Cats love to climb, scratch and sleep. So, it makes sense that there are not only a multitude of products available to help them enjoy these activities, but that pet retailers can see significant returns when selling them.
However, these products do not come without challenges. Maximizing returns on feline furniture requires a carefully cultivated in-store selection tailored to match the store’s demographic, as well as effective marketing and merchandising. These products also tend to take up a large amount of floor space, making it difficult to display and stock many of them at once. Overcoming these challenges demands careful planning and an in-depth understanding of the category.
According to Dave Hitsman, director of product development at Ware Manufacturing Inc., there are three main categories of pet furniture that retailers need to be aware of today: carpeted, home décor and natural.
Despite a growing trend toward new materials and designs, Hitsman says that the carpeted furniture category still makes up 79 percent of sales at Ware Manufacturing. “It’s definitely the dominant item out there,” he says.
He believes this is because carpeted furniture remains an affordable yet durable option. Despite being lower cost, there are a wide selection of colors and designs for retailers to choose from within this category.
In the traditional good-better-best lineup, carpeted furniture makes for a “good” selection; it solves the problems that cat owners need solved—providing scratching, sleeping and climbing options—while remaining reasonably priced.
Home décor and natural products are likely to make up the “better” and “best” sections of a retailer’s cat furniture selection.
“The home décor category is where we see the biggest opportunity and biggest potential growth,” Hitsman says. “It’s [growing] because people want something that looks more like it belongs in the living room or the family room, and less like it’s a big, square piece of carpeted cat furniture.”
Other manufacturers agree that this category has seen—and continues to see—serious growth. “Feline furniture that offers form, function and style is becoming more and more popular,” says Tara Whitehead, marketing manager at MidWest Homes for Pets. “Because of its sheer size, feline furniture becomes a highly visible component in any room, so many pet parents seek furniture that appeals to their pet as well as the human eye.”
This category has grown, despite the economic woes the country continues to face—and according to Abigail Cirincione, president of Designer Pet Products, those economic woes may even be a contributing factor. “Many Americans are living in smaller spaces or downsizing these days, which means that every piece of furniture for the house or apartment needs to be picked out carefully,” she says.
Feline furniture designed to match a cat owner’s home décor comes in as many styles and options as home décor itself. Many of these products use premium materials or are constructed to resemble traditional furniture items.
For example, the design of the Cat Convertible Cabinet, made by Cat Convertibles, was inspired by a television cabinet company. “We talk a lot about taking back your living room,” says co-founder Jay Boyer.
Boyer’s product allows cats ample space to play, scratch and sleep, while also offering storage space for cat owners and a design that fits seamlessly into most homes.
Boyer says these kinds of products can integrate just as seamlessly into a store. Retailers can set them up with other products displayed on or around them, making it easy for cat owners to see how the item can be used while also being functional at retail.
The third category Hitsman notes is all natural. “That is where you use all-natural sleeping surfaces, scratch surfaces, climbing surfaces,” he explains. This category targets a specific shopper who sees offering his or her pet natural products as a top priority.
Most pet stores will benefit from carrying at least one product in each of these categories, and then tailoring its assortment to match its demographic.
For example, stores located in geographic areas that are popular with cat lovers may wish to carry a greater selection, whereas stores that receive fewer cat-owning customers may choose to keep this section to a minimum.
Those that have customers with more disposable income may do better with a wider selection of home décor items, while those in areas that continue to struggle economically will likely do best with a wider range of lower price-point items and just one or two higher-end SKUs.
Some Assembly Required
A retailer’s ability to sell furniture products isn’t the only constraint on product selection. These items are often large and take up a lot of floor space; yet they tend to sell best when they are set up, says Shannon Supanich, marketing coordinator at Pioneer Pet Products, LLC.
“A display allows the consumer to touch and feel the structure for its stability and overall quality versus purchasing something online, sight unseen,” Supanich explains. Further, seeing furniture in a display tends to help customers picture the item in their own home.
Where possible, it makes sense to display furniture in use—a tower or scratcher in a window with kittens from a local rescue is sure to get passersby to stop and watch them play. “Seeing pets in action promotes the sale. If that is not possible, video is the next best thing,” says Supanich.
Josh Feinkind, founder of Refined Feline, agrees. “Cat furniture looks great in windows and gets customers inside the store, even if it’s just to ask about the products,” he says.
Cirincione recommends that retailers get creative and be resourceful when it comes to product assortment and merchandising. That may mean everything from cultivating a particularly unique collection of furniture products to partnering with suppliers.
“Talk to the manufacturers to work out deals where you can have a floor model at a discounted price and then go off of a drop-ship program,” she explains. “It is worth it [for both the retailer and the manufacturer] to get the product in stores so that the customer can see it in person.”
Whitehead agrees that displaying fully assembled product, despite the challenges it presents, can be worth it.
“It’s helpful to have one piece of a product line assembled so consumers can see the construction quality, feel the fabrics, and gauge the overall size and sturdiness of the product,” she says.
However, retailers should also consider packaging when choosing product. “Packaging that offers full-color images, detailed callouts and product dimensions, as well as informative signage, are helpful to the consumer when space is limited.”
Even if a store can’t have all of its furniture set up year-round, it makes sense to set up a few pieces and then switch them out regularly. Displays should be changed out at least once a quarter, and stores should consider adding additional furniture product displays around sales. Furniture products also tend to sell especially well around the holidays, when people are in the mindset of being a little more generous than normal with their cash.
It’s also worth noting that most furniture products come with replaceable or exchangeable parts—items like toys and cardboard scratching inserts. “You want the cats to scratch, but you don’t want customers to have to throw away an expensive piece after a year,” says Feinkind. “Plus, this gives retailers an additional revenue stream.”
Other good choices for cross merchandising are catnip, which can help get a cat interested in a new furniture piece, and a product like Sticky Paws, which can be applied to human furniture to deter cats from scratching couches or drapes while they make the switch to a new just-for-them product.
And perhaps the most important tip for retailers to remember is that a store’s furniture selection should never be set in stone.
“When you sell it, if you had that piece a little longer than you wanted, try something different the next time,” says Hitsman. Not only does refreshing the assortment help the store find the products that turn over best, but it keeps customers interested and engaged—because, as Hitsman says, “everybody likes to show off something new.”
July 1, 2013
Cat furniture products can be a lucrative category for retailers, but it is not without its challenges.