Collaring Natural Sales
by P.S. Jones
November 1, 2011
The trend toward natural products has impacted the collars and leashes category in a big way, and pet specialty retailers must be ready to respond.



“We love our pets, and we love our environment ... Why not buy products that support the benefit of both?” That’s  Zach Schuchart talking. He’s the sales manager and co-owner of The Good Dog Company, a manufacturer of natural collars and leashes made from certified-organic hemp and cotton canvas. Based out of Colorado, the company has been operating for the past seven years, using the local workforce and natural ingredients to produce its products.

The Good Dog Company is just one company in the rapidly expanding natural pet product market. More companies than ever before are offering either only natural products or at least a line of natural options in the leashes and collars category. And while Schuchart see this as the natural evolution of the pet industry, he cautions retailers and pet owners to approach the category with a critical eye.

“I think retailers and consumers, now more than ever, should ask questions about the company they are buying product from—Where is it made? What is it made of?  What makes this good for our pets? Some recycled products are great for the environment, but are they OK for our pets to ingest if chewed?”

Natural pet collars and leashes aren’t necessarily a new trend. Earthdog, an eco-friendly focused pet product company owned by Dave and Kym Colella, has been doing this for over 12 years. The cornerstone of their business has always been about what’s best for the dogs who wear and use their products. Just like humans, pets can develop allergies reactions and skin irritations if the materials close to their skin have harsh chemicals or other irritants used to manufacture them.

Pet owners are also concerned about what goes into their pets’ mouths. When a dog is chewing on a leash, it’s comforting to know that he won’t accidentally ingest anything that can harm him. These concerns send pet owners looking for natural products they can use in the everyday care of their animals.


What’s Inside?
As popular and lucrative as the natural products market is, a lot of manufacturers want to be in on it. At the same time, there isn’t a governing organization or agency that certifies what’s “natural” and what isn’t. So there are many products on the shelves that say “natural” on the packaging but aren’t what consumers are looking for.

The best way to spot a truly natural product is by taking a look at the materials it’s made with. Unprocessed materials or materials in the first processed state are widely considered natural. In the collars and leashes department, this means using organic materials like hemp, cotton and soy. The manufacturers’ materials are listed on their websites or right on the inside of the collar.

Earthdog collars and leashes are mostly made of hemp, a favorite among natural manufacturers. Hemp is hypoallergic, completely biodegradable and stronger than many non-natural materials. It’s also easy to grow organically because it doesn’t need pesticides to flourish.

The people behind The Good Dog Company are also big fans of hemp. “Hemp is a hypoallergenic fiber, which is much less invasive on the coat of a dog or cat with skin allergies or food-born allergies that cause their coat to itch,” says Schuchart. “Hemp is also a naturally anti-bacterial fiber, which makes all of our collars a great choice for our best friends that tend to, well let’s just say it, stink. The bacteria growth that causes the ‘stink’ will not grow in the collar.”


Brains & Beauty
Pet owners are drawn to products that look good but function well. The question is which one will sell a natural collar to a pet owner. Schuchart says, “It must be both. Just because it is made of Earth-friendly, pet-friendly material doesn’t mean that it has a free pass to look bad.  And more importantly, just because it looks awesome and will make your pet look very chic, doesn’t give it a free pass to be made of materials that are either harmful to the environment, your pet or both.” 

Natural collars and leashes are popular with the general public, but certain groups of consumers are more likely to come into the store looking for these products. Eco-conscious consumers already have environmental friendly products at the forefront of their minds when shopping. Owners of pets with allergies or that are sensitive to materials like nylon or polyester are already looking for a collar or leash that won’t irritate their pets’ skin.

Everyone else requires a little education to understand the benefits and value of buying natural pet products. Schuchart warns against relying on the look of the product to sell it because pricing may make it hard for a consumer to weigh the pros and cons. “If you have a $6 collar sitting next to a $20-30 [collar], there must be a differentiating factor that makes the product worth more to the consumer.  You can’t just rely on looks alone.”


Hitting the Shelves
The first thing any retailer interested in tapping the natural collar and leashes market should do is research which product manufacturers it wants to work with. Start with sorting out the products that are truly natural from the ones just marketed that way. Remember that “natural” is subjective, and you must read the materials lists to make a decision. Look for certified-organic materials. Don’t be afraid to contact the company to ask questions about its manufacturing process. The ones that make truly natural products will be open and eager to talk about the authenticity of their claims.

It’s also important to discuss the order lead time because the manufacturing process for some natural product lines are different than that of the traditional options. Retailers want a product they can get on their shelves in reasonable time, and it’s smart to have a clear idea of just how far in advance inventory will need to be ordered. Retailers will also want to make sure that the manufacturer is willing to be a partner in the success of their product. A successful retailer/manufacturer relationship will have a healthy exchange of information between the two, including selling techniques and product information.

And remember that store staff is a retailer’s biggest asset in selling these natural products.  By giving employees the knowledge needed to pass on information to the consumer, retailers can increase sales significantly. Hold product information sessions or give out free samples for the staff to use on their own pets. This will make them more convincing to customers because they will have hands-on experience with the products.

“All customers that walk through your door are not experts in the pet industry and are longing to be educated on what is best for the beloved pet,” says Schuchart. “Make sure your employees share your values and are educated on your product lines. In a competitive world, customer experience in your store may just be that little bit of difference between the customer spending $100 in your store or going down the road.”