Eco-friendly collars, leashes and harnesses are in high demand among environmentally conscious shoppers, but these products are may prove to have a broader appeal than anticipated.
The message that the earth needs some TLC is clearly resonating with a greater number of people these days, as evidenced by the growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly products. The trend is also playing out in a strong way in the pet product arena.
Many dog-owning consumers are indeed looking to decrease their ecological footprint in various areas of their daily lives—often, by buying products that are made using sustainable ingredients and that do no harm to either the environment or their pets. Having taken note of this bump in demand for green products—and having eco-conscious leanings themselves—many manufacturers have gone to market with lines of eco-conscious collars and leashes that answer the call.
“Consumers are more aware of all of the products they purchase—their food, their children’s toys, their clothes and the products they get for their pets,” says Amanda O’Brien, director of Planet Dog, which manufactures hemp leashes, collars and harnesses. “Consumers now see their pets as part of the family, and want to protect them and offer them safe, healthy, non-toxic products from companies they trust.”
Today’s green collars and leashes, however, do more than meet the demand for eco-friendly gear; they offer a variety of desirable features, from odor resistance and durability to fashion-forward design and comfort. With a winning combination of qualities, these products are poised to take an even larger share of the overall collar and leash category, while helping independent pet retailers to distinguish themselves once again with high-quality, on-trend and premium assortments.
Dave Colella, co-partner at earthdog, a producer of hemp pet products, says the eco-friendly collars and leashes category has been a growing niche for years, driven largely by eco-conscious customers who scrutinize not only a product’s functionality, but also the processes by which it is made and its composition. However, while staunchly eco-conscious consumers may make up only a small sliver of many pet retailers’ customer base, these products are serving another important purpose in independent specialty stores by helping them stand out among their big-box, mass and grocery competitors.
“Pretty much a 100 percent of our retailers are independents,” Colella says. “So the folks that we do business with tend to be looking for the [product] lines that people aren’t going to see in the big-box stores.”
Another distinguishing characteristic of eco-friendly collars and leashes is price, which tends to run higher than the price of conventional collars and leashes, due to the higher cost of production and material procurement. Colella says that, in the case of hemp products, the time may come when costs come down, as more states legalize commercial hemp production; but for now, hemp products offered in the U.S. will continue to be more expensive than those made with synthetic fibers.
“In terms of cost and expense, we cannot compete with nylon, which, I assume, is cheaper to produce and readily available,” he says. “Hemp, at this point, is all coming from overseas because there is no stateside production.”
Of course, price may be slightly less of a concern for pet specialty retailers, which often serve the most discerning pet owners—consumers who are willing to pay more for higher-quality and premium products. However, it is not a non-issue, especially for many retailers catering to price-sensitive shoppers. Aware that the comparatively higher costs may pose a challenge on the sales floor, manufacturers in the eco-realm are ensuring that the value of their products are commensurate with their price tags. These innovators have incorporated a host of additional benefits into their offerings aside from the obvious eco-conscious advantage, and retailers can benefit from marketing these advantages to their customers.
Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog, says consumers are looking for eco-friendly items that also serve a purpose, “which means that people want more than ‘eco’ or ‘green’ in the name.”
Cycle Dog may specialize in products that use upcycled materials to create innovative, eco-minded pet supplies, but the company has not dimmed its focus on the importance of quality or functionality. “Our recycled rubber-backed collars reduce the bacteria growth found in standard nylon collars,” says Fidrych. “This means less stink and a safer environment for your dog. Collars are the one product that are against dog’s skin every day for months at a time—less bacteria growth just makes sense.”
O’Brien echoes the view that product performance is no less important in the eco-friendly segment than it is with traditional items. It comes down to durability and value, she says.
“Consumers want to know that the products they purchase will stand up to the lifestyle they have with their dogs,” she says. “As dogs become more like members of our family, we spend more and more time with them. We want their toys, collars, leashes and accessories to stand up to walks, runs, swims, romps and adventures of all kinds.”
Colella points out that it is important for retailers to communicate these advantages, particularly in instances when a consumer is comparing and contrasting a more expensive green product to a much less expensive conventional one. For example, he explains, the pricier hemp product may be the quick-drying, hypoallergenic solution a dog owner is seeking—but the shopper needs to be made aware of these product features.
“If you can educate your customer a bit…and they understand those advantages, then they might make the decision to buy the $22 collar instead of the $10 collar,” Colella says.
The aesthetic appeal of eco-friendly collars and leashes, however, is yet another sales driver that manufacturers have factored into their designs. On the sales floor, these items—like many products sold in all retail segments—must draw the shopper’s eye with appealing and attention-grabbing designs, colors, patterns and visual features. For example, earthdog offers a line of hemp canvas collars and leashes that feature decorative and colorful trim designs that are updated yearly. The line’s visual appeal often lures new customers to the category.
“I’m certain that we get some folks who are drawn to the patterns initially and may not realize until they look at the tag that they are looking at a hemp product,” Colella says. “We have always thought that it is a great way to bring people into the tent.”
Still, while brilliant designs and eye-popping hues may sway some customers, others might be looking for something more understated. Deb Belew, a marketing specialist at Coastal Pet Products—which manufacturers several product lines featuring natural materials, including soy and leather—says shoppers in the eco-friendly market are often looking for natural, neutral colors.
One feature that seems to be important across the board, however, is the texture and feel of the product. Manufacturers says that the tactile experience of holding the leash or collar can be a key factor in a consumer’s purchasing decision. Belew advises retailers to take that into account when choosing inventory for the category.
“Make sure your products feel good to the touch, yet are sturdy and well-constructed,” she says. “Eco-friendly consumers want a product that feels great, yet will hold up well for an active lifestyle.”
Colella contends this is one area in which hemp products, in particular, can actually outshine some of the conventional options on the market. Made from pesticide-free hemp—a renewable crop that does not deplete the soil—earthdog’s collars and leashes are also breathable, washable, comfortable for both dogs and owners, and feel good to the touch, he says. “They don’t have that rough feeling you have with some synthetic materials, “ he adds.
Beyond a quality assortment, thoughtful merchandising that gives shoppers a clear, full view of the assortment and affords them the opportunity to touch and feel the products can also help retailers tap into the category’s full sales potential. “Making sure that the display is full of product and detailed thoroughly is key,” says Nicole Haefke, a marketing specialist with Coastal Pet Products. “Displays also need to be visually appealing to the eye and easy to shop.”
Manufacturers recommend a number of merchandising techniques. For example, Fidrych suggests merchandising these products by brand, and Haefke promotes color blocking as a strategy to grab consumers’ attention.
And while most experts say that eco-friendly options should be showcased alongside their traditional counterparts, as opposed to segregated in a designated section, some say it is helpful to let them stand on their own once in a while. “We recommend cross-merchandising them along with other eco-friendly products on an endcap from time to time,” says Belew.
O’Brien agrees. “Many customers are actively seeking eco-friendly or earth-friendly products, so having a specific section that is readily identifiable will attract that consumer,” she says. “Using signage, eco-friendly fixtures or vessels, and call outs will easily identify items for the customer who knows what they want.”
Lastly, manufacturers urge retailers to keep their customers—and their dogs—top of mind when pulling together an assortment of eco-friendly collars and leashes for their stores. Displaying a comprehensive selection that meets customers’ varying needs and preferences can help ensure a retailer’s success in the category. “Retailers, of course, should offer a good selection for their customers,” O’Brien says. “Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and have different needs from leashes, collars and harnesses.”