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Unleashing Sales

Having a great selection of collars and leashes that are thoughtfully merchandised can spell sales success for retailers.


Leashes and collars come in a cornucopia of styles and colors. From simple and understated to dazzling and bright to funky and functional, the market is filled with options.

Many aspects of the pet industry mirror human trends. Often, people who pay attention to fashion trends will apply that sense of style to their pets.

“The biggest trends are the accessories of bows and buds,” said AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner of Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois. “It’s an easy and fun way to update the look without purchasing an entire new collar and leash set. We also love to add on removable tag rings or accessories like Freeze Tags or collar lights.”

Climate can dictate trends, as is the case at Odyssey Pets in Dallas. The warm climate sees many dogs enjoying the pool, so many pet owners are looking for odorless and waterproof rubberized collars, said co-owner Sherry Redwine. Other strong sellers include the DOOG brand of products, including a walking or running belt that connects to the leash, allowing for hands-free dog walking.

“Overall, we’ve noticed the trend of quality and function over trendy pizzazz,” she said, adding that she has replaced the store’s blingy collars with the Lupine line, which she said is functional and comes in cute colors, and the Dogline line of leather collars.

Kelly Drysden, manager of Leisure Leash in Temecula, Calif., said that she’s seen an increased interest in leashes for active dog owners, such as hands-free leashes that make it easier to travel with a dog.

German-based Flexi, which has U.S. offices in Charlotte, N.C., is launching a range of tape leashes called Flexi Giant. Managing director Richard Schmidt said the Flexi Giant is designed specifically for dog owners who love robust leashes. It “ensures dog owners have the most enjoyable experience by providing an ergonomic soft grip for higher comfort, 26 feet of tape for greater freedom of movement, a patented, single brake button for convenient, safe control of dogs, and a neon-colored belt for higher visibility,” Schmidt said.

At Dog.Dog.Cat. in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., co-owner George Richter reported that feature-packed collars and leashes, such as those that double as poop-bag holders and are reflective, adjustable or adaptable to two dogs, are trending up. These items appeal to Richter because the store “can offer a collar at a slightly higher retail price, and the customer perceives value in buying an atypical ‘big-box store’ collar.”

Another major concern for pet owners is safety, which factors in to leash and collar buying decisions, said Kirbay Preuss, floor manager at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. Preuss said that breakaway collars do well for them, along with no-pull harnesses.

Gordie Spater, co-owner of Salisbury, Mass.-based Kurgo, agreed that safety is a huge concern.

“Our market research shows that pet owners are concerned with safety and control when it comes to walking and outdoor products,” he said. “They want products that help them control their dog so they can protect them from other dogs, vehicles or getting into dangerous situations.”

A few new releases for Kurgo include the Humble Leash (a rope leash); the Ascender Leash, a nautical rope leash with a slipknot; and new colors and designs of the Muck Collar. And to appease the active dog owner, in addition to the running system that includes a harness, leash and running belt, this fall the company will release a system for skijoring, canicross and other joring sports.

An eye-catching design is only one of many features that pet owners might seek in these products.

“The hottest trends are products that aid in training, as well as fresh, fashion-forward collars and leashes that are not only aesthetically appealing, but also have the quality, comfort and durability behind them,” said Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto.

Proud pet owners also like to advertise their pets’ story.

“I have noticed a big trend in collars that say ‘adopted’ and ‘rescued.’ I have also noticed that zebra print and skulls and cross- bones are hot sellers,” Preuss said.

Selecting Stock

Retailers who are in tune with their customers and their wants have a better shot of stocking merchandise that will sell, a principle that Tesene lives by.

“We tend to stock a consistent selection of best-sellers and then rotate in seasonal selections,” she said.

On the flip side, while listening to customers is important, Redwine said, “You can’t bring in a whole line of collars and leashes just because one person likes them.”

Tesene advised retailers to avoid getting stuck in a rut of offering the same patterns.

“Switch it up and have fun,” she said. “With some of the trendier designs like mustaches or doughnuts, it’s smart to go a bit deeper with the stock at first, but then be quicker to faze it out to make room for new designs.”

Redwine has tweaked her leashes and collar selection over the years based in part on the recession. She said that people were not buying what she calls the “frou frou blingy type stuff,” so she transitioned to more practical items, such as slip leads.

For the most part, though, she said stocking the store with leashes and collars has been a trial-and-error learning experience.

Having a selection that caters to local preferences and tastes is also key.

Preuss Pets is located in a city that is surrounded by rural areas. Preuss noticed that the more rural customers tend to like the orange and camouflage patterns, a nod to the hunters in the area, while city-based clientele enjoys the more-whimsical patterns. The retailer’s solution is to stock a bit of both.

Display Tricks of the Trade

Clustering brands together can work well, particularly as many leashes and collars, even though they’re sold separately, are meant to be used together and complement or fully match styles.

“One of the best things I did was rainbow some brightly colored leashes on the endcap of my collar/leash section,” Redwine said. “It’s eye-catching, plus, when someone buys a harness and wants a matching leash, they just go to the rainbow and pick the one they need.”

Tesene pairs some of the removable bows and buds with collars and leashes on the regular displays.

“This calls attention to the fact that we carry these products, but also gives customers ideas on how they can use these add-ons,” she said. “We like to display collars and harnesses on mannequins in the front window, by the collar displays and throughout the stores.”

People like to see how the products that they are purchasing look out of the package. For this reason, Preuss Pets uses mannequins to model leashes and collars.

“We have also partnered with a local woman who makes dog bandannas that slide onto dog collars,” Preuss said. “We find that sliding a bandanna on a standard-color collar helps to sell the combo.”

She added that displaying collars by color works well, such as grouping pastels with pastels.

Preuss does something a little different with harnesses. She keeps them by the checkout counter, so if a dog comes in and is difficult to control, the staff can demonstrate how a harness works on the dog, potentially leading to a sale.

Richter recommends displaying leashes neatly. Also, to make sure the leashes are not hidden behind collars, he displays groups of leashes that might have unique features, for example, or will group them by manufacturer, along with accompanying products.

“Our custom-built displays are the silhouette of a dog house, with the lighting built into each unit, shingles and all,” Richter said. “These have been a fantastic way for displaying collars and highlighting a category we have always tried to emphasize.”

Konorty suggested that leash and collar displays be set up by size, design and color, as customers will look first for size, then move on to look for their desired color.

Cross-merchandising certain products together might lead to sales in closely related categories.

“We find that the outdoor dog products do well when merchandised with leashes, collars and harnesses because these products are all for getting outside the home and being active,” Spater said. “Many people might not think about a backpack, but when they are buying a leash or harness, they are in the active mindset.”

Manufacturers can also be helpful to retailers looking for merchandising tools.

“We have provided a photo display that highlights the various positions our leash can work with,” Drysden said. “For instance, Leisure Leash is a short leash, and a standard-length leash, and offers a hands-free option.”

Drysden added that the company can provide a video clip to be played in-store to demonstrate the leash’s functions.

Schmidt noted that retailers that equip the point of sale with Flexi-brand displays generally experience a 20 percent increase in sales.

“We offer a large choice of rotating displays, promotion displays, panels, testers, crowners, etc.,” he added.

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