Cats are hardly agreeable travelers—just try bringing one out for a drive and chances are you won’t soon forget the ensuing feline frenzy. As there are occasions when cats have to leave their houses, carriers and containment products are must-haves for almost every cat owner.
First, a short primer on the differences between carriers and containments. Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer for Sleepypod, explains carriers are generally used for secure, short-term transportation, such as to the vet or groomers (although carriers are also deployed for longer vehicle trips, plane travel, etc. and some are designed to provide a get-away/sleeping space for the cat), while containment products are designed to keep cats corralled within a more ample space for longer time periods.
Containment products are an indoor/outdoor innovation. They can be used in the house to give kitties room to roam while limiting their access to off-limit areas when unsupervised, but they can also be used to allow felines to safely enjoy the outdoors without getting lost or injured, or simply prevent them from annoying neighbors and wildlife.
That said, this category is witnessing some interesting innovations designed to maximize comfort and safety for pets and owners alike.
"Cat travel has increased as consumers realize cats can travel well," Leung says. "If they’re using an appropriate carrier, cats can be calm and enjoy trips with the family at any time of the year. In addition, Sleepypod is also seeing more customers taking their pets with them on business trips. A familiar space makes travel less stressful."
Lindsy Argenti, marketing manager for Coastal Pet Product, Inc., says more cat owners are taking their pets out and about and including them in more everyday activities. As such, consumers are looking for ways to lower their cat’s anxiety. They’re also more aware of how important regular trips are to the vet in terms of maintaining pet health; all factors fueling interest in the carrier category.
"Top-loading and in-loading options allow consumers to respond to their pet’s temperament," says Argenti. "As naturally curious animals, cats like to be able to see what’s going on around them, so carriers with lots of points of visibility have an advantage."
Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for Midwest Homes for Pets, explains that carriers with different loading options allows a smoother experience for both kitty and owner.
"Pet parents and the industry have learned this is a desirable feature, especially for cats," adds Whitehead. "It’s not always easy to entice or encourage a cat into a carrier, so very often, the top-loading option is the easiest and less stressful one for the pet parent and cat. The innovation of an expandable or ‘porch-style’ carrier is a new addition that provides easy portability while allowing for the expansion of lounging space when it’s not being carried."
Argenti adds that an emerging trend in cat carriers includes backpacks.
Incorporating feline-friendly carriers into the assortment is important, since consumers are on the prowl for easier and safer ways to travel with their cats, says Leung. Staff should be educated on the key features of each product, such as car safety, air travel and if the mesh is cat-safe/claw- and chew-resistant, as "cats can claw or chew through many types of mesh."
Leung advises asking customers questions that include the cat’s weight and how the carrier will be used—for travel, or as a bed/den? If it will be used for travel, what type of travel? Retailers should offer a combination of soft-sided and plastic-sided travel carrier, as they’re an inventory essential.
"The need for travel outside the home happens, most often as a routine or planned excursion, but sometimes unexpectedly, as well," says Whitehead. "A carrier is the best option to keep any cat safe when traveling. Carriers that are appropriate for cats also make good business sense because most of these items are also appropriate for small-dog breeds, so the retailer carrying them will be meeting the needs of cat and dog owners alike."
And don’t overlook in-ground, wired containment systems, particularly since many cat owners are not aware these exist, says Hubbard. Educating staff about this kind of solution will expand the number of options they can suggest to customers and better their chances of selling this high-margin product.
"The interest in cat containment products is rising," he explains. "More pet owners are seeking to give their pets freedom and opportunities for playtime and exercise while also ensuring their safety. Although cat containment is a year-round benefit, spring and summer are key times for homeowners to install an in-ground fence because the weather is usually perfect for outdoor projects."
Paying attention to cat carriers and containment products will help pet specialty retailers stand out and grab new sales, since according to Argenti, cat is an "underserved" category. Think strategically, she advises.
"Move cat into a one-stop shop," Argenti says. "Don’t make consumers hunt for it. Don’t make them go to the ‘dog aisle’ to find a carrier. We’ve seen a notable lift in sales when retailers make cat product a true destination within a store versus spreading it out." PB