Boots & Barkley Knocks-off Moderncat Studio Scratch Tower

Fri, Jul 29, 2011


knock-off  \ˈnäk-ˌȯf\ noun
a copy that sells for less than the original; broadly : a copy or imitation of someone or something popular


. . .

Well, we’ve been knocked off. Boots & Barkley, the store brand of pet products at Target, just released their new corrugated cardboard scratching post. Look familiar? It’s a direct copy of the original Scratch Tower created by my company, Moderncat Studio. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I’m not feeling the love.

Target did a nice job, I have to say. They copied our original concept, created by the design team at Juggernaut Design and sold exclusively through Moderncat Studio, which uses compressed pieces of die-cut cardboard to make a vertical, freestanding scratching tower. They use essentially the same structure with a base, inner rod, and knob on top to hold the pieces in place. The Target knock-off is a bit taller and it disassembles to fit in a nice little box. And it’s just $19.99 with $9.99 refills, a far cry from the Scratch Tower at $95 and refills at $20.

Still, I’m not crying my eyes out. The reason I created Moderncat Studio was to experiment with new designs for cat products that would encourage the mass product manufacturers to step it up in the design department, knowing that they will always be cheaper. That said, there’s a big difference between inspiring the mass market and being knocked off by one of its major players! Come on people!

For those of you unfamiliar with product manufacturing, I’d like to point out a few things. At Moderncat Studio, everything is handcrafted in small batches — we only make a few at a time and we CARE about each item that goes out the door. Yes, I could sell the Scratch Tower for $19.99, if I had it made in China, used a low-quality cardboard, paid less attention to details — had it made in China. Did I mention CHINA?

Something else I noticed. As you can see above, some of the cardboard pieces on the knock-off are smashed. While I’m constructing every Scratch Tower if I come across a smashed piece of cardboard, it goes in the project bin to become something else. I suppose the Target team figures “Who cares? Your cat is just going to claw it up!” Well, I care!

To be quite honest, if I couldn’t afford the original Scratch Tower, I’d go right out to Target and buy this one. And why not? It’s important for the kitties to have something they like — and if it’s a cool design, too, well even better. HOWEVER, if you can afford the real thing, and/or if ethical manufacturing is important to you, then that’s a different story.

As always, we here at Moderncat thank you for your support.

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52 Responses to “Boots & Barkley Knocks-off Moderncat Studio Scratch Tower”

  1. 1

    That really stinks. You would think that a company like target that seems to push getting limited edition designs by the designers themselves would have worked with you instead of ripping you off. Chin up!

  2. 2

    I’m sorry as well. Even more cause I’ll probably get the Target variety. I love your design and need a new scratcher but I’m in med school so I can’t afford yours. It’s really an unfortunate situation.

  3. 3

    Agreed, if they like your product they should have worked with you to make a lower cost. As you mention they should develop original ideas, just goes to show you good design does not come easy for everyone!

    I would certainly write in to them as this is a direct copy. Big brands are adopting the new transparency model so make it transparent that they directly copied you!


  4. 4

    said so perfectly

  5. 5

    Boo to Boots and Barkely! And shame on Target! They should at least have the decency to pay you for the design idea!

  6. 6
    Seanna Lea

    It is always easier for a large company to knock off an interesting and successful product than to come up with their own ideas. I’m sorry that they had to do it to you!

  7. 7
    Driver B

    Agree with all of the above!

    Also, I bought a (different brand) scratcher at Target before, just a rectangle cardboard pad that you could put in a box to attach to the wall. When it came time to replace the rather junky cardboard piece? The refills were nowhere to be found. Boo on Target!

  8. 8
    Cindy A

    This apparently means you didn’t patent????

    It’s all fair game if there’s no patent. Hind sight is 20/20…

  9. 9

    The Target version looks really small. Nothing that my Male Maine Coon would be interested in.

  10. 10

    Wow. The nerve!
    Yours screams “better quality”.

  11. 11

    Wow Kate! I am so sorry this happened to you. The same thing happened to one of my products as it was spotted at a Tradeshow in LA. Fortunately, my patent attorney called and notified them of the patent infringement and they immediately stopped all production and apologized. Patents work … for the most part and if you have the money to fight it in the courts.

    The knock off of my product was so cheaply made though. They didn’t have the physical sample to copy and the proportions and materials were worthless. The funniest thing was that they were trying to sell it at wholesale for about the same price I sell at retail.

