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Function and Fashion Further Sales

When it comes to collars, leashes and harnesses, dog and cat owners seek style as well as proper function.


Style and performance are among pet owners’ top priorities when picking out a collar, leash or harness, reported industry insiders.

Jennifer Cao, co-founder and vice president of ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., noted that the category is trending toward offering pet owners more functionality.

“We’re seeing a trend in this industry for more functional products, such as leashes and harnesses that correct pulling, minimize choking, allow for hands-free dog walking, etc.,” Cao said. “These innovations are great because dog owners have different needs, and these products help make dog walking easier on the dog and the owner.”

Consumers are also seeking durable products that will hold up in various scenarios, said Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto.

“With the different seasons and the active lifestyle of dogs, consumers are looking for something that will be used all year long, and sometimes under severe conditions,” Konorty said.

According to Cao, demand is rising for products featuring varied materials such as leather, rope and fashionable accessories, as well.

“Modern dog owners love to express their personalities through their dogs’ accessories, purchasing products that relate to their own accessories,” she said.

Customers at Dog & Co. in New York typically look for pieces designed with both fashion and function in mind.

“Trends in this category are definitely following human fashion and design trends—colors like blush and mint, as well as fresh, nontraditional hardware in metal finishes like rose gold,” said Melinda Montney, owner.

Leather is a leading choice for customers at Augie Doggy, which has stores in Ontario, Canada.

“Leather seems to be popular for durability and the look and style,” said Barry Coren, owner. “Our stores are of a higher-end nature, and we cater to a customer who’s looking for quality more than price, so we carry a lot of leather and waterproof options.”

With a focus on reclaimed, hand-sourced leather goods, Austin, Texas-based Boots & Arrow offers one-of-a-kind collars that feature hand stitching, solid brass hardware, laser etching and hand-painted details, said Kristin Moses, founder and creative director.

“Each piece is handcrafted from the upcycled leather of reclaimed cowboy boots and sewn locally in Austin,” she said. “Because all our collars and accessories are made from reclaimed materials, every single piece is completely unique.”

Across the country, retailers and manufacturers report a surge in harness ownership.

“While there is a constant increase in sales for [leashes and collars], the share of harnesses is growing faster,” said Cathy LeDonne, category manager at Coastal Pet Products Inc. in Alliance, Ohio. “Consumers want a more pleasant, comfortable walking experience with their pets, and they see harnesses as a solution.”

Jennifer Arnold, founder of We For Dogs in Milton, Ga., attributes the harness trend to a decrease in consumer interest in pinch collars, choke chains and head collars.

“People see harnesses as a more friendly option for walking their dog,” said Nicole Backus, product manager—toys and behavior for Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn. “It takes little to no time to acclimate to a harness and requires little training of the owner or dog.”

Arnold added that the boost in harnesses matches an overall trend toward “trying to give the pet as much comfort as possible. People are paying attention to meeting their animal’s needs.”

Jamie Popper, business development manager for Blue-9 Pet Products in Maquoketa, Iowa, said consumers want dog-friendly harnesses designed for the pet’s comfort and to retain free-range motion.

“Another piece is harnesses that have multiple adjustment points, which allow for a fully customized fit,” she said, adding “there’s a big trend for front attachment harnesses for control while teaching leash walking.”

While dog owners are favoring comfortable harnesses, such as mesh or step-in products, Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets Inc. in Lexington, Ky., said cat owners generally have one main question: Is it escape-proof?

Another departure seen in this category is away from retractable leads, said John Hollingsworth, director of sales and operations for DOOG USA in Carrolton, Texas. Instead of the typical 4-foot-long leash, he’s seeing more 6-foot leads, along with multidog leashes and ergonomic innovations so leashes feel comfortable in the owner’s hand.

Companies Offer Multiple New Options

In March, Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., launched its PetSafe 3 in 1 Harness designed to give customers the ability to easily transition from a traditional harness to a no-pull solution. It also offers car restraint options. The multifunctional harness includes neoprene-lined straps and reflective nylon, said Nicole Backus, product manager—toys and behavior.

The company also released a heavy-duty version of its Easy Walk Deluxe Harness, a no-pull option also featuring neoprene-lined straps and reflective nylon.

New additions from Angel Pet Supplies this year include a tattoo-inspired Angel Inked collection of five original designs drawn by California artist Jessica Fang, which utilizes a new transfer technology that allows the company to create Fang’s designs on leather collars, said Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of the Toronto-based company.

The company also added five designs to its Elite Collection—Tulsa, Sedona, El Paso, El Dorado and San Antonio-black—as well as a cobalt blue in the Classic Collection.

