Monkee Tree: A creative solution for cats sparks a fast growing Kiwi business

The founders of Monkee Tree, discuss their inspiration, challenges and what's next for this exciting New Zealand made cat ladder brand.

James and Jennie, the founders of the innovative cat ladder brand, Monkee Tree had a vision - inspired by their beloved cat, Smudge, who loves racing up and down trees. They wanted to create a versatile, New Zealand made cat ladder that could cater to any cats needs - whether it be for exercise, entertainment or safe access (getting to an open window). Quite simply, they wanted to make cats happy.

You only have to look at the photos fans have shared on social media to see that they are achieving that particular goal. If felines could smile, they would be beaming like Cheshire Cats. They clearly love hanging out on their Monkee Trees.

We caught up with Jennie to find out where Monkee Tree, which was founded in 2016, is heading and what the most significant challenges and enjoyable surprises have been so far. Jennie also shared her top tips for keeping cats happy. Well worth a read!

What were you doing before you founded Monkee Tree?

James who led the design of the Monkee Tree is a mechanical engineer. Jennie - James’s wife and sales manager - is a teacher.

What’s been the most enjoyable surprise while you’ve been in business?

We originally designed the Monkee Tree for outside use but were totally blown away by the number of people who wanted them for inside. So our market is bigger than we first thought. Customers are purchasing Monkee Trees to entertain their cats rather just to provide access. We have enjoyed seeing images of cats hanging out on their Monkee Trees. This has reminded us that cats simply love to climb!

And the biggest challenge?

Reaching international markets from New Zealand. The costs to get New Zealand made products to customers overseas is significant.

Where did the brand name come from?

Our cat Smudge was our inspiration, watching him run up the tree like a monkey. A company called Blue10 has helped market Monkee Tree including developing the name.

Why is it so important that we give our cats opportunities to climb, play and have adventures?

To make them happy cats. After all, a happy cat is a healthy cat and it’s their natural instinct to run, climb and play.

Was it difficult to source materials to create Monkee Tree in New Zealand? Does it mean a lot to you that the products are New Zealand made and certified?

It means everything that we are designed and made in New Zealand. We are so proud of that fact, and so proud of our country being able to do/create/make innovative quality products in New Zealand.

It’s been a long road to get our materials into the quality Monkee Tree they are today. A lot of research and design of tweaking our components (there are 60+ components in an 18 Trunk Starter Pack) to make them purr-fect. Having Monkee Tree made locally makes it easier for us to control quality too.

Do you have a favourite customer story or piece of feedback?

We love hearing peoples stories and seeing the photos people share with us of their feline on their Monkee Tree. One of our favourite stories is of Bryan at Baristacats Café in Auckland. Bryan is totally blind, watching him climbing the Monkee Tree all on his own is amazing. He uses their Monkee Tree with confidence daily, you can see all his other senses working overtime to compensate for no eyes or tail.

If you had to give pet owners your five top tips for keeping their felines healthy, active and happy, what would they be?

Number 1) Get a Monkee Tree (haha)

2) Play time with your cat: there are some great enriching toys out there even just a piece of string for your cat to chase. Cats need exercise and it’s also a wonderful way for humans to unwind too.

3) Regular vet check-ups: visits with your local veterinarian for vaccinations and check-ups can ensure your pets are as healthy as they can be.

4) A quiet snuggly spot: while cats tend to change where they like to sleep, if you have a busy household like ours, it’s good to have somewhere quiet and safe for them to chill-out. (If they are like our cat Smudge, it will be on top of the folded washing).

5) A place to climb. All cat’s like to climb, it’s their natural instinct to be up high to be able to view their surroundings and feel safe.

Sneaking in another point: consider getting your cat spayed/neutered (for obvious reasons).

What are you most excited about at the moment? Do you see any big opportunities for growth or innovation with Monkee Tree? Or do you see yourself expanding into other types of products?

Currently we’ve been so excited about our growth over the past few months. Like most business owners we were worried about what would happen with Monkee Tree and COVID-19, we needn’t have worried, we’ve gone from strength to strength.

We are expanding the Monkee Tree business with attachable accessories…we have a few up our sleeve that are in prototype stage (watch this space).

Long term we are wanting to be selling overseas, we are selling well in Australia and the odd Monkee Tree going to the US and UK but we want to be selling amazingly in those countries.

It’s a bit of a hard slog, getting to those markets from New Zealand is harder than most people think but we know we’ve got a product that is unique and people and cats love it.

Learn more about Monkee Tree here.