    Best of luck to you and as i said in my email to you. If you ever want to work on a project together let me know. I would love to be able to work with you.


  12. 12

    I think it is sad that Target has done this to you and furthered our debt to China. I will think about where I get my next scratching post for my gang, but being an underpaid teacher in a low paying state, I know that money often drives my purchases. That said, I may just choose to support you because I am so aware of the need to support local/national accounts. Thank you for bringing this up, it makes me think of doing the right thing.

  13. 13

    This is a clear violation of your intellectual property rights. You could pursue this in the courts. However it is likely a situation of David and Goliath and that is what they are counting on – that you won’t/can’t afford to fight them.

  14. 14

    I hope you return it.

  15. 15

    I love your Scratch Tower as it has character that the Boots & Barkley does not have. But as said before cost is a big issue for us and if I could every find yours for cheap I would snag it! I did save my pennies to get the Stow scratcher you made but when I had enough to buy one they were gone!

    I do want to say that the B&B scratcher will not come into our home for the simple reason it is rather ugly and generic looking with the square pieces. Just like I will not buy a cheap incline scratcher to fill the Stow shaped hole in our kitties’ lives.

    Curious as I am, I wonder if your refills would fit the B&B scratcher… oh well. I hate dark stained wood. So I’ll never know.

  16. 16

    I’ll save up and buy one of yours. Your wonderful post today, sincere and honest, won me over completely. Plus – who knows what’s IN that cardboard from China. I can’t trust cheap around my kitty. Thanks for it all!

  17. 17

    Pretty crummy of Target. One thing I can bet money on, it will not be as well constructed as yours. I bought one at Walmart for about the same price, $19.99, and had to take it back. There were exposed nails and staples everywhere. Can you imagine the damage to the cat who gets hooked up on one of these. People beware – check the construction of the cheaper ones carefully, you could wind up with an injured cat!!

  18. 18
    Sandy Sato

    Would it cost significantly more if Moderncat Studio used berber carpet as opposed to corrugated cardboard? Berber doesn’t shred like loop carpet. I prefer to keep our people working even if it costs more. I still believe USA quality is superior to anything that comes out of CHINA. Sure $95 is high but maybe it keeps someone off of unemployment. n’est-ce pas?

  19. 19

    Wow. It’s really unfortunate that Boots & Barkley just copied your design :( I agree with the other commenters…Target should have contacted you directly about your design!

  20. 20
    Cece Keeling

    I’m sorry too, about the copycat but I too, will be purchasing the Target brand because like most items on Modern Cat, the original is way out of my price range. I love to look at all the new designs and neat gadgets BUT their cost caters to only the wealthy that can afford them..majority of us are middle class and cannot afford to spend that kind of money…

    I would LOVE to see cat items that are not strictly for the wealthy cat owners! I Love Modern Cat website despite the fact that I can ‘only look’

  21. 21

    I don’t know, but I think that you might have a viable intellectual property claim here. I would consult a lawyer.

  22. 22

    While I can’t afford most of the lovely offerings you showcase (or design), either, I am always sorry when too much license is taken. Having said that, though, and being in the Target budget range myself, I am very glad to see a tall scratcher at a reasonable price, and know that it will undoubtedly save some precious lives! There is no excuse to betray a cat for doing what a cat does naturally — scratch.

  23. 23

    Well, for me, I’d spend the money on the original because it’s NOT MADE IN CHINA!! I found a great scratching post not made in China, and that’s what I had purchased. Carpeted with bark.

    I have looked and looked for all the products I’m giving my kitten and have made certain they are not made in China. I don’t trust them and I’d rather support the USA.

    So, I keep hoping to find a crinkly tunnel made in the USA, so far I can’t. Also looking for the tin foil balls/crinkly things not made in china.

    I am sorry that TARGET ripped you off. I wonder if there is anything you can do?

  24. 24
    Shadie Kaye's Mom

    CHINA = God only knows what is contaminated in the ingredients. The cardboard most likely comes from packaging for ??? My guess, something very toxic!
    I can’t afford your AMERICAN MADE original but there is no way I will subject my furbabies to poisons!!!

  25. 25

    Kate, yours is just so much more classy! Even from the small picture, I prefer the Modern Cat Studios scratcher. The cute little knob on the top and the base are far superior. It’s little details like that that really make yours artsy and functional — just what Modern Cat readers love!

