The Outside World
As dog owners become more active with their pets outdoors, demand for products that fit the adventure—whether it be leisurely walks or advanced hikes—have grown.
Nothing gets a dog’s tail wagging more furiously than the question, “Who wants to go for a walk?” Not only do dogs love to go outdoors and explore, but the exercise from regular walks contributes to good health. While some dogs like leisurely strolls, others are more adventurous, preferring runs, hikes or boating. No matter the adventure, products for outdoor activities have a dominant place in the dog market.
As people engage in healthier and more active lifestyles, they often bring their pets along for company—while the dog receives ancillary benefits.
“Today, people include their pets on routine activities ranging from walking and hiking to vacations,” said Cathy LeDonne, product development manager at Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio.
Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear in Bend, Ore., said the company’s customers have reported their pets as “their trail mates, biking buddies and paddling partners.”
While the desire to get outdoors is universal, consumer buying trends for dog walking and outdoor adventure equipment often reflects specific geographic locale.
Although Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., is located in an urban setting, the store is not far from rural areas; so outdoor adventure products are popular, as are products catering to city dwellers.
Due to Preuss Pets’ proximity to a rescue shelter to, the store also sees a lot of new dog owners seeking advice on how to best walk their rescues, said Kirbay Preuss, general manager.
“We see a lot of demand for products that help to minimize pulling,” Preuss said.
Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., also noted dog owners’ interest in products that stop pulling during walks. He added that owners are turning to rubberized and elastic leashes as well as harnesses, which are generally safer for a dog’s trachea.
“Harnesses minimize risk and allow the dog more comfort and freedom during outdoor sessions,” Shrout said. “The front-of-chest-leash-attachment harness works the best to control pulling and helps encourage continued positive training methods.”
To make walks safer, Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois, began carrying a new light-up collar.
“Collar lights that can be recharged using a USB plug are a huge value for customers, making it super easy to recharge the light,” said co-owner AdreAnne Tesene.
Focus on Fit and Function
Whether it’s a leash, harness or life vest, when it comes to products for outdoor adventure, the fit is crucial, which is why dogs should be able to try them on while in the store, according to industry insiders.
“Fit is key for wearable gear, so making it easy for consumers to know what size is best for their dog when in-store is key to customer satisfaction and a happy dog,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound in Denver, adding that girth plays the most important role in getting sizing correct. To that end, the company offers online, video and signage options.
“Having a tape measure on or near a display is a great way to help customers measure their dog in-store or simply a sign on display with ‘Ask an Associate’ to measure your dog,” he added.
Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., said that if customers understand the fit and function of a product, they are much more likely to purchase it.
If a real dog is unavailable for demonstrating purposes, a mannequin can also be a good visual tool, said Susan Strible, director of marketing at Ruffwear in Bend, Ore.
Even lifestyle images can do the trick, insiders added.
With so many products in this category, there are many creative ways in which to feature them.
“Display colored leads and harnesses in a color pattern that is appealing to the eye,” said Kirbay Preuss, general manager of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “Rotate which colors you stock in front based on the season.”
In addition to offering a good assortment of colors and sizes, it is important to focus on communicating how these products can benefit consumers as well as their dogs, according to Bryant Baxter, sales and marketing coordinator at EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho.
“Display imagery or exhibits that your customers can relate to and emphasize how a product’s unique key features can benefit their lifestyle,” he said. “We find it helpful to show videos and lifestyle images that we provide to our customers as people can instantly relate to this type of display.”
Shrout has noticed that accessibility is a key factor when it comes to sales in the outdoor gear and leash category. To that end, Long Leash on Life clips its collars to bars, which creates quick access for shoppers, he said.
Strible suggested that retailers merchandise products by brand rather than by category, as customers can see how the products work together.
Cathy LeDonne, product development manager at Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio, said merchandising similar products from different categories can help retailers tell a story.
“For example, setting an endcap with specialty leashes, travel water bowls, seat covers, travel harnesses and water-friendly toys help create a one-stop shop for the adventure-seeking pet owner,” LeDonne said.
