With a combination of unique products and high-end customer service, Multipet International continues to grow pet toy sales for retailers.
Executives at Multipet International think that the toy business can be as lucrative in the pet category as it is with humans. In fact, the Moonachie, N.J.-based company has leveraged consumers’ desire to keep their pets as happy as their kids—dare we say perhaps more happy—into a rewarding business, based on unique items that are designed to capture the attention of consumers and their pets.
The fact is—and for good reason—the pet category is saturated with companies that offer pet toys. The segment has increased in sales at consistently strong rates over the last decade and with relatively high price points and great margins. Today, pet toys mean superior profits for suppliers and retailers alike and many merchants are looking for the right toys to help spur greater sales from the pet care segment.
Multipet has managed to set itself apart from many of its competitors by offering toys with more interactive options and a higher grade of product and combining it with a light-hearted, but targeted marketing strategy. With items like its highly-successful Loofa Dog and a host of licensed characters including Lambchop, Mr. Bill, Bozo the Clown and Gumby, Multipet has earned kudos from many retailers for offering unique merchandise that adds a freshness to the pet department shelves. Multipet offers about 800 SKUs for dogs, cats and birds as well as such small animals as hamsters and ferrets.
“The key is really to be special with the merchandise,” says Mark Hirschberg, the president and founder of the 18-year-old company. “Our premise has always been to bring the best elements of the toy industry to the pet industry. We offer a wide range of unique merchandise that, we believe, gets the consumer and the retailer excited. The result, of course, is greater sales.”
Hirschberg comes from a family with a long history in the pet category. Years ago, his grandfather operated a company that took leather scraps and converted them into rawhide for dogs. His grandmother made cat toys by hand. The family developed a knowledge for the pet category, which has been handed down from generation to generation. Mark’s oldest son, Brett, has recently joined the company.
Hirschberg adds that the company uses a number of avenues to draw consumer attention, from its humorous, catchy advertisements in trade publications to getting products placed on reality shows, movies and even pre-Super Bowl programming. In fact, he says that the company may have turned the corner after a Multipet item was featured as one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite dog toys on her show. “That really did a lot for our company and our products. Now, people recognize our products and they know our name,” he says. “That leads to a level of trust between our team and the consumer and, again, leads to more sales.”
Hirschberg and Leslie Yellin, the company’s executive vice president, emphasize, that the service offered by the Multipet team is as important, if not more important, than the products themselves. “Our job is to serve all the retailers in our world and that totals more than 3,000 customers and 50,000 doors,” says Yellin, who has been with the company since 1999. “We work with all retailers from the largest to the smallest. But we take a special interest in the small retailers because that is where we got our start.”
Hirschberg stresses that the Multipet team is trained to help retailers and distributors with its product assortment as well as creating customized product displays. “In our eyes, it is not about the product, it is about the company behind it and we stand behind our merchandise and our merchandise programs,” he adds.
Turning out new items in a hurry is part of that strategy. Being privately owned allows the company to move quickly on customer demands and needs. “If a retailer needs something from us in a hurry, we can get it done,” says Yellin. “We eat, sleep and drink what we do. It is not just selling the product, it is how can we be better at helping our retail partners over the long term.”
Uniqueness is another key factor. “Licensing is a very big part of our strategy,” says Yellin. “It sets us apart from the competition and allows us to click with our key consumer demographics. Tying in with such characters as Lambchop and Mr. Bill gives us a level of nostalgia that is appealing to the pet parent.”
As with any license, keeping things fresh is vital. Multipet has just signed on with DreamWorks to offer the cartoon characters Mr. Peabody & Sherman, who will be featured in a new movie out on March 7, on its pet products.
Pricing is another factor at play. A majority of Multipet products retail for under $10, a strategy intended to make it harder for consumers to eschew the toy when shopping for their family needs, particularly during tough economic times. “We do our research,” Hirschberg says.
Yellin, who spends a lot of time in the field working with retailers, takes it a step further. “We have our finger on the pulse of this industry and we know that we have to offer the right items at the right price,” she says. “Consumers want more interactive toys and our retail buyers tell us that they also want more innovation and toys that offer multiple features.”
In the end, Hirschberg is confident that the current strategy will move Multipet forward. “We think we have tied it all together into a comprehensive team of professionals who produce quality products at great price points,” he says. “Consumers seem to recognize our brand and also recognize our quality. Retailers seem to like working with us and realize the benefits of our company. We even have very strong relationships with our factories, which we think is critical to the success of the company.
“Retailers want us to be their experts in the pet category,” he adds. “That is a great compliment to us, but also creates a very big responsibility for Multipet.”