    It’s the same with everything — cheap is cheap. If one can afford to support people locally, he/she won’t be disappointed!

  26. 26
    Jen M.

    This is terrible! Send them a bill! It’s horrible what these big companies do to others! You’re a working person, just like the people in China who made the Target scratcher! Why don’t YOU deserve fair pay for YOUR labor? (The people in China are not getting fair pay.)

    The next time I need a scratcher, I will be coming to you. My boyfriend and I have no problem with spending a little more (even though we have to scrimp and save to do it) in order to stick with US-based, ETHICAL businessess!

    Shame on Target!

  27. 27

    Target is still trying to overcome the bad PR they created for themselves in 2010 when the corporation donated $150,000 to a group supporting Tom Emmer, the openly anti-gay candidate for governor. For a while, Target’s sales even dropped below Wal-Mart’s.

    Target did not profit from the release of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ album because the singer very publically cut ties with the retailer. That’s too bad for Target’s coffers, because the record went platinum (sold a million copies) in less than a week.

    And when you consider the nation’s current dismay about American jobs continuing to go overseas, I think you have a very intriguing story for the press. I don’t know if you had a patent, but even if you didn’t, people are in the mood to dislike Target.

  28. 28
  29. 29
    Julie -CatAtelier

    Being a designer myself, I am pretty angry on your behalf. It’s so discouraging when this kind of thing happens. But in my opinion, the Boots and Barkley version is visibly cheaper quality anyway. The cardboard looks like that soft, crappy grade stuff. I think you get what you pay for, and if theirs is 20 bucks, it’s probably worth 20 bucks. And won’t hold up. I think the best thing about yours is that it looks beautiful as well as functional, and is worthy of displaying. I doubt that the 20 buck target version would be like that. Toki uses one of those cheap Alpine climber scratchers, and loves it, but I definately don’t feel proud to have that thing around. I’ve gotten made fun of quite a few times for the ugly cat things I have to have around because I can’t afford better.

  30. 30
    Lina Bush

    It’s terrible, and while Targets might be cheaper your is importantly employing USA Workers and that is worth a lot as well!

  31. 31

    I do buy their cat litter and their kitten chow dry cat food but not their cat toys and such because as you say it is mass produce and will fall apart. I was going to say made in china but you beat me to it.
    For good quality cat furniture you have to go the extra mile and buy from people who really care by crafting their own.
    Do not worry. You have many followers. I am sorry though that this happened to you. I’m quite certain theirs in flawed somehow. Probably used glue of some sort.

  32. 32

    I’ve been refusing to by things made in China for years (for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons that I will not elaborate on here), and I wouldn’t go buy the knock-offs at Target or any other big box stores. I hope there will be more companies like yours that care and makes things here. It’s sad sometimes to go to a store that does not carry anything made in US. I’m rooting for you!

  33. 33
    Michelle Fehler

    Kate, Yours looks sooo much better! A world of difference. It is a form of flattery, however, if it affects your business, it is more than just flattery, it is an attack :)

  34. 34

    I am not generally a litigious sort, but I do agree with AnnaZed (message #21) – I think this warrants a lawsuit.

    Also, I agree with Susie (message #28), and I think somebody should post this at

  35. 35

    I would always rather pay more money and buy products made in the U.S.A.

  36. 36

    I have to say I would run out and buy one at Target because of the cost factor but I can’t because I couldn’t find it. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE your newsletters and the products there but they are only a dream.
    Your give aways are awesome even though I haven’t won. My kitty gets foil balls, $1 furry mice (fake ones of course)and Trader Joes scratchers, I use both sides even though you are not suppose to. But he does get Worlds Best Cat litter because to me it seems to last, I never have to throw it away but refill and at the end of the day it seems to save money.

    Sorry, but love ya!

  37. 37

    Yeah, not everyone can afford $95 for a scratching post and that’s not an ethical thing, it’s a money thing. I wish I could afford the higher priced stuff, but since I can’t, I’m glad there are retailers selling stylish things at lower prices. Should only the rich be able to afford good style?

  38. 38

    My intitial reaction was “sue the bastards,” but you’d end up spending too much dinero and time doing it.

    I do think, though, it is worthwhile to follow the above advice and patent your designs if it isn’t too costly to do so.

