Whether walking, hiking, training or simply playing, today’s collars, leashes and harnesses are elevating the experience for dog owners and their pets, encouraging and enhancing togetherness.
Over the last decade or so, dog collars, leashes and harnesses have evolved from very simple, straightforward accessories into ones that are quite fabulous. It isn’t a stretch to say that this category is characterized by thoughtful fabric and design choices and technological advancements that make the act of walking, adventuring or traveling with a dog easier than ever for both pet and owner. And this has not come at the expense of appearance—today’s collars, leashes and harnesses aptly combine form with function, giving fashionistas plenty of options for accessorizing. But no matter what, manufacturers keep canine comfort and safety first and foremost in their minds.
The other great thing about this category is that many of these products will prove especially appealing to older customers. Design advancements have helped make walking dogs less taxing on joints and muscles, such as through leashes that impede pulling or absorb shock. This has the added benefit of encouraging more activity, as well as greater togetherness and companionship, which is healthier for all concerned.
Consumers are looking for less stressful and kinder ways to walk with and enjoy their pets, says Paul Nolan, CEO, U.S. Division, The Company of Animals. Located in Davenport, Fla., the company provides a wide range of training products designed to strengthen and improve the bond between pet and parent, says Nolan.
“Unfortunately, some owners resort to inhumane options in an attempt to train their pet,” he says. “On the contrary, today there are a host of walking and training accessories that are considerably humane and effective, [such as] the HALTI Headcollar, for example.”
They are also looking for durable and stylish products, Nolan adds. Jennifer Cao agrees. Cao is vice president and designer of ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif., company that produces high-quality pet products for dogs, including collars and leashes.
“We see a continual need for durable products, collars and leashes that can withstand the elements,” she says. “Whether it’s a weekend camping trip or a short afternoon hike, consumers are more frequently taking their pets on outdoor adventures and need gear that will keep up with an active lifestyle. Additionally, consumers are looking for trendy accessories that reflect their own personal style.”
According to Ross Labelson, owner and CEO of Buckle-Down, Inc., the pet owner’s style is very much an important consideration. Headquartered in Farmingdale, N.Y., the company manufactures licensed fashion accessories and pet products, as well as toys, collars and leads.
“Pet collars and leashes are as much of an accessory for humans as they are for the pets that wear them. A pet’s collar and leash is as much of a representation of the owner as it is of the pet,” Labelson explains. “Individuality and a sense of personal identity are two things that influence our customers’ buying behavior.”
But perhaps of greatest importance is that pet owners want these products to “accommodate or even enable their lifestyle needs, allowing them and their dogs to do the things they love most,” says Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator at EzyDog. The Sandpoint, Idaho-based company provides products for dogs and owners who enjoy a rugged outdoor lifestyle, included harnesses, leashes, collars, life jackets and travel products.
“We [also] find that pet owners appreciate value,” he adds. “This doesn’t necessarily mean being price-sensitive, but it does create a need to communicate why a product is worth more. [For example], many times pet owners will have multiple products for different activities. They may have a training collar and a walking harness and a car safety harness. The functionality is different and the value of having different products is well-understood.”
Selling the Value
Helping customers understand the value of the products is essential to maximizing sales in this category, particularly since some pet owners may still underestimate the difference the right collar, leash or harness can make.
“A lot of people think that a leash is just a leash and a collar is nothing more than a collar,” says Baxter. “What’s unfortunate is how sometimes these same people don’t realize how a proper leash or collar could make their lives easier or even allow them and their pets to enjoy life more. Some dogs cower at the sight of a harness before going out for a walk,” he continues. “But, when presented with a different harness, that same dog could be jumping for joy.”
That underscores the necessity of offering an ample selection, since this betters the chance of making a sale.
“Customers want options,” says Labelson. “Some retailers continue to believe that customers are only interested in simple, solid collars. However, more and more customers are interested in vibrant, bold designs that help their pets stand out. [Plus] not all dogs are built the same. Some larger breeds require extra strength when it comes to collars and leads.”
Skimping on the selection may also cost pet specialty retailers not just one sale but multiple sales to the same customer, since, as Cao observes, pet owners tend to buy more than one of these items during a visit to the store.
“For example, they will purchase a collar for everyday, one for going outdoors and perhaps one for special occasions,” she says. “Consumers have expressed they want accessories that are appropriate for the event or occasion.”
Smart merchandising will get these products moving out the doors. For example, Cao suggests displaying them in multiple areas of the store, says Cao. For example, ZippyPaws’ Climbers Rope Leashes could be placed with other outdoorsy items, while the company’s leather leashes and collars might be better suited to more of a boutique setting.
Retailers should provide informational signage that helps cut through confusion, a common problem in this category, says Nolan. “Pet parents often feel overwhelmed when they approach this part of the store because there are so many options to choose from,” he explains. “At Company of Animals, we’re planning to introduce a range of new POS aides in 2018 to make it even easier for busy customers to shop the set.”
There’s plenty of opportunity for retailers to get creative with how they arrange the products in their collar, leash and harness section, from visually appealing color-blocking to creating themed collections.
“Some of our best results come from segmenting our products into specific collections for customers to browse through,” says Labelson. “For example, having a winter collection, a superheroes collection and a movie collection allows customers to browse these specific designs in a more user-friendly way.”
Active engagement with customers is an essential part of growing sales in this category and ensuring customers find exactly what they’re looking for. Baxter encourages retailers to inquire about things like dogs’ walking styles to make the best recommendation.
“While a Quick Fit Harness may be a better solution for the pet owner with a well-behaved dog, a Chest Plate Harness might be a better option for a dog who is an escape artist,” says Baxter.
Retailers should also encourage handling or testing out collars and leashes. Giving customers a tactile experience they can’t get online is important for brick-and-mortar stores, says Nolan. Customers purchasing products in this category really need to closely inspect, feel and tinker with the items. Make this easy to do by keeping them accessible.
Pet specialty retailers would be wise to think about expanding their assortments, taking full advantage of the technological advancements that are transforming this category into a dynamic and very profitable one, says Nolan.
“This definitely isn’t a sleepy section of the store anymore,” he says. “People are actively seeking innovative ways to make walking, training and playing with their pets easier, less stressful and more enjoyable. Retailers can look forward to healthy margins for these value-added, premium-priced products.”