Glenn Polyn//February 1, 2024//
Glenn Polyn //February 1, 2024//
While the pet industry is one of constant change, what remains the same is the competitive landscape in the toy sector. Thankfully, the list of reliable toy makers is a lengthy one, with such prominent brands being COLLAR Company, Duckyworld, Zee.Dog, Guru Pet, Vee Enterprises and Tall Tails.
Dog and cat toys have been experiencing enormous growth as we’ve moved away from the pandemic, and the products flying off the shelves are those designed for mental stimulation, to relieve anxiety and with the concept of delivering an overall fun experience for the companion animal and the consumer. Simple rubber bones and plastic bell balls are no longer at the top of the toy lists, with pet parents currently being driven by an interest in toys that engage their dogs both mentally and physically while also being safe, durable and thoughtfully designed.
Toy brands are sharing what has been guiding the toys that they’ve been developing for today’s consumers and their beloved dogs and cats.
The mission of COLLAR Company, a leading pet brand based in Ukraine, is to make pets and people happy. The brand’s PULLER toy also acts as a training tool, which has gained enormous growth worldwide to the point where Dog Puller Championships are regularly held from Canada to Japan. Consisting of two purple rings, the training tool’s most popular exercises include running, jumping and pulling. Training with PULLER provides comprehensive exercise for dogs, with games and training sessions helping to build trust between people and their pets. Redirecting attention from one object to another actively engages dogs in the process, making command training much easier. The unique material floats in water, as the purple rings float and are easily visible from the shore. Additionally, the material is bite-resistant, ensuring no harm to a dog’s teeth and gums.
COLLAR Company also makes PitchDog, WAUDOG, LIKER and Flyber, which all encourage constant interaction between pet parents and their canine companions, thereby enhancing mutual trust while improving physical and emotional well-being and reducing stress and anxiety. Last year, WAUDOG released its glow-in-the-dark ball made from durable and non-toxic material: WAUDOG Fun. The toy can be charged by simply placing it under natural or artificial light for up to 30 minutes. With an hour of battery, the ball can be used for outdoor activities at any time of the day.
LIKER comes in various types, such as LINE, CORD, LUMI and MAGNET. These balls are not only easy to bounce, roll and throw, they also are visible in water. Another innovative toy from COLLAR is Flyber, the world’s first twosided flying disc that features a innovative shape. Thanks to its material, Flyber stays afloat, maintains its trajectory during flight. In addition, dogs can easily grip and pick up their Flyber by its thick edge.
PitchDog toys, meanwhile, are designed for daily play and training. The collection includes PitchDog rings, a sports ball, a disc and a barbell.
For more than 25 years, Duckyworld Products has been selling organic leaf-and-flower-top blend Yeowww! Catnip for the discerning feline. Their world-famous quirky catnip toys come in a variety of fun, unusual shapes and textures, each one designed to encourage hours of spirited play. All Yeowww! Catnip toys are made in the U.S.A. and stuffed with 100 percent American-grown catnip — no fillers or chemicals — and sold across the globe in independent pet stores, boutiques, clinics and gift shops.
When it comes to catnip toys, Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for DuckyWorld Products, says that the Roseville, Minnesota-based manufacturer stuffs its Yeowww! Catnip toys with 100 percent organically grown catnip. The brand uses only the leaves and flower tops to ensure that the catnip is extremely fragrant.
“Yeowww! Catnip toys typically get a strong reaction from cats,” Kaiser said. “We believe that is due to the quality of catnip inside the toy, as well as the toy being filled with nothing but catnip. It just takes a quick sniff for the catnip response to kick on. Catnip targets the ‘happy’ receptors in the brain.”
“For cats who love to grab and bunny kick their toys, the Yeowww! Catnip Chi-Cat-a Banana is by far a favorite with cats around the world,” said Kaiser, who credits the toy’s popularity to its curved shape making it easy to grab and bunny kick. “It has a cult following of sorts in many cat groups and you can see the devotion all over social media.”
Pet humanization is a big part of the toys manufactured by DuckyWorld, the makers of Yeowww! Catnip. The company is known for its holiday toys, such as Yeowww!-tide Candy Cane, Kris Krinkle Holiday Tree and Dreidel Krinkle, has just launched Daisy’s Flower Tops, which it describes as “a bouquet of feline fun.”
