[Source: Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic]
Non-toxic toys, scratchers and climbing trees for cats are Kate Benjamin’s business – and now that sales from her Moderncat Studio on Grand Avenue and two Internet sites are soaring, she is directing a percentage of sales to local charities that help stray, feral or abandoned cats.
Benjamin recently started “Cat Charity of the Month,” in which a charity is named every month to receive 5 percent of her sales.
Her first Valley charities of choice were Altered Tails, Foothills Animal Rescue, the Foundation for Homeless Cats and the Arizona State University group, Mild Cats at ASU.
In addition, Benjamin launched a holiday give-a-thon, which will end before Christmas Day. Moderncat Web users can sign up to win a prize from one of her 21 sponsors.
Every sponsor provides two of each prize, so winners can keep one prize and donate the second to a charity.
“I love to give stuff away,” Benjamin said.
Within 18 months of opening Moderncat, Benjamin’s business is becoming popular. The blog on her website, moderncat.net, has 14,000 subscribers, and she said she draws 200,000 views per month.
“The studio business has just blown up,” Benjamin said. Internet “traffic has just been through the roof.”
Benjamin, 39, appears to have the gene for entrepreneurship. She was raised in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where her father was a restaurateur and her mother sold handmade crafts and gifts.
From them, she learned how to sew and develop product ideas.
“Selling Girl Scout cookies, it started from there,” she said. “I was always selling things.”
By age 18, Benjamin had a T-shirt design business, and sold jewelry and hair scrunchies at a booth in the Ithaca, N.Y., farmers market.
She went to Cornell University and graduated with a degree in design and environmental analysis with a focus on interior design. She was drawn to Phoenix because she wanted to work for a resort and, of course, for the weather.
After working for Valley resorts and for a website that sold children’s toys, Benjamin was inspired to launch her a toy business for cats.
Her nine felines – Ando, Dazzler, Flora, Mackenzie, McKinley, Ratso, Sherman, Simba and Theo – influence her craft.
Benjamin has designed and sells popular toys such as “Atomic Flyers” – merino-wool felt toys cut in shapes like snowflakes and moons that zoom and spin across hard floors.
Her Modkickers, also known as “Bunny Kickers,” are a huge hit with the cat community. They’re pillows and tubes of fabric stuffed with a little catnip – a toy that a cat can grip and kick with its hind legs.
She also sells cat trees and scratchers that are covered with carpet tiles that have no formaldehyde.
“This is all about cats,” Benjamin said.