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Fashion Focus

Color and style meet function and durability in the favored collars, leashes and harnesses of the season.


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For modern pet owners, the ability to flaunt their personality in the accessories they choose for their dogs and cats remains a top selling point.

“The aspirational imagery people see of pets on social media and Pinterest means that customers look for something more than just your average collar and leash when shopping for their pet these days,” said Jessica Knight, director and co-founder of DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear) and Outback Tails in Australia.

Chen-Chen Lee, president of Pooch Outfitters in Santa Monica, Calif., agreed.

“Trends come from all over the place including social media, street fashion and the fashion runways,” she said.

As more pet owners buy products that reflect their personal style, the runway trends are finding their way to pet aisles earlier than in the past, said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design in Indian Trail, N.C.

“We are continuing to see the pet product aisle reflect trends in the fashion industry,” she said. “It used to be more closely tied to textiles and home products, but we’ve been seeing trends hit the pet aisles earlier and earlier. Colors, patterns and themes that all tie directly to the fashion industry are on trend.”   

Yet experts in the collar, leash and harness category report that safety, durability and USA-made products are focus points for customers as well.

“Pet owners are becoming more discerning when it comes to products they choose for their pets,” said Bryant Baxter, sales and marketing coordinator for EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho. “In the leash, collar and harness category, colors and styles have always been the determining characteristics in choice, but now functionality and durability have also emerged as factors.”

At PETQuarters, which has stores in New South Wales, Australia, managing director Shane Spruce reported seeing a shift toward outdoor/adventure brands in dog products. And Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto, said durability ranks high for customers.

“With the active lifestyle of dogs who often get into trouble, roll around in mud, jump in the water and play rough with their park buddies, consumers are looking for products that will withstand the constant abuse by dogs as well as the terrain and elements,” Konorty said. “Consumers are looking for something that will be used all year long and sometimes under severe conditions.”

On the cat side, Spruce linked slower collar sales to a shrinking market “as fewer cats are allowed outdoors.”

However, Nina Wung, owner of Portland Pet Supply in Portland, Ore., reported an increase in sales during the summer months that she attributes to a rise in the number of cat owners who are taking their cats on walks.

“[Cat owners] are concerned about the fit and not letting the cat escape,” she added.

On the dog side, “More people are staying away from collars and prefer harnesses to prevent pulling on the neck,” Wung said.

With the trend toward strong, durable accessories, consumers want a variety to choose from, industry participants said.

“With more and more people taking their dogs outdoors, there has been a trend towards stronger and more durable leashes,” said Mark Watkins, sales manager of ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. “We also notice a trend for varied materials on dog walking products, such as leather, rope and different fashionable accessories. Modern dog owners love to express their personalities through their dogs’ accessories, purchasing products that relate to their own taste in accessories.”

Products that are made in the U.S. are also in increasingly high demand.

“We’re seeing more interest in USA-made products, both for product safety and because it keeps jobs here,” said Carole George, owner of Georgygirl Boutique in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore., agreed.

“USA-made product is definitely trending,” she said. “More consumers are asking where products are made and purchasing USA-made when given the choice.”

New Products

Harness Fashion and Function

The latest offerings in collars, leashes and harnesses embrace fashion trends and capitalize on quality materials.

To complement its Legacy and Vivid Collections of leather collars, ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., introduced leashes in the fall. Both items feature top-grain leather, supermicrofiber lining and rose-gold accents.

“We have been excited to see that fashion-conscious consumers have embraced the features and are happy to have luxurious and high-quality designer accessories that are still very reasonably priced,” said Mark Watkins, sales manager.

Also last fall, Pooch Outfitters launched a line of harnesses made of comfortable, durable fabrics chosen to coordinate with the latest fashion trends.

“The trends for spring 2018 include lavender, dark denim, florals, plaids and pink,” said Chen-Chen Lee, president of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company.

The Victoria Harness is a floral-print harness adorned with rhinestones and tulle trimmings. The Cupcake Harness features ruffles, spread collars, rhinestones and embroidery details. The Daisy Harness has floral prints and is adorned with lace and rhinestones. The Brooks Shirt Collar and Riley Bow Tie is a dress-up collar with detachable tie or bow tie. The Celina Harness is made of a tweed fabric with a heart print and decorated with rhinestones.

Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore., recently upgraded its patented metal Latch-Lock airline-style buckle for smoother operation designed to outlast the collar’s lifetime, said president Lanette Fidrych.

Jessica Knight, director and co-founder of DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear) launched a new company, Outback Tails, in Australia in October and plans to offer the line to U.S. retailers at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., this month. The line includes a leather collar and leash collection.

“The art I’ve sourced to feature in the range has all been painted by aboriginal artist Pauline Napangardi Gallagher, who is an indigenous Australian and grandmother of 22,” Knight said. “She’s so talented, and I’m honored to be working with her on this project.”

Not wanting to “spoil the surprise,” Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto, said the company plans to debut some new items at Global Pet Expo.

“These will include some brand-new training products—part of which have been requested by many customers, and some of which are brand-new developments,” Konorty said.

In addition to offering new colors and conchos for its Georgygirl No-Choke Leather Harnesses, Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Georgygirl Boutique plans to add harnesses for larger dogs in the spring. Made in the USA, the harnesses are designed to distribute the pull of the leash evenly over a dog’s chest and shoulders so it does not impact a dog’s trachea, according to company officials.

