Collar the Market
Pet owners demand safety, comfort and style in collars, leashes and harnesses for both cats and dogs.
While style remains important, pet owners are pushing for collars, leashes and harnesses that place greater emphasis on safety and comfort, and manufacturers are meeting this challenge with a host of new products.
“I have noticed a real push to focus on quality, improved fit and comfort in harnesses,” said Greg Freyberg, brand manager for Ruffwear in Bend, Ore. “Many people are choosing to replace their collars with a comfortable everyday walking harness.”
Ruffwear recently released the Front Range Harness, developed to be comfortable, secure and easy to fit, Freyberg said.
The company also is launching a line of handcrafted Frisco leather leashes and collars next year.
“Durable, water resistant and sustainably produced in the U.K., these classic leashes and collars will come in three great colors (melt water teal, wild plum purple and canyonlands orange),” Freyberg said.
Harnesses made from mesh or fabric are gaining in popularity over traditional Roman and step-in harnesses, said Alison Schwartz, manager at All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C.
But dogs aren’t the only pets that can benefit from a harness. Adventurous cat owners are purchasing them, too.
Retailers might need to temper expectations and ensure cat owners realize that walking a cat is not the same thing as walking a dog, said Tobi Kosanke, president of Crazy K Farm in Hempstead, Texas.
“When you take a cat for a walk, you are really being taken on a walk by the cat,” Kosanke said. “The key to controlling the cat is to keep the leash behind the cat and to use gentle pressure to guide the cat in the direction you would prefer the cat to go in. And be ready to periodically sit down to smell the roses, or grass, or dirt.”
Focus on Training
Training collars, harnesses and leashes are selling well, but manufacturers and retailers agreed that these items need to be marketed and displayed differently than their everyday counterparts.
At All Pets Considered, training products are grouped together with muzzles and specialty leash products (such as traffic leads and seat belt adapters), Schwartz said.
The store looks to trainers when stocking them.
“We partner together with local trainers to find the tools that they prefer and offer a special discount when customers are referred by the trainer to our store to purchase the training items,” Schwartz said. “This ensures that we keep in stock what the trainers in our area like to have their customers utilize and makes certain that they can refer their customers to us for their needs.”
It’s important that sales staff offer information on training so owners choose the correct products, said Nathan Burkiett, COO of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which has stores in Georgia.
“Sales associates should never assume that customers know how to use the training gear and should always offer assistance,” he said. “Our sales associates also tell customers they can come back with their pets if they need help with fitting or usage.”
Faye Condit, owner of Sadie’s Pet Products in San Ramon, Calif., suggests displaying a video playing on a loop to demonstrate how training products work.
“This is a great tool to [capture the] attention of moving traffic in retail stores,” Condit said.
Earlier this year, Condit released the Sadie’s 8 in 1 Security Leash. With its individual grip points, it offers eight different lengths in one 6-foot leash. Pet owners can use the shorter length to keep their dog close to their side, and as the dog learns to stay next to them, they can let the length out one foot at a time.
Another way for owner and pet to stay safe while outdoors is with reflective or light-up products.
“Everything is about safety now,” said Tonto Alexander, founder and president of Nite Beams Products in Kalamazoo, Mich. “That’s why LEDs are so much more important. They’re proactive. They send beams into the darkness versus reflective gear.”
In addition to making a style statement, collars can help bring a lost cat home.
He recommends creating a “safety zone” to display products in this category. Nite Beams offers a free electronic display board, with minimum purchase, that lights up its products in stores so customers can see how they work.
The company recently created an LED Leash With Mace with Mace Security International. The leash has an elastic strap near the grip for users to slide in self-defense spray.
“If you [or your dog] are attacked by another dog or a human being, you have mace readily available right by your grip on your leash,” Alexander said.
Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio, updated its Lazer Brite designs, which feature fashionable patterns on brightly colored nylon. The line has the same reflective material as safety professionals use and is visible up to 600 feet, said Angela Ramsay, assistant merchandising manager.
The company also added reflective stitching to its Pet Attire Pro collars and leashes, Ramsay said.
Cat owners are looking for products that promote safety, too, she said, with nighttime safety and reflectivity gaining in popularity.
Crazy K Farm debuted its high-visibility Kitty Holster safety vest with matching reflective leash last year, and the company recently updated it with a new, brighter selection of colors, Kosanke said.
Retailers reported that in addition to reflective products, cat owners are asking for stretchy or Velcro collars so cats can slip away if their collar gets caught on something.
“Our favorite cat collar these days is the Beastie Band—it is a lightweight, flexible collar that has a Velcro closure for great breakaway-ability,” said All Pets Considered’s Schwartz.
When promoting collars, retailers can emphasize that these products can help reunite a lost cat with its owner, TailsSpin’s Burkiett said.
Display products in a way that proactively addresses consumers’ questions, Kosanke said.
“If a salesperson needs to explain how a harness works, what size cat it would fit, etc., then there is a considerable chance that the sale will be lost if a salesperson cannot easily be located,” she said.
She recommends displaying harnesses in two complementary ways: on a rack to show the colors and sizes available and to allow the consumer to see the header tag, and as a demo product sans tags and packaging. The latter works best on a plush toy animal, so owners can see how the harness fastens and fits, Kosanke said.
Harnesses deserve special attention, agreed Coastal Pet Products’ Ramsay.
“Dedicate an entire panel to harnesses instead of displaying them underneath collars and leashes,” Ramsay said. “We’ve determined that harnesses perform better when they’re a focal point.”
Color blocking and utilizing signage and fixtures provided by manufacturers can help sell the collars, leashes and harnesses category, she added.