Un-Leashing Sustainable Success
Eco-friendly collars and leashes are made with alternative materials, but shoppers still want the same great quality and design.
Adding a new furry friend to the home is always exciting. Of course, there’s a bit of an adjustment period for both the owner and pet, but as soon as that collar is put around a pet’s neck, they’re family. That’s why collars and leashes have long been a staple for pet retailers. However, like many pet categories, these accessories have been given an eco-friendly makeover in recent years.
“As pet owners today are treating their pets like family members, they are also genuinely more interested than ever in the quality and integrity behind the products they are giving,” says Colleen McCracken, CEO of Portland, Maine-based Planet Dog. “Pet owners can feel confident in and feel really good about buying safe, eco-friendly pet products in general and know that their choice has a positive impact not just on their dog, but on the environment as well.”
So what makes a collar or leash eco-friendly? For most manufacturers, it’s all about the materials.
At Planet Dog, leashes and collars are constructed from naturally dyed pure hemp. As one of nature’s strongest fibers, hemp makes for a super-durable fabric that can stand up to daily wear and tear. The company’s leashes are also lined with fleece for optimal grip comfort.
“Eco-friendly collars, unlike the others, are made of all non-toxic, safe materials,” explains McCracken.
Other manufacturers utilize post-consumer materials to create their collars and leashes. North Conway, N.H.-based company Lupine, for example, offers a line of eco-friendly collars made from recycled plastic bottles.
“The bottles are washed, ground, melted, purified and then extruded into thread which is dyed and woven,” explains Tracy McCarthy, who works in marketing and product development for Lupine.
This prevents discarded water and beverage bottles from piling up in landfills or littering the streets. The resulting fabric is strong, colorful and non-toxic. Plus, it requires less energy to make than traditional collar or leash materials.
Another unlikely collar source material is reclaimed inner tubes. The aptly named manufacturer Cycle Dog, based in Portland, Ore., began creating eco-friendly pet products in 2009 out of reclaimed rubber tubes. Its line of collars, harnesses and leashes are all backed by 100 percent recycled rubber, which also makes them bacteria resistant.
“These tubes were used by cyclists and recovered by us instead of going to the landfill,” says Lanette Fidrych, Cycle Dog president. “The result are collars and leashes that don’t allow bacteria to grow and don’t get stinky. Cycle Dog collars allow 1,000 times less bacteria growth than standard nylon collars.”
Although all of these different eco-friendly collars are made with non-traditional materials, customers’ wants and concerns haven’t changed much.
“A collar or leash that will last is likely to be the first consideration when shopping. The construction should indicate care was taken in the manufacturing process,” explains McCarthy. “The quality and uniformity of the stitching, material and hardware all underscore the durability of the item.”
Since eco-friendly products often come with a slightly higher price tag, pet parents want to know that they’re investing in a product that will last. No owner wants to buy a collar that falls apart at the first tug or bite. That’s why both Lupine and Planet Dog have 100 percent guaranteed replacements on all of their products—even if they’re chewed.
And just because pet parents are increasingly interested in sustainability doesn’t mean they’re willing to give up style. Luckily, many eco-friendly products today are just as beautiful as they are environmentally conscious.
“Collar shoppers are looking for great patterns and features that are interesting and different,” explains Fidrych. That’s why Cycle Dog offers collars and leashes in a variety of eye-catching designs, from fresh and fun florals to modern art-inspired patterns.
Although eco-friendly collars and leashes may be still considered niche products, many retailers see value in offering options.
“When it comes to collars and leashes, something that our dogs or cats wear daily, it’s important to offer customers eco-friendly product options that they can feel good about purchasing, knowing that their pet’s products will contribute to a cleaner world,” says Leah Binding, owner of Aeslin Pup Hub.
The Chicago-based specialty pet store offers a wide variety of products geared toward environmentally conscious shoppers, from toys and treats to beds, bowls and, of course, collars and leashes.
When choosing which items to stock, Binding considers a number of factors, including the company’s quality guarantees and reputation.
Fidrych also emphasizes the importance of choosing the right brands, adding, “Retailers need to invest in brands. They can’t cherry-pick a few products onto their wall and expect the pieces to fly off the shelf on their own. Take the time to learn the brand story so consumers can be educated from your staff.”
Retailers that stock Cycle Dog products, for example, should know that all of their collars feature a Latchlock airline-style metal buckle, which is more than 400 percent stronger than standard plastic buckles.
Or, if you offer Planet Dog products, you should let shoppers know that the brand is actually a founding member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition.
This kind of extra marketing effort is key for success with eco-friendly products, especially since they’re still considered niche. Experts also recommend strategically organizing merchandise to highlight sustainable items.
“A special product like eco-friendly collars and leashes will struggle to be seen if they are mixed into a larger assortment,” McCarthy advises retailers. “Define an area, flag it with signage and consider using a plush toy as a model.”
Another great way to feature eco-friendly products is using special events like Earth Day to create displays that bring together items from different categories. “Or, use consistent signage to call out these products within their usual display area,” she says.
The Right Fit
Since collars require fitting, they also present a great opportunity for retailers to position themselves as industry experts. Staff can help pet parents find the right collar for their four-legged friend by offering to measure their neck or showing parents how to do it themselves.
“The best advice for collars or harnesses is always measure the dog. If a dressmaker’s tape isn’t available, a shoelace, a piece of string or even a belt can be used,” explains McCracken. “Measure snug and then add an extra five percent of the length to get the adjusted size needed. This is much more accurate than a standard ‘add two inches.’”
Retailers shouldn’t be afraid to ask shoppers questions and start a conversation about fitting or product preferences. Personalized service is one of the biggest advantages retailers have over online stores, and a smart way to make the most of the category.
“I think this is true of any product category—make a recommendation,” advises McCracken. “Find out from the pet owner what type of dog they have, how they like to spend time together and make a great recommendation for a product that you believe will be the best match.”
Overall, both retailers and manufacturers agree that eco-friendly pet products aren’t going away anytime soon.
“I think there is a huge market for more eco-friendly products to enter. I’m continuing to see more and more customers come in and ask about ethical sourcing of food and treats, recyclable toys and bags and more,” says Binding. “I think the trajectory of the eco-friendly market is upward.”
With so many new eco-friendly products hitting the market everyday, it’s more important than ever for retailers to stay up to date on the latest innovations, including collars and leashes.