Ask any fashion-forward person—accessories are everything. The right accessories can transform an ensemble from ho-hum to happening. Perhaps it is only logical then, given the pet-as-family-member trend, that the desire to accessorize would travel down the leash to our canine counterparts. And although collars, leashes and harnesses might more rightly be thought of as necessities rather than accessories, manufacturers of these items nevertheless work hard to marry fashion and function, and to come up with plenty of options designed to appeal to all ranges of individual preferences.
“Owners are becoming increasingly interested in fitting their dog with a unique collar and leash that reflects their dog’s personality,” says Wendy Jones, owner of Denver-based Walk-e-Woo, which manufactures and designs collars, leashes and harnesses. “Like a woman’s handbag or any other accessory, the collar essentially becomes an extension of the dog’s ‘style’. Dog owners are always looking for something different and unique for their special four-legger.”
Still, looks alone aren’t enough to woo dog owners. The products have to be durable and strong—safety is an overarching concern, says Diane Thomas, marketing manager for Coastal Pet Products, Inc. Located in Alliance, Ohio, the company manufactures and distributes a range of pet products, including dog and cat restraints. Thomas says this is especially the case now since, in an effort to combat pet obesity, more folks are hitting the sidewalks, streets and trails with their dogs—a trend she credits with the increased demand for harnesses the company is experiencing.
Nevertheless, style sells, and fashion trends in collars, leashes and harnesses is constantly evolving. Consequently, manufacturers constantly adapt designs to the latest trends says Sara Hickman, advertising specialist and graphic artist with Leather Brothers, Inc., a Conway, Ark.-based company that makes dog collars, leashes and harnesses, among other products.
Hot on the Market
What’s on fire right now? Manufacturers say there are various looks trending today. Hickman, for example, says that in the company’s Signature Leather line of collars and leads, the color pink is the company’s consistent best seller, while Jones notes that products made in the U.S. are gaining traction.
In dog collars, wider ones with edgy, on-trend patterns and interesting hardware seem to be catching on, says Thomas, who adds that this sparked the creation of Coastal’s new Sublime line of collars and leashes.
And Thomas is not the only one in the industry to note that pet owners are looking for something different. Unique is where it’s at, says Leslie Sandlin, co-owner of Swamp Dogs of LA. Based in Lafayette, La., the company offers two lines of collars—one made from alligator and one from cowhide. Both styles are festooned with pearls and alligator teeth, and come in variety of bright colors. “Because of the hides, no two collars are alike,” says Sandlin. “We’re finding that people are looking at these as special, one-of-a-kind collars.”
To see a round-up of some of the dog collars and leashes currently on the market,
scroll down or click HERE.
In the leash category, pet owners are seeking a combination of functionality, fun and safety, reports John Hatcher, president of EzyDog. “Training may be a solution for many customers,” says Hatcher, whose Sandpoint, Idaho-based company makes a line of products for dogs enjoying a rugged, outdoor lifestyle. “But typically, they’re looking for a product that will provide a quick fix that will make it easier to go for a nightly walk, rather than a training session.”
In order to find the best product for their needs, customers will require guidance from retailers. Adept questioning will help narrow the choices. In addition to asking what type of dog the person has, retailers should also inquire about:
What kinds of activities they like to do with their dogs, including what barriers they may have to doing these activities. This information will help retailers make informed leash recommendations, says Hatcher.
Hair/fur length. Round collars are best for long-haired dogs to keep their coats from matting; flat collars are best for short-haired dogs, says Hickman.
Type of dog. Small ones should always have a harness, says Thomas. Jones concurs, but expands this to all dogs. “Collars should always be worn for safety/ID purposes. But for walks, a harness is most comfy, secure and easier on the trachea.”
Owners of small dogs are also more likely to be interested in a “wardrobe,” meaning matching collar, leash and harness, Thomas explains, offering retailers the opportunity for add-on sales. She also advises asking if the owner often takes the dog in the car, in which case a safety, crash-tested harness might provide a good solution. If they do a lot of walking with their dog, a padded front harness could make the outings more pleasurable, she says. And if the dog is ever tied out, a metal buckle must be used.
Efficiently assisting customers requires that retailers become thoroughly knowledgeable about the products they’re offering. Effective merchandising is also essential for sending product out the door. Manufacturers offer plenty of support to help keep sales moving.
For example, Coastal shares space-management expertise, along with POP materials. It also has demonstration videos, a “selling specialist” program and offers a quality guarantee. Among other support, Walk-e-Woo has a trade-out program and a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. Swamp Dogs sells table and floor display stands made from pieces of cypress, fished from the swamps, along with a variety of Louisiana-themed material to set the tone and attract attention. Leather Brothers offers custom displays, and re-order strips to keep the product organized and fully stocked.
