When someone brings home a cat for the first time, they often imagine all the special moments they will share—snuggling in bed, watching kitty bat around a ball or chase a stuffed mouse, spooning out cat food and having kitty come running.
They are not thinking about the things kitty may destroy. They never imagine a jumpy cat that hides under the bed all day, or one that claws the drapes, the couch or the cabinets. Yet these are common issues that many cat owners face.
More than $470 million is spent each year just attempting to deal with anxiety and fear in cats, according to Phil Blizzard, CEO at ThunderWorks, which manufacturers the ThunderShirt for anxious dogs and cats—a product that works by applying a gentle calming pressure around the pet’s torso. Now add to that $470-million figure to the growing sum of money customers are willing to spend on scratching solutions and other behavior-modification products, and retailers are now looking at a large, profitable category.
“Sales of behavior products are core to the cat accessory section of any pet product retailer,” says Fritz Goodnow, vice president of operations at Delca Corporation, which makes a variety of scratching solutions. “After food and litter, these products should be the strongest sellers for any retailer. They are that important to consumers.”
Cat Behavior Basics
Experts agree, the category is still growing. Not only are pet owners becoming increasingly aware that solutions exist for cat behavior issues, but manufacturers are constantly looking for better ways of preventing and solving the underlying issues that cause these behaviors.
“The actual basic cat behaviors have not changed in the last 20 years,” says Terry Hannaford, CEO of Omega Paw, which offers a number of behavior products, including both scratching posts and a self-groomer. “But technology and products can change, and what we need to do is say, ‘OK, how can we make it better?’ What is the better cat scratcher? What is the better litter box? What is the better—you name it—to help with this, because realistically, our ideas are getting better, and there are better products now than there used to be 10 or 20 years ago.”
The prevalence of that attitude among manufacturers has led the number of products available in the cat-behavior modification category to grow exponentially over the last decade. This means retailers need to make sure both they and their staff stay abreast of the newest products in the market.
All too often, retailers fall into “me too” behavior, opting to bring in an item only because they see it selling well at a competitor’s store. “You need to bring in uniqueness and innovation,” says Hannaford—and the behavior-modification category offers retailers a great opportunity to do so.
The trick to selling these products successfully is conveying the right message.
Merchandising the Message
When promoting behavior products, retailers need to call attention to the problem a product is trying to solve and how that item works.
“Just always think of the customer,” says Shannon Supanich, marketing manager at Pioneer Pet Products, LLC. “Remember: you only have that brief moment when they walk by to catch their attention. Always get the message across quickly.” That may mean making sure the packaging is easily visible or using a sign that calls attention to what a selection of products can do.
Pioneer Pet offers a number of scratching solutions, including both scratching posts and Sticky Paws, a tape with a texture that cats do not like, discouraging scratching. When merchandising Sticky Paws, for example, retailers should ensure the packaging—which features in big letters, “Stop Cats From Destroying Furniture”—stands out and that the product is placed in a section of the store where shoppers are likely to look for a scratching solution.
Retailers may also want to cross-merchandise these items with other products, especially if it’s not clear where customers are most likely to look for a particular solution.
One of the largest drivers behind the growth of anti-anxiety products is a trip to the vet. Since most cats don’t travel often, they tend to get stressed when placed in a carrier to be taken to an annual check up. Many pet owners actually avoid taking their cat to the vet because of how stressed their cat gets. Traditionally, the only option for handling this was sedatives, but with many of the new calming solutions on the market, cat owners have more options to help keep kitty calm and make getting her check-up a bit less painful for everyone involved. That means cross-merchandising these products with travel products, such as carriers, will likely help boost sales and raise awareness.
Scratching products may also be cross-merchandised with cat treats to help pet owners reward their cats when they scratch a new scratching post. Another option is to co-locate these products with cat nip, which can help convince a cat to give her new scratcher a try.
“Not all cats take immediately to a scratch device,” explains Rob Morgan, COO of Worldwise, which makes the Smarty Cat brand of products. “Use catnip or a catnip spray to help train the cat on the right place to scratch.”
Once the product is properly merchandised, it is this type of additional information that retailers should provide to their staff. “Always make sure employees are knowledgeable and able to answer consumer questions,” says Supanich.
When it comes to behavior-modification products, employees need to understand how the customer can use the product to get the desired effect. They also need to have a thorough understanding of what products to recommend and how to address any concerns the customer may have.
“As pets become more a part of the family and we see growth in multi-cat families, the need for behavior-modification products like cat-scratching devices have grown nicely over the years,” says Morgan. That paves the way for more pet owners to have the experiences they envisioned when they got their pets—so long as pet retailers help them get there.