserved category by stocking a great toy selection.




Dogs may be man’s best friend, but cats are actually the largest portion of the pet population in America. According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, there are approximately 94.2 million pet cats in the country compared to 89.7 pet canines, and pet retailers simply cannot afford to ignore these numbers.


“While most pet stores are historically directed toward dogs, there are literally millions of homes (and growing) with cat owners, many of which have multiple cats per home,” says Chris Glissman, CEO of Kansas City, Mo.-based catnip supplier Meowijuana. “Thus, retailers would be very savvy to expand their cat inventory and planograms to support a larger following of feline supporters.”


These cat owners are increasingly interested in (and willing to spend more money on) keeping their felines friends active and entertained, especially Millennials, says Eric Merva, manager at Los Angeles-based Vee Enterprises.


This is a big change for a historically underserved category. For years, cat toys were limited to a small selection of plastic balls and plush mice. Today, however, manufacturers and retailers alike are stepping up to meet the booming demand for feline-focused toys.


“Cat owners, even more than dog owners, are very conscious consumers.  For far too long, cat toys have been low quality and one size fits all. Manufactures are [now] finding that cat owners will respond very well to high-quality, well-designed toys,” explains Darin Eisenbarth, president of Petsport, a Pittsburg, Calif.-based pet toy manufacturer.


Playful Predators

One of the biggest trends in the cat toy category is a focus on products that rouse Kitty’s natural instincts to hunt, pounce and play.


“Interactive cat toys are gaining in popularity now more so than before,” says Merva. “Recent studies have shown that interactive toys play an important role in stimulating cats and help strengthen their mental and emotional wellbeing. Vee Enterprises has zeroed in on this from the start and offers a variety of products sure to capture any cat’s attention.”


Many of the toys from Vee Enterprises tap into cats’ instincts by mimicking the movements and textures of their natural prey. The PURRfect Feather Cat Toy, for example, features all-natural feathers, noisemaker wand and patented flexi-neck to create an enticing combination of movement and sounds. One of the manufacturer’s most popular items is the Peacock Feather Cat Toy made with reinforced natural peacock feather eyes.


Classic catnip toys have also been given an interactive upgrade, like the Kitty Sprinkles toys by Moonachie, N.J.-based Multipet International. These bright and colorful balls require cats to actively roll and engage with the toy to get to the catnip hidden inside. The award-winning manufacturer offers a variety of catnip-themed toys, as well as its own special blend of North American catnip: Multipet Garden Catnip.


“I personally love watching cats playing with our licensed brand of cat toys,” says Leslie Yellin, executive vice president of Multipet International. “Lamb Chop, Mr. Bill, Sock Monkey and Garfield are catnip plush toys that cats love to catch, carry, toss and chase.”


As Multipet knows, the combination of catnip and toys has proven to be a particularly good way to engage pets that have a reputation for being somewhat aloof. With this in mind, retailers should follow the lead of manufacturers and makes sure that their merchandising strategies leverage the power of this association.


“More manufacturers are now infusing pet toy products with different strains of catnip to significantly increase the attraction of these products to cats, so cat owners are seeing that toys and catnip are also somewhat synonymous,” says Glissman, suggesting that retailers should co-locate these products in their stores.


In addition to engagement, there’s also been an increased focus on aesthetics in the cat toy category. Today’s cat owners aren’t settling for plain plastic or balls of yarn; they wants toys that are both entertaining and pleasing to look at.


“Cat owners are far more likely to buy a cat-related item for its design, materials and craftsmanship than the general pet ownership market,” says Eisenbarth. “Cats play with their toys in the house and the owner is much more likely to see the toys as part of the overall design aesthetic of their home.”


Petsport’s line of cat toys is a prime example of design-driven products. The company’s Catnip Jungle Balls, for instance, are covered in animal prints that are both eye-catching and modern. The Alley Kat Kicker plushies are also equal parts adorable and fun with their bright colors and high quality stitching.


While an increase in ownership and product selection are bringing changes to the category, many concerns from consumers remain the same—chiefly, the worry that cats won’t like a toy once owners bring it home.


“The biggest barrier to entry of cat toy purchases is the owner wondering if the cat will play with the toy. If you remove this barrier and offer a guarantee that their cat will play with the toy, you will make the sale. Consumers are also more likely to buy multiple toys with this policy,” advises Eisenbarth.


Another way to ease this concern is to provide a wide range of toys for pet parents to try out on their cat. Owners know that every cat is unique, so they want to know they’ll be able to find the right ball, wand or plushie that strikes their feline’s fancy.


“Cats can be picky, so a large assortment is what drives the customer to come back and try something new,” says Yellin.


Play Safe

Modern pet parents are also understandably concerned about the safety and durability of the toys they give their cats. Retailers should be sure to choose toy brands with transparent manufacturing practices and strong safety ratings. Both shoppers and retailers should be wary of toys with small parts that can break off and be ingested or chemicals that can cause allergic reactions.


“We always encourage pet parents to interact and monitor their pets when playing with toys as they would with their own children,” says Yellin. “We are very diligent when sourcing our products and make sure every aspect is safe and is in line with our standards.”


Of course, the best tool at retailers’ disposal to alleviate shoppers’ worries and drive sales is their sales team. Staff should be well-versed on toy offerings and go the extra mile to interact with customers to better understand their needs.


“Ask the right questions,” Yellin says. “What is the cat’s play type? How old is the cat, because catnip doesn’t usually work on young kittens. Do they have multiple cats? Are the cats left alone for long periods of time? All of these will help with picking the right toys.”


Experts expect demand for cat toys to continue to grow as ownership increases, so retailers should invest today in great brands and selection to maximize their success.


The cat toy category will continue to thrive.  Cats are an integral part of the family.  Customers want to be able to bring their cats happiness while keeping them mentally stimulated and active.   PB


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