And EzyDog provides educational videos retailers can play in-store, along with small-footprint display racks and signage listing features and benefits as well as lifestyle images.
Because these items are often impulse buys, creating displays prompting this type of sale is worthwhile, especially since compared to other items like food, these products tend to be fairly high-margin, says Jones. In fact, she recommends retailers who sell food position collars, leashes and harnesses where customers have to pass by them on their way to pick up food.
Pet stores should also offer a broad selection of price points. Although some consumers are still on a budget, others aren’t deterred by higher price tags, especially when it comes to their pets, says Sandlin. Avoid half-hearted displays, since this makes retailers seem uncommitted to the category, says Hatcher, who believes retailers should instead offer a “full presentation” of sizes and colors. This is not only eye-catching, he explains, but it shows the retailer is excited about the products.
Jones suggests that retailers constantly refresh their display areas by featuring new styles every so often, or rearranging by color, size or other attributes. And be sure to keep displays organized and tidy, she adds.
“Presentation is everything,” Jones asserts. “There’s a fine line between a nice, beautiful full display and a cluttered mess. It’s also important to frequently restock and have all sizes [and styles] in stock—ready to go when the customer is in the buying mindset.”
On the Market:
COLLARS and LEASHES
2 Hounds Design, Inc. (2houndsdesign.com): The company, located in Monroe, N.C., manufactures custom dog collars and leashes, and is the exclusive licensee to manufacture the Freedom Harnesses. 2 Hounds specializes in large-breed dogs; they make products that fit dogs starting at around 15 lbs. all the way up to 250 lbs. or more. The company’s new Dragonflies collars offer a masculine and feminine version of dragonflies on a background of bold stripes. The collars are lined with satin for neck protection. Hardware choices include solid brass or silver-colored (nickel-plated brass). Collars are available as martingales or as side-release. Made in USA.
Coastal Pet Products (coastalpet.com): The Walk Right Padded Front Harness is designed to keep dogs from pulling while walking. The harness features a choice of front and back connections. The front connection guides the dog by the chest strap, redirecting its attention without neck strain. Once redirected, the back connection can be used. Comes in small, medium and large. Colors include black, blue, red and bright pink. The packaging includes a QR code that links to a demonstration video. Made in USA.
Dazzle Pet (dazzlepet.net): Formerly known as UltraMouse, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company manufactures rhinestone dog and cat collars, leads, barrettes and collar accessories, among other products. The company specializes in covering the collars with jewels, sewing on as many as possible. Their double, triple and five-row rhinestone collars are especially popular. Dazzle is also known for its flat-braid webbing, which allows the prong of the buckle to be put through the webbing in any spot beyond where the jewels are sewn. Webbing comes in black, pink, red and royal blue. Dazzle offers an array of collections including Color Rhinestone, Crystal Diamond, High Society, Rosebud, Dog Bone and many more.
EzyDog (ezydog.com): Manufacturers of the Original Shock Absorbing Leash, the company offers the recently released Zero Shock Leash. This incorporates a cushy neoprene loop handle with the company’s proprietary super-soft nylon, creating a very soft yet durable leash. The Zero Shock Technology features a shock-absorbing component to create a barrier between the walker and the pulling dog, drastically reducing the strain from a hard-pulling dog.
Leather Brothers(leatherbrothers.com): The company’s pink Signature Leather collars and leads are made with colorfast, high-quality, genuine leather. Nickel-plated buckles make the product durable and long-lasting. Collars come in a variety of sizes, styles and widths; matching leads are offered in two widths and lengths. Heart, Bones, Paws, or Spike and Stud ornaments accent the collars. Made in the USA.
Mirage Pet Products LLC (miragepetproducts.com): The company provides over 30,000 products to the pet industry; everything from collars to apparel. Mirage, headquartered in Nixa, Mo., has just added over 60 new patterns to its nylon collar collection. Stitched and made with heavy-duty hardware for tough handling and durability, the collars marry fashion and function. The American Owls collars are one of five in the company’s Patriotic Collection and is one of its best sellers.
Swamp Dogs of LA (swampdogsofla.com): The company manufactures the Genuine Louisiana Alligator Dog Collar and the Genuine Cowhide Dog Collar. The Cowhide collars are acid-dyed and are decorated with pearls and alligator teeth. They come in a variety of colors including black, blue, brown and red. The Alligator collars are also decorated with pearls and alligator teeth and come in 15 colors, such as red, purple, gold and bright green. Both highly durable collars can be used with any leash. Available in four sizes XS-XL. Made in USA.
Walk-e-Woo (walkewoo.com): The company offers a wide range of high-quality, original collars, leashes and harnesses in bold, bright, whimsical styles. It uses extra-durable nylon stitching and a special technique to securely attach their hardware to the durable but soft nylon webbing. The products utilize high-end side-release buckles with maximum break strength for comfort and safety. Made in USA.