Interview with Jackson Cunningham, Founder of Tuft + Paw

If I have to compile a list of ten best pet startups with a promising future, tuft + paw would be right at the top emanating the excellent design and top-tier functionality of its cat-friendly furniture. The Vancouver-based startup was founded in 2016 by Jackson Cunningham and is dedicated to making beautiful cat furniture.

The thoughtfully designed pieces not only elevate our home status but also enrich the lives of your cats. Homecrux engaged in a quick chat with the founder of tuft + paw to get his views on the present-day cat furniture and a sneak peek at tuft + paw’s future designs.

Homecrux (HC) : tuft + paw! What’s the story behind that name? How did the idea of starting a cat furniture and design shop hit you and what really sets tuft + paw apart from the competition?

Jackson Cunningham (JC): When my girlfriend and I rescued our cat Jiggity, we were disappointed with pretty much every product we came across in the pet store aisles. We poked around online, but a lot of pieces that were visually appealing weren’t available in North America. We had a small apartment, a lot of love for our new cat, and there just wasn’t anything out there that covered both bases.

HC: When you stepped foot into the cat furniture industry, the business was mostly dominated by retail behemoths. How did you fight against the big guns?

JC: I saw the opportunity we had to really focus on specific products and make them better than anything else on the market. Huge retailers have almost too many options for customers to choose from and at some point, they reach decision fatigue. Because we’re a smaller brand with a smaller catalog, you can trust that everything on our site has been created with the utmost thought and consideration. If we can help cat parents save hours of scrolling online by providing a small selection of really high-quality products, I think that’s a win.

Plus, a lot of cat brands out there are a bit outdated. The “crazy cat lady” narrative is pretty tired. We feel like we better represent the modern cat parent more than a lot of other brands out there.

HC: Take us through your design philosophy. Some of your products like the Stellar Cat Bed, Cove Litter Box, and the Cloud Nine were instant hits, are you planning to add version 2.0 to these?

JC: With those products, we’re really confident with what we’ve created. Our team is always listening to feedback from customers, so if we end up changing things about these core products it will be based on what our customers (and their cats) want to see. For example, with Cloud Nine lots of customers expressed interest in a different colorway, gold and ivory, so we hope to create that in the near future.

HC: Stellar Cat Bed went viral on the internet and it is also one of the bestselling products on tuft + paw. What makes it such a lucrative buy?

JC: I think people appreciate how it looks so aesthetically pleasing, while also being an incredibly cozy spot for a cat to curl up in. Any cat parent knows that some cats like to hide away, whether it’s in our clothing drawers or a cardboard box, and this bed gives them the perfect place to do so. We’ve seen some comments that it also looks like a ball of yarn, which is pretty fitting.

HC: The litter boxes you develop are all manually operated for now. Can we expect you to incorporate smart features into your products soon?

JC: We can’t divulge too much, but you can definitely expect some very exciting litter box developments in the future. It’s unlike any project we’ve done before, but it’s already looking very promising and I’m excited to share with everyone when the time comes.

Tuft + paw litter box
Image: tuft + paw

HC: Is there some product only exclusive to tuft + paw that cat parents will not find elsewhere?

JC: One of our most visually-striking products has got to be the Grove. We’ve even had people who don’t have a cat comment on how they want this piece as part of their home decor. I think that speaks to how unique the piece is.

HC: How did the pandemic affect your business? People were spending more time at home with their pets, did this make a difference in your sales?

JC: Like a lot of businesses, we did see quite the influx of orders when folks started spending more time at home. It made complete sense to us. If you’re inside 24/7, I doubt you want to look at a ratty scratch post that’s torn to shreds. A lot of people took time during the pandemic to spruce up their living space and spoil their pets while doing so.

HC: What is that one positive and negative feedback you generally receive from customers? And how do you tackle it?

JC: The best feeling is seeing all of the messages and photos we receive of our customers’ cats being happy. How can that not make you feel good? If your cat’s happy, we’re happy. Oh, and one of the highest compliments we often receive is that their cat likes the product more than the cardboard box it came in.

The biggest complaint that we get from customers is about our pricing. We completely understand that paying $200 for a litter box might sound bonkers to some folks. When developing a product, most brands focus on finding the cheapest materials and don’t really care too much for function, durability, safety, or aesthetics. They’re able to pump out cheaper products that will likely end up on a curb during garbage day in a short time. With us, we truly do everything we can to develop the best possible product, and then we figure out the price after. We understand that it’s a bit of a shock to some people, but we hope we can try to encourage them to look at “cat furniture” the same way as their own furniture.

HC: Your design philosophy involves behavioral research before finalizing a product. If you could tell us a little about the backstage research that goes into a new market-bound product. What designs are you planning to launch in the near future?

JC: Before diving into the design, we make sure to capture all and any info we can about the cat behaviors that relate to the product. Whether it’s preferences, frequency of use, added comfort, anything that a cat might like, dislike, or need from it. For this, we consult with cat behaviorists to make sure we’re getting it right. From there, we also consider what the human would want.

Once we have all of the information, we design something as functional and beautiful as we can. Lots of our products end up being tested in cat cafes prior to launch, but our team also gets pretty creative with other ways to test internally. For example, throwing a weighted bag onto our new window hammock to confirm that it can support the sudden weight of a cat jumping onto it.

I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re working on a highly requested self-cleaning litter box, as well as getting into another product category that’s totally new for us. We’re really excited for what’s ahead.

HC: On a personal note, how many cats do you own? Are they using tuft + paw products only?

JC: My cat Jiggity was basically the inspiration behind all of this. Over the years I’ve definitely gotten him to test out a number of products, both tuft + paw and other brands, but I gotta say he does have his favorites like our Puff bed or Zip scratch post. I like to think he’s unbiased, because let’s face it, cats can be jerks sometimes so I feel like he doesn’t have to be nice to me.

HC: What’s your message for cat parents out there? What should we keep in mind when buying a new piece of furniture for our kitties?

JC: You don’t have to sacrifice your space for your cat’s happiness. That might sound direct, but it’s true. We love creating really functional products, but then we always do our best to make them beautiful. When shopping for a new piece, keeping their needs at the forefront is a must, but bonus points if you can get something that also looks great in your home.

Thank you for your time, Jackson!

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