“We have a lot of people asking for good harnesses for larger dogs, and are working to meet this demand,” said Carole George, owner. “We will be launching some of our new products at the America’s Family Pet Expo in Costa Mesa, Calif. [in April].”

How to Craft an Ideal Accessories Assortment

With space at a premium, pet specialty retailers said they must build an inventory of collars, leashes and harnesses that offers choices without being overwhelming.

According to Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto, there are “several key components at play: geographic location, size of store, demographics and cash flow.”

With these factors in mind, industry participants offered four key tips for pet specialty retailers to curate an ideal assortment of collars, leashes and harnesses for their stores.

1. Do your research

“Online research will show the type of products trending best for various types of customers,” said Mark Watkins, sales manager of ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif.

2. Know your customers

“No one knows their customer better than the pet specialty retailer, and understanding their customers’ needs helps them to build an ideal assortment,” said Bryant Baxter, sales and marketing coordinator for EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho. “For example, if running is popular in their community, then reflective, hands-free leashes and high-performance harnesses would be a natural match.”

For Matt Wish, vice president of Aventura Pups in Miami, the more practical items do best.

“The things that make sense are selling well,” he said. “The consumer wants something practical.”

At Portland Pet Supply in Portland, Ore., owner Nina Wung said she does not carry lines that are very high-end.

“I price [accessories] as a consumer, not as a store owner,” she said. “Would I pay that much for it? Quality is important and reasonably priced.”

3. Keep it simple

“Start with three styles in sizes that are most popular for the demographics of the store,” said Chen-Chen Lee, president of Pooch Outfitters in Santa Monica, Calif.

In this vein, PETQuarters, which has stores in New South Wales, Australia, carries entry-level nylon and leather, mid-range and premium options, said Shane Spruce, managing director.

4. Chase the rainbow

“Consider the full range of colors in your store,” said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design in Indian Trail, N.C. “And make sure you have both male and female designs represented.”  

5 Merchandising Methods for Accessories

To truly capitalize on sales of collars, leashes and harnesses, pet specialty retailers need a strategy to best highlight these accessories, industry insiders said.

For Matt Wish, vice president of Aventura Pups in Miami, strategy is essential when displaying and selling these accessories from his mall kiosk.

“I’m very visual, so when I design things, I basically scale everything down because I’m on a cart in the mall so I’m pushed to use my space well,” he said. “I use Instagram and Facebook, so when my customer base follows me, they see the new stuff. I also take pictures of the dogs trying on the products.”

For traditional brick-and-mortar locations, retailers and manufacturers offered these five merchandising approaches to support this category:

1. Create a section

“This is a category where the adage that ‘stock sells stock’ rings true,” said Shane Spruce, managing director of PETQuarters, which has stores in New South Wales, Australia.

Portland Pet Supply in Portland, Ore., has a whole wall for collars and leashes, and a section that’s all harnesses, said owner Nina Wung.

“[We] group as many sizes and styles as we can in that location,” she added.

Jessica Knight, director and co-founder of DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear) and Outback Tails in Australia, recommended thinking outside of the box when merchandising the category.

“My Outback range looks amazing hanging on old coat racks or from nails that have been hammered into old palettes,” she said. “It’s all about creating the theater that tells the story of the brand. You need to create impact so people notice you, and the best way to do that is to fill a wall with a bit of everything.”

2. Use hanging racks

The pet stores that Carole George, owner of Georgygirl Boutique in Walnut Creek, Calif., works with have displayed these products on hanging racks by size.

“In boutiques, they can also be displayed in cases since they are a luxury harness,” she added.

3. Model the items and help customers try them on

“Display them on a dog mannequin or put it on the store dog,” said Chen-Chen Lee, president of Pooch Outfitters in Santa Monica, Calif.

George agreed that having good mannequins showing the product is important, and added that it’s helpful to have “knowledgeable salespeople to help fit the dogs.”

“Letting a customer try the product on their dog can allow them to see and feel the difference of a functional product that they will be excited to outfit their dog with,” said Bryant Baxter, sales and marketing coordinator for EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho.

4. Provide accurate size charts

“All harnesses need to be fit to the dog, so having accurate size charts is important,” George said.

5. Display by brand or function

“Carving out a space that is dedicated to a brand shows to the customer that the store believes in the product,” Baxter said. “Creating a ‘house leash’ is a great way to put a functional leash in a customer’s hands to experience the difference.”

At her store, Wung separates out the functional and no-pull items from other harnesses, “because when customers come, we ask what they’re looking for, e.g., to correct pulling behavior, etc., and then we guide them to the no-pull section and help them with fit,” she said. “Functional is in its own separate place because it needs more explanation and help with fit.”

With a background in retail, Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto, knows “just how important it is to make sure your customers find what they are looking for quickly and in a pleasant setting.

“I propose that displays be set up in terms of size, design and color, if space allows,” he added. “A customer will look for two things to start: (a) An appealing design/look, and (b) their dog’s appropriate size. Therefore, if the collars are arranged in such a way that they can easily find their desired size and their particular color, they will have a much more pleasant shopping experience.”

Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design in Indian Trail, N.C., agreed that organization is key.

“Keep collars and leashes organized,” she said. “It is easy for them to look like piles of spaghetti; keep everything straight and it will sell better.” 

Mark Watkins, sales manager of ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., said that displays that allow shoppers to try items on their dog are optimal.

“I’ve also found that the best merchandisers tend to display the leashes and collars in a way that will both draw attention and categorize them to make it easy for customers to find what they need,” he added.

Color blocking is also a great way to keep the section organized, Navarro said.

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