A Functional Favorite
by Melissa Breau
December 1, 2013
The catnip category is often underestimated; but when a retailer invests in it, the segment can provide both impulse purchases and repeat sales.

 

 

Catnip is simultaneously one of the best known and least understood product categories in the cat aisle. Most cat owners are familiar with catnip, but few truly realize the potential hidden in this dried leafy green—and too many retailers have failed to educate them on it.


Education is a crucial element of the catnip category. There is still a misperception among cat owners that catnip is purely a fun treat. “There isn’t enough education reaching the consumer [about] why catnip is such a great product,” says Carlos A. Zamora, marketing coordinator at Synergy Labs, makers of Xtreme Catnip products. He says some cat owners even think that catnip is dangerous and addicting.


Quite the opposite is true, of course. Yet few people realize all the benefits catnip can offer and the many ways it can be used. It can be used to help teach cats the right places to scratch, sleep and play; it can help them adapt to a new place or piece of feline furniture; and catnip can even help get them interested in toys that will stimulate them mentally and physically, encouraging exercise.


 “Catnip products offer a lot of innovation and versatility because catnip or catnip oil can be added to any existing products, from plush toys to bags and wands,” explains Cristen Underwood, director of marketing at Quaker Pet Group, which offers its Supercat line of catnip sprays, stickers and other products.


Retailers are perhaps in the best position to help share this message and educate consumers. However, not all education and recommendations need to come directly from the retailer. “The best communication we can [get] is from cat owner to cat owner,” says Fritz Goodnow, chief operating officer at pet product manufacturer Delca Corp.


Retailers can encourage that word-of-mouth promotion indirectly by carrying quality products, he adds. “Customers that [do] purchase it, [will] have that great experience and pass that along,” he says.


However, selling catnip does have its challenges. Experts agree that finding quality catnip products is getting harder. “Many companies are coming out with catnip products that don’t live up to their promises,” explains Zamora. “Sure, they’ll make a quick buck, but the pet parent does not like to be fooled.”


Once customers have tried one brand of catnip and had it under-perform, they are unlikely to give another brand a chance. “In other words, cheap catnip is eating away at [and preventing] high-quality catnip [from] reaching cat parents,” he explains.


By contrast, Goodnow says good-quality catnip leads to positive experiences that draw the consumer back into the store time and again, helping grow repeat sales and encouraging customer-to-customer recommendations. But if retailers want to ensure that the catnip they are carrying is the good stuff, they have to do their homework.


A big part of finding good products is really knowing the companies and brands the store is working with; however, it is equally important that store buyers understand what they’re looking at when they choose a catnip brand to carry.


Beyond simply talking to suppliers and taking their word about quality, retailers should make sure to take a look at the catnip itself. When reviewing a sample, Goodnow says to look for leafy product, not a lot of sticks and stems. There’s not much oil in the sticks and stems, and it is the oil that attracts cats.


Retailers can also do some independent research, looking at product reviews online and reading through pet-related websites to find which brands consumers are having the most success with.

 


Growing Sales
Once a store has found a supplier it is comfortable with and that provides a quality product, building out a strong catnip selection is key. “Catnip becomes lost in the vast amount of pet products in a big-box store,” says Zamora. That means independents have a real opportunity; retailers who invest in catnip and work to educate pet parents on the various uses of catnip and the different forms it comes in can truly stand out and gain loyal cat customers.


There are many techniques retailers can use for that purpose, but Goodnow says it can be as simple as setting up a display that says, “Hey, want to keep your cat from clawing on the furniture? Give them something else to be occupied with.”


He says this can be a particular powerful strategy when employed at check out. “People are used to reading things at the register, so having something there that tells them the story is a really effective way to get [catnip sales] through the register and out the door.”


Shannon Supanich, marketing manager at Pioneer Pet Products LLC., which produces catnip toys, agrees with this strategy. “I would try to hit the consumer twice with the merchandise, if it’s smaller—once in the toy/catnip section and once before they check out.”


But those aren’t the only places catnip can—or should—be placed, says Matt Wurtzel, sales director at Quaker Pet Group. “Most stores carry their catnip products in a cat-specific aisle, ideally as a transitional product between cat treats and cat toys. But catnip toys and accessories can be placed throughout the store as they are great impulse-purchase items.” He also recommends cross merchandising catnip with cat litter, food, scratch posts, beds, treats and cat furniture.


Simply placing catnip in various locations can help lead to greater cat-owner awareness about the many ways it can be used; and for an added sales boost, cross merchandising can be combined with a combination of POP, displays and hand-selling by educated sales associates.


Even if they don’t adopt all of those techniques year-round, retailers should consider featuring catnip at strategic times during the year, such as adopt-a-cat month, when cats are already top of mind, or during the holidays. “Smaller catnip toys make a great point-of-purchase sale, especially around the holidays,” says Supanich.


Catnip toys, such as those that are stuffed with catnip and come with a small refill container, make for great gifts, but many cat owners can be convinced to splurge year-round. “Catnip toys are awesome sellers; cats love them and so do cat owners, ” says Supanich. “They are usually a lower-ticket item and can even be displayed in a nice table-top POP to help increase point-of-purchase sales.”