Local Entrepreneur

Tamar Gilad knows firsthand that her prototype for a new product, a cat hammock suspended inside a sturdy box, can support cats weighing up to 20 pounds.

It’s been cat-tested and owner-approved.

“I have a 19-and-a-half-pound cat,” she said. “My cats in my focus group, they try everything. I have friends who have cats. I had several people test them.”

Kippy, one of Gilad’s seven cats, recently gave a demonstration of the hammock, lying lazily inside the box, which is cut out in front to allow access.

The Wilmington entrepreneur said a patent is pending on her SnoozePal Hammock creation, along with other products she’s developed over the past year. And more prototypes for cat products are on the way for her business, Cat Above Co.

Gilad introduced her new line of wholesale products – the hammock prototype and a box-enclosed cardboard cat scratch pad called ScratchPal – to prospective retailers this month at Global Pet Expo, a pet industry trade show in Orlando.

“People made a beeline for it at the show,” she said of the hammock. A Japanese distributor is ready to place an order, Gilad said, but she needs to work out the production details first. And a representative for a retail chain, whom she declined to name, is interested in the scratcher product with some size modifications.

“I was hoping to get a good reaction because my products are unique,” Gilad said, adding that she had to work harder than established companies to get attention at the expo. The show was a learning experience for Gilad, who said she wanted feedback on her products and guidelines on pricing as a wholesaler to the retail market.

“This cost me thousands and thousands of dollars, getting to this point with these products for the show,” she said.

To get started, Gilad sought free advice from the American Pet Products Association, a not-for-profit trade association, and from a consultant the association recommended. She also relied on friends, a cabinetmaker neighbor and employees at Wilmington Box Co., a subsidiary of Virginia-based Richmond Corrugated Box Co., for assistance in her endeavor, she said. The idea to enclose the cardboard scratcher was Gilad’s.

“They get in and scratch, and all the mess stays inside,” she said.

She thought of enclosing a cat scratcher after she grew tired of picking up the cardboard debris. “So in a flash, I had a solution,” she said. She combined the catnip-treated scratcher with a box to trap scraps. “I had to refine it, but the whole idea came just like that. As simple as it looks, there’s a lot that goes into it.”

A friend who’s a graphic designer in New York City designed the printing for the scratcher’s box, its packaging logo of a cartoonish, yellow cat mid-scratch, and her advertising materials and Web site.

Gilad said her idea for the hammock originated through her volunteer work with the Cat Adoption Team, a Wilmington nonprofit, when she would help fashion temporary hammocks for the cats during adoption events. A percentage of her company’s profits are earmarked for the group, she said.

Gilad started her business with two higher-end handmade wooden products she launched on her Web site www.CatAbove.com. About a year ago, she started with a freestanding hammock that sells to the public for $79, and about five months ago, she added a ScratchPal inside a wooden box, which sells for $29.95. The products are made by her cabinetmaker neighbor.

To create her line, Gilad – who was born in Israel and has lived in Wilmington for 16 years – said she drew from her professional experience gleaned from 25 years working as a business consultant and her master’s of business administration from New York University.

“You have to have a lot of attention to detail,” she said, “and what will work.”