Executives at Multipet International think that the toy business can be as lucrative in the pet category as it is in the human world. In fact, the Moonachie, N.J.-based company has leveraged the consumer’s desire to keep their pets as happy as their kids—dare we say, perhaps happier—into a rewarding business, based on unique items that are designed to capture the attention of consumers and their pets.
The fact is, the pet industry is saturated with companies that offer pet toys—and for good reason. This segment has increased in sales at a consistently strong rate over the past decade, with relatively high price points and great margins. Today, pet toys mean superior profits for suppliers and retailers alike, and many pet stores are looking for the right toys to help spur greater sales.
Multipet has managed to set itself apart from its competitors by offering toys with more interactive options and a higher grade of quality, and combining it with a light-hearted but targeted marketing strategy. With items like its highly successful Loofa Dog and a host of licensed characters, including Lambchop, Mr. Bill, Bozo the Clown and Gumby, Multipet has earned kudos for offering merchandise that adds freshness to pet stores’ toy aisles. Multipet offers about 800 SKUs for dogs, cats and birds, as well as small animals like hamsters and ferrets.
“The key is really to be special with the merchandise,” says Mark Hirschberg, president and founder of the 18-year-old company. “Our premise has always been to bring the best elements of the toy industry to the pet industry. We offer a wide range of unique merchandise that, we believe, gets the consumer and the retailer excited. The result, of course, is greater sales.”
Hirschberg comes from a family with a long history in the pet industry. Years ago, his grandfather operated a company that took leather scraps and converted them into rawhide for dogs. His grandmother made cat toys by hand. The family developed an intuition for pet products, which has been handed down from generation to generation. Recently, Hirschberg’s eldest son, Brett, joined the company.
Multipet uses a number of avenues to draw consumer attention—from its humorous, catchy print advertisements to product placement on reality shows, movies and even pre-Super Bowl programming. In fact, Hirschberg says that the company may have turned the corner after a Multipet item was featured as one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite dog toys on her show. “That really did a lot for our company and our products. Now, people recognize our products and they know our name,” he notes. “That leads to a level of trust between our team and the consumer and, again, leads to more sales.”
Hirschberg and Leslie Yellin, the company’s executive vice president, emphasize that the service offered by the Multipet team is as important as the products themselves, if not more so. “Our job is to serve all the retailers in our world, and that totals more than 3,000 customers and 50,000 doors,” says Yellin, who has been with the company since 1999. “We work with all retailers, from the largest to the smallest. But we take a special interest in the small retailers, because that is where we got our start.”
Hirschberg stresses that the Multipet team is trained to help retailers and distributors with its product assortment, as well as creating customized product displays. “In our eyes, it is not about the product, it is about the company behind it—and we stand behind our merchandise and our merchandise programs,” he adds.
Turning out new items in a hurry is part of that strategy. Being privately owned allows the company to move quickly on customer demands and needs. “If a retailer needs something from us in a hurry, we can get it done,” says Yellin. “We eat, sleep and drink what we do. It is not just selling the product, it is how can we be better at helping our retail partners over the long term.”
Uniqueness is another key factor. “Licensing is a very big part of our strategy,” says Yellin. “It sets us apart from the competition and allows us to click with our key consumer demographics. Tying in with such characters as Lambchop and Mr. Bill gives us a level of nostalgia that is appealing to the pet parent.”
As with any license, keeping things fresh is vital. Multipet has just signed on with Dreamworks to offer pet products based on cartoon characters Peabody & Sherman, which will be featured in a movie coming out in the spring.
Pricing is another factor at play. A majority of Multipet products retail for under $10, a strategy intended to make it harder for consumers to eschew the toy when shopping for their family needs, particularly during tough economic times. “We do our research,” Hirschberg says.
Yellin, who spends a lot of time in the field working with retailers, takes it a step further. “We have our finger on the pulse of this industry, and we know that we have to offer the right items at the right price,” she notes. “Consumers want more interactive toys, and our retail buyers tell us that they also want more innovation and toys that offer multiple features.”
In the end, Hirschberg is confident that the current strategy will move Multipet forward. “We think we have tied it all together into a comprehensive team of professionals who produce quality products at great price points,” he says. “Consumers seem to recognize our brand and also recognize our quality. Retailers seem to like working with us and realize the benefits of our company. We even have very strong relationships with our factories, which we think is critical to the success of the company.
“Retailers want us to be their experts in the pet category. That is a great compliment to us, but also creates a very big responsibility for Multipet.”