Each colorful blossom is a combination of kitty’s favorite textures and sensations. The double-sided center is made from our classic sturdy twill fabric and a soft, plush faux fur. Then it’s filled to bursting with our premium, organic leaf-and-flower-top catnip blend – no stems or fillers to interfere with its potency. This savory disc is surrounded by silky yet crinkly petals that flutter in the breeze of kitty’s excited tail.
Daisy’s Flower Tops will be sold individually and come in three colors: white, blue, and pink. And, best of all, these beautiful blooms are available year round! Yeowww! Catnip is now accepting orders for shipment in plenty of time for spring.
Industry veterans JJ and Amy Stone last year launched GURU Pet Company, a dog toy business with a mission to develop products that challenge dogs’ minds, engage their natural instincts and inspire their spirit. After decades of inventing and developing successful pet products for top industry brands, the Stones are now bringing the brand of dog toys directly to humans and their furry friends.
According to Amy Stone, president of GURU Pet, the brand doesn’t design its products for the pet parent. Instead, the toys are crafted with the dog in mind.
“That’s what sets us apart,” she explained. “We create products that address and satisfy every dog’s natural instinct, whether it be chewing, digging, hunting or foraging. This keeps them happy and content, and it’s so important to us that our toys keep pets’ mental and physical wellness the focus and at the forefront of every product that is developed. To us, that’s innovation.”
That might be why the company’s slogan “simple innovation for challenging play” guides every product and every toy.
“When it comes to innovation within the dog toy category, it’s part gut combined with the fact that we’ve been developing and inventing successful toys for decades on behalf of some of the top industry brands,” she noted. “We have six dogs of our own that are different breeds with different instinctual behaviors and of course energy levels, so many of our ideas are based on needs we see with them. You can call it our fieldwork, and we’re always in the field observing and collecting invaluable data. We then take my ideas — ie, product innovations — that improve the lives of animals, and we pair it perfectly with JJ’s passion to deliver the best products available through unique product design, new manufacturing techniques and creating the safest, strongest materials. It’s truly a win-win.”
One of the best-known companies that produce American-made dog chew toys is SodaPup, a veteran-owned business that was founded in 2013. The veteran-owned company manufactures its products in the United States with sustainability as a lead business practice.
Adam Baker, president and founder of SodaPup, is focused on expanding the toy category by “creating enrichment toys and designs “with people in mind and [we] are trying to create emotional connections through our designs.”
SodaPup specializes in the design and development of American-made dog toys that are innovative, safe and environmentally friendly. Baker designs its products under several brands to appeal to different consumer segments. Recently, Baker has taken nylon chew toys and evolved them into enrichment toys that he admits is more of a lick mat than a toy, although it can be considered a hybrid of both categories.
“At SodaPup, we’re always looking for ways to solve consumer problems by innovating new products,” added Baker, who has recently launched Unstoppables, which are described as being the perfect solution when filling treat dispensers with messy, moist ingredients. “The idea of Unstoppables was to create simple solutions using the uniform hole found in all of our treat dispensers. What I love about the Unstoppables is that they each solve a specific problem in a simple and inexpensive way.”
Another innovation from SodaPup is its PUP-X material, which has the tear strength of natural rubber without the disadvantages of sinking in water and fading or cracking if left exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time.
“Some people are sensitive to the smell [of rubber], and the material can ‘bloom’ over time, which means that the anti-ozonants and antioxidants come to the surface over time to protect the rubber – this is a good thing – which can create a white substance on the surface of the toy, which is not attractive,” Baker exclaimed. “So, we set out to create a new material that has the strength of natural rubber, but which floats, retains its color when exposed for long periods of time and which doesn’t smell. It took us nearly two years to develop this new material which we call PUP-X.”
Recognized for its innovative designs, Tall Tails takes pride in using the best quality fabrics, reinforcing them with multi-layer mesh fabric on design sculpts that bring the cuteness of its toy characters to life.
The brand also recognizes the value of consumer feedback and keeping on top of the latest pop culture trends. For instance, Tall Tails understood that the “one toy fits all” theory doesn’t work. Some dogs prefer to fetch while other pups enjoy tugging games.
As a result, Tall Tails built out its categories of play: Fetch, Tug, Sensory and Reward. By categorizing play styles, pet parents can determine which toys are the best for their dogs.
“In the latest push for providing the best for their dogs, pet parents are seeking plush toys that do more than just squeak. They’re gravitating towards toys that are softer, bigger, and packed with added features,” said George Barton, director of marketing at Tall Tails.