Outward Hound in Denver has debuted several products for dogs that love a little adventure. These include the Dawson Lifejacket, Durango Coat, Telluride 2-in-1 Coat with 3M Thinsulate, Silverton Coat with 3M Thinsulate, Hipster Waist Pack and 2-in-1 Bottle & Bowl. The company also added five patterns to its Dublin Dog Collar line.
“For 2018, our updates include adding mesh for our backpacks to keep dogs cooler, additional multiuse storage on backpacks, increased adjustability for belly straps to maximize fit and balance on lifejackets and backpacks, along with more durable material usage on existing backpacks and lifejackets,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound.
In February, Ruffwear in Bend, Ore., launched the Knot-a-Hitch campsite dog-hitching system, which allows dogs to roam while remaining on leash.
“Our inspiration came from the materials and techniques of rock climbers, so we included strong, reflective kernmantle rope and an easy-to-use tensioning system,” said Susan Strible, director of marketing.
This month, the company will launch several more products, including the Trail Runner System and the Hi & Light Harness, a lightweight, low-profile adventure harness with four points of adjustment.
Coastal Pet Products’ popular K9 Explorer line has been extended with K9 Explorer Brights.
“The Brights extension features a reflective buckle for added nighttime safety, reflective stitching and natural colors that coordinate with outdoor scenery,” said Cathy LeDonne, product development manager for the Alliance, Ohio-based company.
The company’s active sport line, Pro, which includes reflective, bright, team-colored collars and leashes, will be expanded this summer to include a line of fully adjustable waterproof collars, leashes and harnesses in fun, bright colors, LeDonne added.
Kurgo is making some updates to its outdoor line.
“This spring, we will be updating our Journey Harness to make it even better for hiking and running,” said Kitter Spater, co-founder and chief creative officer of Kurgo in Salisbury, Mass. “We will be adding more padding and making the chest plate more comfortable. We will also be switching the buckles to aluminum, which means they will be strong but rust free for dogs that tend to get wet while adventuring.
“We will also be making our award-winning Quantum Leashes reflective,” Spater added. “This is one of our most popular hands-free leashes as it can be adjusted six different ways to run or hike hands free.”
Earlier this year, Kurgo launched its joring line, a system to use for joring sports with dogs. Spater said that these sports, popular in Europe and gaining traction in the U.S., are sports where the dog pulls a person in a similar manner as a sled dog would.
“On the apparel side, our new Cooling Coat for dogs will be launching at retail this spring,” Spater said. “Since dogs cannot sweat, this coat can be wetted and placed on your dog. It will emulate sweating and wick the heat off a dog, cooling them during extreme temperatures. This spring, we will also be launching the Mud Dog Rain Coat, which is a high-quality rain coat for dogs that are out in the wet hiking and running.”
New Materials & Technologies
Manufacturers are keyed in to the product attributes that consumers demand in the dog walking and outdoor gear segment and are incorporating materials and introducing products to serve those needs.
Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound in Denver, said that consumers are more aware than ever of what they are buying and what materials are in the products that they buy.
“More technical properties from the outdoor industry continues to come to the pet industry like waterproof, breathable materials, neoprene, 3M Thinsulate, adjustable belly straps to maximize fit and balance, along with eco-friendly materials, bright colors and progressive manufacturing processes,” Parness said.
Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear in Bend, Ore., said the company has used and adapted materials used for constructing tents to develop its performance dog gear.
“We launched what’s now the Quencher Bowl on the premise that if waterproof tent fabric can keep water out, it can also keep it in,” Strible said.
For environmentally conscious consumers, manufacturers are using recycled materials to make leads, such as Lupine Pet’s eco line, said Kirbay Preuss, general manager of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.
Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., added that other natural materials such as hemp and bamboo also are trending for leashes.
For those concerned with safety, safety-locking mechanisms and reflective components are available. Correlated with safety is the demand for products that are made in the USA. Preuss said that durable products are important as well, and she is seeing fire hose as a newer material. To meet the concern for cleanliness, manufacturers are introducing antimicrobial collars to the market.