Take the Lead

Though a staple product category, storeowners can use collars, leashes and harnesses to create exciting displays that will boost the store’s bottom line.


It might be one of the easiest product categories to take for granted, but smart retailers know that collars, leashes and harnesses can drive healthy margins if they’re well promoted, smartly positioned and intelligently pushed by knowledgeable salespeople.

There is a great selling opportunity with collars, leashes and harnesses, because of the sheer number of wonderful styles and designs available for just about any customer. And choice is more important to customers for this product group than one might think. Don’t assume customers look at a collar and lead simply for utilitarian function–it’s got to look good on the dog. So if the offering is limited, or simply displayed as “oh yeah, and here are the collars,” then the store is missing an important opportunity to reach customers.

Fashion Forward
Never let a display of collars, leads and harnesses become commoditized. This is must-have equipment for dog owners, but stocking exciting styles and lots of choices helps get customers jazzed about fresh new looks for the season or for when their worn collars start to look bad. Trust in the power of style and fashion, and let the lineup of these products carry that message.

Look for exciting, unique patterns in ribbon collars, but don’t forget to include monochromes. Many people simply want something simple and sharp. There are many stores that stock a single brand of collars and leashes, and while there might be plenty of great patterns and designs offered by a single company, it doesn’t take customers long to tire of the limited choice. Try to offer lines from a handful of companies. This will offer variety and excitement.

And don’t forget to offer variety of materials. Leather, nylon, hemp, cotton, plastic and acrylic all have their place in a collar, leash and harness display. And while most markets have probably seen decreased demand for excessive bling, it wouldn’t hurt to showcase a few fancy samples just to let customers dream about the possibilities.

Beyond Style
Once customers have been dazzled by design and style flair, a retailer can impress

them with knowledge about the proper function of these products. This is where a little time spent learning and training employees really pays off. There are lots of smart dog people who’ve given lots of thought to the way these items are designed.

For example, Martingale-style collars are increasingly being used for training purposes, and not simply as a collar suited for breeds like whippets and greyhounds. There are also breakaway safety collars, fast-drying air collars and equipment with buckles or clips. Each item has its own benefits and offers a unique sales opportunity.

The selection of leashes should include retractable; four-, five- and six-foot; short traffic, English slip; twin couplers; hands-free with traffic handles; and bungee-type. Each has unique design qualities that address specific issues for dogs with certain behaviors. For example, the bungee-style leash acts as a shock absorber and creates a cushion from any sudden movements made by the dog or dog walker. This style is great for active or skittish dogs, as well as for training puppies. The point in offering so many choices, beyond giving customers options they never dreamed of having, is that the variety also helps position the store as a knowledgeable, well-supplied resource, not just a shopkeeper who rings up a sale.

Traditional harnesses come in a number of design configurations, such as Roman, figure-8 and step-in. Training harnesses are particularly important to stock, because they allow the retailer to act as an expert on dog training. Take the time to train employees on how to help customers achieve the proper fit on customers’ dogs. Many people have a hard time figuring out how a harness goes on, especially with specialized training rigs, so knowledgeable assistance will help reinforce the store’s all-important role as resource in addition to retailer.

What’s particularly unique about new harness designs is that manufacturers are doing a great job of uniting the equipment with dog apparel. Vest-style harnesses, for example, present great fashion statements, provide safe restraint and control, and can help keep dogs warm.

On Display
The challenge with this category is how to balance sunk cost inventory idling on the floor with the need to present customers with selection. Consider a strategy that emphasizes exciting in-store displays, shrewd purchasing and exceptional customer service through special ordering.

If a store has a nice lineup of vibrant patterns and colors in collars and leads, flaunt them. Retail floor space is precious, but don’t underestimate the power of visual appeal. Spread those wonderful colors and exciting patterns out across an open plane of wall space, or hang them along free-standing display stands. Don’t get trapped into thinking the collar, leash and harness section must occupy a limited little neighborhood in the store.

By spreading individual items over a greater space, a storeowner can make limited quantities of merchandise do harder work. Let the style and color call out to customers, but control inventory costs. Work with the geometry of vertical leashes and ways to display collars horizontally on dowels. Harnesses tend to be bulky items, so they need to have plenty of space to hang. Avoid bunching the merchandise–it’s off-putting and customers will tend to walk past nettlesome-looking clots of product. Open up the display, let the style statements reach customers, and then limit the quantities and maximize selection.

All In Order
If a store doesn’t carry a collar, lead or harness in the right size, that store should offer special orders. If customers feel they are being treated well, they will have positive feelings toward the store. Special orders also mean that the customer will have to return to pick up their order-and who knows what they may purchase then.

When purchasing inventory, try to limit quantities of certain collars and harnesses in the extreme size ranges. Extra-small and extra-large sizes will move more slowly than medium sizes. Offer catalogue options if a customer can’t seem to find just the right pattern or design. It takes a bit more time and attention to detail, especially on the execution and follow-up, but the rewards are bountiful.

Important to this strategy is a good working relationship with suppliers. Try to negotiate the lowest possible minimum orders. Let customers know that you will work to keep their costs low by scheduling and ganging special orders to avoid additional shipping charges.

Collars, leashes and harnesses might be the one product category everyone expects to find in a pet supply store, but that’s no reason to treat these products predictably. Surprise customers, excite their imaginations and give these staples an opportunity to do extra work to boost the bottom line.

Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who, with his wife Pam Guthrie, owns Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, NC. The couple, former corporate burnouts who just got fed up with having to leave their dogs home alone all day, opened Wag in 2003. The store has received numerous community and industry awards.

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