Lets Talk. I did exactly what your husband is considering doing. I started my own business selling unique cat furniture. I wanted to create the best cat furniture on the market. I've had some success and some failure. Here is what I've learned:
1. Regardless of how good your stuff is, people have a set budget for cat furniture. Except for a select few, most people want to spend between $100 - $300 at the most on cat furniture. If your husband is like me, you can build anything you want, BUT the challenge is to make it profitable and something people can afford. I didn't properly account for my time when I developed my first product line. When all was said and done, I was only making $12.00/hour.
2. If you plan to ship your product, you need to learn about packaging and make sure your design is something that can be shipped for a reasonable price. If it costs $80+ to ship, people are not going jump when they see your product.
3. GO TO CAT SHOWS!!! GO TO CAT SHOWS!! Talk to people and learn what people really want. I paid $100 for a vendor space at a Cat Show in Atlanta and brought samples of my work. I didn't have a huge inventory to sell, but I learned alot and got my name out.
4. PRACTICE ! PRACTICE ! PRACTICE ! Be prepared to mess up the first few times when you start building. Many times things look good on paper, but are much harder to build than you think. Be prepared to make devices in your shop to help you build your furniture. I had to make my own wrapping machine to wind sisal rope around posts.
5. Look for good suppliers. Odds are your local Home Depot or Lowes will have most everything you need BUT not everything. I actually have sisal rope shipped to me from Ohio in 1200ft spools because its better quality and cheaper than getting 50ft mini-coils from Home Depot.
6. Design is everything. Do your homework and be prepared to make changes to your design even after you start selling your product. If you have something truly unique, consider getting an ornamental design patent from the US patent office. Copyright is meaningless and only protects the presentation of your furniture, not the design itself.
Sales & Marketing: Here are some tips.
1. Ask your vet if you can display a sample of your work at his/her office. I donated a unit to my vet and people started calling soon after asking how they could get one.
2. If your going to approach pet stores, try hitting the smaller local stores instead of Petsmart & Petco. The supercenters are locked into supplier agreements and are not likley to sell your product.
3. Build your own internet store front. Check out www.pair.com.
They have excellent web account packages starting at $8.95/month. They also have all the tools for shopping carts, merchant accounts, etc etc.
4. If you want to test your product without going into business, give ebay a chance. However, understand your product will encounter lots of competition there. Lots of small businesses dump products they couldn't sell at full price on ebay. There are also alot of people selling homemade cat furniture there. Some units are beautiful, others are not very well made. Keep in mind people go to ebay looking for a bargain, so don't expect to make alot of money.
5. Be careful of merchant accounts. Ebay and Paypal can become costly. You could wind up spending 10-20 dollars selling 1 item between your ebay listing and transaction charges through paypal. If your going to take credit cards consider getting a real merchant account. I recommend going through QuickBooks merchant services.
6. Beware of resellers. Many online resellers will flatter you with offers to list your product on their site. In reality, some don't really care if your products sells or not. I'm not saying all resellers are bad. On the contrary, some are quite good. Just use your judgement. I would recommend Catsplay.com if you want to use a reseller.
*** Cat funiture is a competitve industry. Your not going to make lots of money overnight. After talking with different competitors I've come to follow conclusion. Those who truly enjoy building cat furniture and working with cats make the most beautiful pieces. ***
I hope this all helped.