It all started with just a few simple cat toys made for friends as Christmas gifts. Kim’s friends raved about her creations and encouraged her to make more, so she started brainstorming unusual ideas and themes. She made a big batch of fortune cookie cat toys for a fundraiser with a local animal shelter where she volunteers, and they sold out in a heartbeat. That was the final boost Kim needed to start a business and launch her own line of cat toys.
She turned to Etsy, the well-known online marketplace for handcrafted goods, and opened a virtual shop. Orders started coming in, making it clear that there was a market for her products.
The fortune cookies come in cute little boxes. (Photo courtesy Kim Grant)
The business was, and still is, a part-time enterprise for Kim since she has a full-time day job, but there is a clear connection between her work for other companies and the success of her own business. In the past, Kim worked as a gift buyer for an independent bookstore chain, and now she is a packaging designer and project manager. Both of these jobs have clearly influenced her ability to create highly marketable products, beautifully presented with witty, eye-catching packaging.
The Mewberries come in a real berry basket. (Photo courtesy Kim Grant)
“Packaging is such a fun part of my toys,” Kim said. “It’s a wink and a smile for the pet owner.” Instead of simply shipping her fortune cookie cat toys in a regular envelope or box, she puts them in a Chinese to-go box with an adorable label, elevating the whole presentation. Her Mewberries come in a real berry basket, and the bacon and fried eggs come on a plate complete with a diner-style guest check from Whisker Café. “I love those little details, and I think the packaging helps my shop stand out from the rest,” she said.
For Kim, originality is key when coming up with new designs. “It’s really important to me to create toys that don’t currently exist,” she pointed out. “When I come up with an idea, I always check Etsy to see if anyone else is making it. If someone is, I don’t pursue the idea.”
The bacon toy even makes a crispy noise. (Photo courtesy Kim Grant)
In addition to originality, functionality of the toys is equally important. “Each of my toys satisfies a different niche for play,” Kim said. “I won’t make a mouse because that is just too common, but my fortune cookies and Mewberries address that same idea — a body and a tail. The bacon from my bacon and eggs has a Mylar center, so it is crispy and makes a great sound, and the fried eggs work great as Frisbees on wood floors. The olives from the Meowtini and the pills from the Catatonica work well as wobbly ball toys — and, of course the Big Daddy is a big ol’ mat chock full of catnip that is the ideal bunny-kick toy.”
Cats love the catnip-laced Catatonica “pills.” (Photo courtesy Kim Grant)
Where does Kim find inspiration for new designs? Well, she has a houseful of cats for that! Her current clowder of eight includes a variety of personalities suitable for testing every type of toy. “Thomas is the master of a feather toy and will flip and leap in the air,” she said. “Lucy loves a milk ring. Stella loves to lick toys. Coal, my feral cat, only plays in secret, but she is probably my best toy tester.”
There are some aspects of the business that truly delight Kim. “What tickles me the most is to receive an order from someone overseas.” By selling your products online, you can easily reach a global market, as long as you are able to ship your products.
“I also love it when people take the time to leave feedback or send me a message with photos of their cat having fun with one of my toys,” she said. “That makes me smile from ear to ear.”
“Olives” in the Meowtini. (Photo courtesy Kim Grant)
As for challenges, the biggest Kim faces is the fact that she’s a one-woman show. Since she designs and makes every toy herself, working only evenings and weekends, there are some limitations to how large she can grow her business; however, after six years, she is still enjoying what she’s doing, and that’s very important. It goes to show that you don’t have to create a huge empire to have a successful business that you love. You can decide the scale.
When asked what she would tell anyone considering starting her own cat-related business, Kim gave the following advice: “Jump in, but do so with unique ideas. Design and create something original — the cat world doesn’t need another mouse toy.”