Pet owners are turning to the collar, leash and harness category for products that keep their dogs close by and safe, while adding a touch of personal style.
Several product categories have benefited mightily from dog owners’ propensity to take their pets everywhere, and high up on that list is the collars, leashes and harnesses category. Dogs are getting more and more accustomed to being outside the home in all kinds of situations, but that doesn’t mean they’re wandering untethered. After all, unless in a designated area like a dog park or beach, letting dogs run freely isn’t only potentially annoying to others, it’s unsafe for the pet. Collars, leashes and harnesses provide essential protection while out and about.
Also contributing to this category’s popularity is the fact that manufacturers are offering products with a high degree of fun and function, promoting the idea of these items as both fashionable accessories and useful tools. The fashion aspect is driving pet owner to make multiple purchases, assembling a wardrobe of leashes, collars and harnesses for various occasions.
“Owning multiple leashes, collars and harnesses based on the activity is common,” says Brady McClintick, vice president of operations for EzyDog. Located in Sandpoint, Idaho, the company makes a line of active dog gear focused on rugged outdoor lifestyles. “It makes sense to wear running shoes for running and grab your running leash as well,” he explains. “It’s also common to have a different harness for simple trips out or for car safety, then also have your set walking harness.”
Dog owners may also seek out seasonally themed collars as a way to include pets in holiday festivities, says Sara Schrekenhofer, advertising manager and graphic designer for Leather Brothers, Inc. (DBA OmniPet), a Conway, Ark., manufacturer of products for dogs and cats.
“Consumers may want their dog to wear a Christmas collar in the photograph for the family Christmas card,” she says. “And then they may change that collar out for Valentine’s Day. But at the same time, there is still the demand for just your basic collars, leads and harnesses.”
This has given manufacturers of all stripes the opportunity to unleash their creativity and expand their offerings. For example, Flexi North America, LLC offers “a large selection of designs, patterns, colors, materials, comfort features and extra visibility features for dogs and cats,” says Richard Schmidt, managing director for the company.
Another trend influencing the category is the adoption of medium-to-large dogs, resulting in a greater emphasis on training, says Anita Dungey, president of Auburn Leathercrafters, an Auburn, N.Y.-based manufacturer of dog collars, leads and other accessories.
“We started seeing this a couple of years ago, when we received phone call after phone call from consumers looking for leashes their dogs wouldn’t chew through,” recalls Dungey. “The obvious choice is a chain leash—of course we recommend these as a fashion accessory rather than a chew deterrent. Our recommendation is that the consumer try an anti-chew spray for the benefit of the dog and a leather leash for the benefit of the owner—plus training.”
Pet specialty retailers may also note a shift in the demographics of customers walking through their doors. According to Todd Finney, vice president of Wolfgang Man & Beast, the market is moving away from Baby Boomer-dominant to one with a greater number of Millennials.
“The Millennial consumer, generally, has a deeper connection with the brands and products he or she chooses to buy and looks for an authentic backstory with which they can relate,” says Finney, whose Salt Lake City-based company designs and manufactures collars, leads and harnesses. Wolfgang Man & Beast has collaborated with various athletes, entertainers and popular brands like Stance Socks and Goldcoast Skateboards in developing its products.
And the interest in made in the USA and organic/green products is going strong. “This is a huge trend,” Schrekenhofer says. “A durable, safe, USA-sourced/made product is very important to consumers today.”
Out the Door
Ramping up sales so this category reaches its full potential requires creating a large enough assortment of styles, sizes, materials and colors to meet the needs of your customer base.
“We find that many sales are lost or hampered when retailers don’t have the correct size or don’t have an established system to order and deliver the correct size to the customer,” Dungey says. “Having these services available adds value to both the product and to the retailer’s business.”
Poorly trained sales associates who don’t know how to approach customers and ask them the right questions can also hamper sales, Dungey adds. “Conversely, having staff that makes themselves available as experts and who love to work towards the common goal of finding the consumer what he or she needs is a tremendous asset,” she says, mentioning that Auburn representatives make themselves available to answer any retailer questions.
Pet specialty retailers shouldn’t assume that collars, leashes and harnesses require little or no explanation. On the contrary, some of them are fairly technologically advanced. For example, McClintick says many of EzyDog’s products require some explaining as to how and why they will help improve a walk, hike or run.
“I think the best questions are directed to what kinds of activities you do with your dog, and what struggles or complications do you have when spending time with your dog,” says McClintick. “This will help an educated sales associate assist the customer with a recommendation.”
Sales associates should also get some general information about the animal and its environment.
“We always make sure we know the size of the dog and whether the family is from an urban, suburban or rural area,” says Dungey. “We also ask how old the dog is, so we can find out if the dog will need a series of leashes as it grows through puppyhood, for example, and if there are any special training needs.”
Schrekenhofer advises asking how the product will be used—for training, walking, inside, outside and so on—and if the pet has any allergies. “Also, be prepared to help fit and size a collar, lead or harness for the customer’s dog,” she says. “Every collar fits differently. And depending on what region you live in, sometimes there are requirements for dogs to have particular muzzles and leads.”
Recognize that different leashes are designed with different purposes in mind, says Dungey. “For example, a long leash—one that is 10 or 15 or even 30 feet long—is great for a dog or puppy that is still learning the ropes because it will allow him greater freedom while allowing the owner to stay in control,” she explains.
“Similarly,” she continues, “a two-handled leash is a great tool for working on loose-leash training with a large dog because it allows the owner to keep the leash loose, but if need be, will allow for holding the dog close. Slip leashes are fantastic for loose-leash training as well. Some trainers prefer these for walking dogs with mild behavioral issues, such as being easily distracted.”
As for merchandising these items, a full display with an ample selection and variety is important, says McClintick. Many manufacturers provide in-store displays, signage and so on. For example, flexi offers rotating and promotion displays, panels, testers and more. According to Schmidt, retailers using their branded displays normally see a 20 percent sales increase of flexi products.
Wolfgang has several display choices, such as a custom six-peg wall option, a 12-peg barn wood wall display and an 18-peg freestanding floor display. All are adaptable in peg counts to retailer needs, says Finney. “The goal is to make the Wolfgang display a premium destination in premium pet specialty retail stores,” he says.
Retailers need to make the benefits of higher quality products clear to succeed in this category. “When a customer understands the difference between a very inexpensive webbing leash or harness and the benefits of a highly technical and functional higher-price-point product, the store will be making higher revenue in this category,” McClintick says. “A customer that is excited and pleased with the product the store recommends is a customer for life.” PB