To pet parents, cat scratchers and climbers are in a class of their own—they represent the perfect union of style and substance for feline friends and they’re vital for meeting cats’ instinctual needs around the home. And, unlike most food bowls and beds that have a significant overlap between dogs and cats, scratchers are the one thing felines have for themselves, and the need for them boils down to evolutionary traits that still linger from their time in the wild.
Each item has its own purpose: Lindsy Argenti, marketing manager of Coastal Pet Products, explains that, "[climbers] allow cats to use their natural instinct to elevate and look out over their environment," while scratchers, "allow cats to mark their territory, groom their claws and get a good stretch," says Kate Benjamin, founder of Hauspanther.
Cats will engage in these behaviors whether or not they have an appropriate outlet to do so, therefore having a climber and scratcher—or both integrated in a single product—is a necessity for all cat owners.
"Both scratching and climbing [products] have seen slow but steady growth over the past 10 years, and they continue to see a rise in demand," says Benjamin. "One of the biggest things driving these categories is increased awareness of what cats need to live their best lives."
The COVID-19 pandemic is only adding to sales in this category, as the stay-at-home orders from local governments led to an increase in pet adoption and, due to the increase in time spent together, pet parents are more mindful of their cat’s routines.
"With people having to spend more time in their homes recently, I would expect that to also be driver for a growth surge in this category as people are more aware of their cat’s daily needs and activities with thoughtfulness toward incorporating appropriate furniture to meet those needs," says Sarah Johnson, account manager at P.L.A.Y Pet Lifestyle and You.
Matching Home Décor
Most cat owners generally recognize the importance of having at least one cat scratcher and climber, but their size presents the unique challenge of integrating these often large products in their homes.
"The biggest issue to address when helping a customer choose climbing furniture for their cat is space," says Benjamin. "It’s good to have options and help the customers walk through where and how the climbing furniture will be used in their home."
And, though we’ve all been instructed not to judge a book by its cover, the design of these products—along with their functionality—play a major factor in sales.
"Current trends within this category include developing these products in a much more stylized way and looking to natural or recycled materials to create these products," Johnson adds. "With both climbers and scratchers, we now see creative shapes and silhouettes that meet the functional need of these products, as well as aesthetics that help them seamlessly blend in to home décor."
With the growing focus on looks, scratchers and climbers are moving away from shag-covered posts and toward cute furniture in their own right—the days of "grandpa’s leftover carpet" style that consumers had grown used to seeing are long gone, says Argenti.
"Cat furniture no longer has to be an eyesore that needs to be hidden when guests come over," adds Benjamin. "Instead, scratchers, cat shelves and cat trees can be beautiful additions to the home."
This focus on style makes it more important than ever for retailers to have a broad selection in order to meet customers’—and their kitties’—individual needs.
"Cats are all so different in what they may like, and their parents may likely be just as picky, so offering a varied assortment in store with the option to special order from one or two primary brands can be ideal," suggests Johnson.
The days of a singular, cylindric tube are no more. Instead, trees combined with scratching and climbing elements give customers a better way to pamper their pets.
"Kitties can have short attention spans and often need a variety of toys to keep them interested," explains Argenti. "Because these products are so directly connected to their natural instincts, cats show interest longer."
Benjamin explains that climbers and scratchers go hand-in-hand, so multi-functional items just make sense.
"Furniture that incorporates both climbing and scratching, as well as resting and playing, is popular, since it saves both money and space while giving the cat multiple enrichment opportunities," she continues.
Manufacturers are focusing on incorporating innovative elements to make these products even more fun, by including items, such as plastic bubbles and items that have multiple configurations.
"It’s essential to understand that while cats greatly benefit from these types of items, individual needs or preferences may vary," Johnson explains. "Engaging a customer about their specific cat, rather than just talking about the products in general, can help to personalize the products for the customer." PB