    Anyway, if you still have it, I’d invite some friends over burn it.

    Hang in there, Kate.

  39. 39

    When my husband and I ran a craft store, a guy came in and asked about our handcrafted shell ornaments, then bought a couple of them. Within two weeks, we saw a big rack of knock-offs at Wal-mart — the same guy was working there and saw us and said, “It’s just business.” Unfortunately, the average customer is going to walk in, see the cheaper knock-off, and then get mad at the originator of the product for ripping off customers by charging so much. It’s sad that Target is just as underhanded and scheming as Wal-mart is, but I don’t think anyone in the big businesses have any morals or ethics anymore. Profit is all that matters. It’s why this country is in the toilet right now.

  40. 40

    Out of curiosity I picked one up at Target this weekend. It isn’t very steady, and the cardboard is pretty flimsy. I might pay up to $30 for a good scratching post, but $95 is way too high for me. I think I need to start making my own. :(

  41. 41

    This is a shame. I’m a big Target shopper, but will not buy one of these. Thanks for the heads up. For your future innovations, have you considered patenting your original designs?

  42. 42

    One more thought – I don’t know if you’ve gone this route yet, but if you contact Target and provide proof of prior concept, marketing & sales, you might get a settlement out it. I’m sure they’d prefer to avoid a lawsuit and from what little I know about Target, I believe they have fairly progressive policies and aren’t as cutthroat as some of their competitors (ahem, Walmart!) Good luck!

  43. 43

    It would be nice to have these for the felines of the house!

  44. 44

    I purchased the one from Target a month ago. I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d seen it before. It’s a piece of crap. My cats don’t touch it because it’s rickety and when they drilled the hole on the cap to screw in to the rod through the middle, they glued the little metal bracket with the threading for the rod several centimeters from the hole. The “wood” overlay was also peeling off the cap. Did I mention piece of crap? I hope you have some sort of legal recourse against them.

  45. 45

    Hi Kate,

    I too am really sorry to hear this. I certainly wouldn’t purchase one and will forward this on to others. You can check with a lawyer regarding litigation but you’ll probably need deep pocket$ without that patent. Again, sorry to hear this.

  46. 46
    Cat Hair

    I do enjoy your website and many of the products you showcase. However, in all fairness and considering we live in a free market country, did Moderncat obtain a patent on this product? If so please take Target directly to court. Otherwise….. I applaud your creativity, committment to quality and design, and production in the USA. With that said I can not afford any of your products as I put my resources to caring for a dozen rescue cats. Thankfully there are resources for we with little money. Carry on…..

  47. 47

    Yeah, while I see the similarity I can’t say this is that surprising. I love this site and alot of the moderncat studio things but they tend to be more expensive and if there are other cheaper options out there my budget only allows for those. This is a cardboard scratcher and it really isn’t exactly ground breaking. Don’t get me wrong it is cool but it wouldn’t be surprising if someone would have the same exact idea without seeing another one. As others stated we are in a world of a patents, if this was thought to be a great concept a patent would have solved this problem. Patents are intended to avoid the idea of a knock-off product.

  48. 48

    Boo! That’s really terrible! Especially, since I like Target! But I love Modern Cat and that’s really just terrible!

    I know how it is to have someone copy your designs… keep your chin up!


  49. 49

    I don’t think the target one looks as good as modern cats…however…95 dollars for any kind of cardboard just is not worth it either. I could get a nice elegant sisal looking one for that price. any kind of cardboard product wouldn’t be considered high quality to me. your stand is pretty sleek and classy looking..however, as I said before..95 bucks for cardboard? I wouldn’t but the target one…or yours..although it is nice..i could get something even nicer for 95 bucks.

  50. 50

    This is just maddening and I wonder if moving forward you can find legal advice about protecting your ideas.

    I’m late to this post – it’s the second one like it that I’ve seen so far on Moderncat and it infuriates me that companies are appropriating your ideas without compensation and attribution.

    These issues are complicated and this is not the blog to discuss international policies and trade agreements, so I don’t want to get into a political screed on this beautiful blog that has inspired thousands of us.

    But I URGE U.S. residents to boycott products imported from China. It is a practice though difficult to do, can be done.

    I URGE U.S. citizens to support – with your dollars – the small business owner, the entrepreneurs, like Kate. By doing so, it is one of the most patriotic actions you can take.

    Sorry this happened to you again, Kate.

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