Rope body toys have been big sellers for Tall Tails, with the brand noting that they’re resonating with pet parents due to the inner rope adding structure and enhancing durability. After all, pet parents want more durable toys. Also generating positive feedback is the Real Feel Fabric, which is a high pile, soft fabric that has an appealing hand feel for pet parents while also being something that dogs enjoy carrying around in their mouth.
According to Barton, Tall Tails also has seen an increase in popularity among bigger toys, with the larger format toys trending across plush and latex materials.
“We’ve leaned in on this trend and designed our new inner-rope body toys to be bigger, plumper and more fun for dogs,” explained Barton, adding that the popularity of certain big screen monsters might also be influencing the demand for certain character designs. “Although always popular, there is a renewed interest in big gorillas due to the upcoming box office movie featuring the famous big gorilla. The Tall Tails Gorilla, designed with Real Feel Fabric and a durable inner rope structure, is purposefully large and is sure to be a hit with movie fans and dogs around the world.”
Vee Enterprises has been a pioneer and innovator of cat toys since its groundbreaking debut in 1988, when Vee founders Lorie and Steve Viner introduced the first interactive cat toy, The PURRfect Cat Toy. The creative design of infusing teaser elements of movement and sound with durable, pet-safe materials set the standard for interactive cat toys.
In 1990, Vee solidified its reputation for quality, American-made cat toys by introducing The PURRfect Feather Cat Toy. This long wand interactive cat toy separated Vee from its competitors by using natural feathers and soft pliable connections, keeping cats safe from chemicals and dangerous metal parts.
Today, with nearly 40 years of quality products and toy manufacturing, Vee continues to create new, attractive and innovative products while maintaining its reputation of top-of-the-line quality. With more than a dozen cat wand SKUs, Vee offers a toy for every type of cat.
According to Vee sales manager Eric Merva, one of the most popular wands among pet parents is the PURRfect Leather Bouncer Cat Toy.
“The popularity comes from the fact that cats love leather, the smell, the taste and to chew,” he explained. “With a vegetable-tanned leather cord and an end adorned by faux fur and natural leather tassels, it even looks like prey, which is what drives cats crazy. Of course, our PURRfect Feather Cat Toy is also a hit as it makes a bird in flight motion that cats can’t resist to chase and bat. For shy cats, our PURRfect Wispy Bouncer can perk up almost any cat with its natural iridescent peacock feathers that retain the natural smell of the bird.”
At Zee.Dog, designing toys that aligned with its mission to connect dogs and people meant creating a unique set of options from textured toys to extra durable toys. It’s been a successful concept, as the brand is available in 55 countries around the world.
Over the years, the brand has gained a reputation for its unique toy designs, with such toys as Mr. X and Cyclops (2-in-1 plush chew toy) being among the brand’s best sellers.
“[Mr. X and Cyclops] are unique 2-in-1 plush chew toys that have a soft, plush exterior designed to be shredded, with a durable inner rubber skeleton,” explained Karishma Patel, head of e-commerce at Zee.Dog. “It’s not common to find toys that list both plush and chew in the same sentence. Our brand ethos is to incorporate amazing materials, quality and finish while keeping with our design DNA.”
The brand didn’t want power chewers to be left out of the fun, so it designed Brick, Wings and Wishbone, extra tough nylon toys for extra small to medium dogs. The brand launched the Tripod designed for larger dogs last year. Patel also says she has seen a demand for interactive toys and toys that provide more than one way of entertaining pets, which is to be expected after the effects of the pandemic showed owners that their pets need enrichment.
Simply stocking a toy isn’t enough to generate sales; however, the proper display and the price point also play a role in how it will be received by consumers. Toys that are bright and colorful will add personality to a store aisle, while those displayed in baskets at end caps or at the counter will garner added attention. And offering toys at varying prices will enable customers to have options, since not all dog owners can afford premium products, especially when their pet might go through a toy a week.
Another rule of thumb to optimize sales is to have a staff that is educated on what each toy does, be in engage, occupy or challenge, to better pair the right product for every individual dog or cat.
“All the time, customers are asking employees and owners what toy they recommend to address a certain behavior or how they should use a toy properly to get the best result and actually engage with their dog, or simply how it works,” noted Amy Stone of GURU Pet, which creates short videos that demonstrate how to correctly use its toys. “Pictures and words and great, and they serve as wonderful reminders, but there’s only so much that can be communicated in that small real estate on packaging. If staff members can really learn how to use a product, it’s a much easier answer when they are asked ‘what do you recommend?’ In turn, this will help those products sell and fly off the shelves.”