Fine Furniture for Felines
by Melissa Breau
May 1, 2012
Demand for cat furniture has undergone a recent shift that retailers need to take into consideration when stocking and merchandising their stores.



The cat furniture category is one of many that has benefited from the pet humanization trend in recent years. Despite the economy, many cat owners have come to view cat furniture as must-have items. Manufacturers have also noted that these customers are placing a premium on quality, functionality and style—and they are willing to pay a premium price for it.

The trend presents a great opportunity for retailers. Those that can offer cat owners a strikingly merchandised assortment of products that meets the demand for stylish and functional cat furniture will be well positioned to reap the rewards of this rising trend.

While many cat owners have been willing to invest in beds, scratchers, climbers and other furniture for their pets in the past, the number of owners looking for new, stylish options has grown. In fact, the demand has been so great that Corey Drew, founder and designer at Pet Lounge Studios, decided to expand his pet furniture company’s offerings to include cat-specific products. He says he initially developed his products for small dogs, but cat owners were buying the products for their pets too.

Style, however, comes at a higher price—but it seems customers are willing to pay so long as the products are also high quality. “If [cat owners] buy something high quality, they’re investing more because they know it’s going to last longer,” says Drew.

That can make this category a lucrative one for independent retailers who get it right. 


Some Assembly Required

Still, selling pet furniture comes with a few obstacles that retailers must overcome. These products often take up a lot of floor space, making it hard for some retailers to carry a broad selection—and when customers are looking for something that matches their personal style, offering variety can be important. Being able to display the products is also key to selling the category.

“The number-one way to merchandise the furniture is to assemble the product,” explains Brad Cantwell, president of Midwest Homes for Pets. “This will give consumers a realistic feel and view of the furniture.”

To help retailers tackle this issue, many manufacturers have begun offering drop shipping. Retailers need to merchandise only a few samples, so cat owners can test their stability and see the quality of the materials used. Stores can also make catalogs available to customers, so they can pick out specific features, designs, colors, sizes and other options that meet their needs. The retailer then takes the order, and the manufacturer ships it out.

Abigail Cirincione, owner of Designer Pet Products, says her company has a successful drop-shipping program, but she continues looking for new ways to help retailers make the most of the category. 

“One of the options that we try to work with retailers on is a floor display at a lower cost, so that people can see [the products in person], then work with [the retailer] on a drop-shipping basis, if that works better for them,” Cirincione says.

She adds that offering drop-shipping helps retailers avoid overloading their storage spaces with a broad inventory.

Even a retailer with ample storage or floor space, however, will need to be strategic about merchandising. For example, John Lipscomb, CEO at Pioneer Pet Products, says it’s important for retailers to realize that furniture sections are often overwhelming for customers. “When furniture is lined up in a row, it becomes very difficult for many buyers to focus on [just] one product, and therefore the retailer loses the sale,” he says.

Instead, he suggests that retailers consider setups that allow customers to view a limited number of items at a time. “Endcaps and displays that focus the customer on individual items bring expanded sales and satisfied customers,” he explains.


Scratch Below the Surface
Whereas cat customers used to buy furniture products purely to offer their pets an outlet for behaviors that could otherwise become destructive (for example, providing a scratcher to deter kitty from using the couch), retailers should consider products’ quality, design and style when deciding what to stock.

“Too often, a poorly chosen product mix directs the customer to furniture or beds that will not fulfill the customer’s quality requirements, and the expensive products become disposable,” says Lipscomb.

Instead, Lipscomb says, “Retailers need to focus their product mix on what delivers a happy cat and satisfies the pet parent three months after the sale.”

That kind of long-term vision is what creates a long-term customer—one who comes back again and again, not just for additional furniture products, but for other products too.

Retailers should stay abreast of the trends in home décor and design, and the latest crop of cat furniture products that match those looks. Retailers then need to look at how these things come together with other trends in the marketplace. For example, eco-friendly remains on the rise—making renewable manufacturing options, like bamboo, popular.

The final dimension to a successful assortment is one retailers are, perhaps, more accustomed to considering: function. A common complaint customers have of cat furniture is a lack of stability; although cats are known for being light on their feet, it’s still important that towers and scratching posts hold up to constant use and don’t fall over when a cat scratches on or jumps off them.

Further, they should consider how cats typically use products. One of the products Pet Lounge Studios originally introduced for dogs but found cats also enjoyed was its hammock bed. The suspended, lightly swinging surface molds to the animal’s position, something many cats find appealing. When great function and beautiful design come together with a solid merchandising strategy, retailers will find themselves with a winning combination.