In June, Angel Pet Supplies debuted a Reflective Collar made of leather and stainless steel hardware. Available in black and in seven sizes, the collar features a large reflective strip set within channeled leather and a layer of padded leather.

Also this summer, ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., launched a line of premium leather dog collars: the Legacy collection of classic colors and the Vivid collection of bright, chic colors. Designed as a luxury line of affordable collars, each feature rose-gold metal accessories that complement the leather’s rich colors, said Jennifer Cao, co-founder and vice president.

Because more dog owners include their pets on weekend hikes and park walks, Coastal Pet Products Inc. in Alliance, Ohio, revamped its K9 Explorer line with more variety, new bright colors and more reflective capability. Introduced at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in July, the line includes collars with reflective buckles and matching leashes.

Radio Systems Corp. plans to launch the PetSafe Sport Leash in October. The adjustable leash includes a hand wrap that adjusts to the user’s palm and converts to a standard leash with the snap of a button, Backus said, adding that the built-in bungee extension reduces leash tension.

Displays That Lead the Way to Success

While some stores stick with a teardrop rack with a waterfall display for collars, leashes and harnesses, insiders recommend incorporating more creativity.

Taking a page from successful pop-up shops, Kristin Moses, founder and creative director of Boots & Arrow in Austin, Texas, recommends that stores pull out an element of the brand and “curate it in that area of the store.” For example, when working with retailers, Moses provides boots, signs and arrows to highlight her company brand.

“For really creative display, I’d love to see stuffed animals or dog mannequins to display harnesses so [customers] can see what it would look like on an actual dog,” said Jamie Popper, business development manager for Blue-9 Pet Products in Maquoketa, Iowa. “Display it in a way so consumers can put their hands on it and try it on their dog, make sure it fits the dog and [ensure] they can work with it.”

Because Dog & Co. in New York has dogs in the store, they help boost collar, leash and harness sales.

“We believe strongly that using the products that we sell is the best way to get to know them and makes them super easy to sell,” said Melinda Montney, owner.

With space at a premium in most shops, owners must use it wisely. Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets Inc. in Lexington, Ky., displays her collars, leashes and harnesses on a hexagonal column that takes up 2 square feet of store space but is 8 feet tall and offers 12 feet of retail space.

“It’s more bang for a buck, and I can have each panel with a different manufacturer or theme,” she said.

However products are displayed, Cathy LeDonne, category manager at Coastal Pet Products Inc. in Alliance, Ohio, said “retailers should keep displays neat and organized, especially by not overfilling pegs or racks.”

A Helping Paw

Educating customers about collars, leashes and harnesses is critical, for the pet’s benefit, retail sales and customer satisfaction. Experts agree that owners often need help pinpointing the best solution for the difficulty they are experiencing with their pet.

“They need to learn how to live with their dogs, and they’re coming to retailers to find out how to live together and make the relationship easier,” said Shannon Arnold, creative director for We For Dogs in Milton, Ga. “Associates need to understand their products and the whys behind the products and help consumers see the bigger picture.”

Jennifer Cao, co-founder and vice president of ZippyPaws, located in Chino, Calif., said independent pet specialty stores are particularly well suited to promoting dog walking items.

“With many products like this, the brick-and-mortar retailers have a distinct advantage,” she said. “Customers are able to touch and feel [the products] and have their benefits explained to them by professional sales associates. In that way, consumers are better able to make informed decisions on the best products for them and their dogs.”

Many retailers consider customer education a top priority.

“People don’t understand the purpose of the items, so you have to educate them,” said Barry Coren, owner of Augie Doggy, which has stores in Ontario, Canada. “They like it because it looks pretty, but you need to match the dog and the purpose.”

Coren said one-on-one communication with customers is best to address specific needs, breeds and temperaments. And Arnold pointed out that because customers can shop online, they really are coming into stores for the experience.

At Most Valuable Pets Inc. in Lexington, Ky., owner Melissa Whitton finds many customers need help with how to put harnesses on—she’s seen them go on backward and upside down—and how to adjust them, as well as reminders to increase sizes as the puppy or kitten grows.

“We have stuffed dogs around the store to display clothing and stuff, so we grab one of those to show them,” Whitton said. “We also fit a lot of dogs. One of the biggest problems owners have is they put [items] on too loose and the pet chews them off. So they can bring their dog in, and we’ll fit them and show them how tight it needs to be.”

Dog & Co. in New York has four-legged staff available to demonstrate the fit and function of these products, said Melinda Montney, owner.

Video is another effective way to communicate with customers, Cao said.

“Consumers can easily see how to use a product and its selling points,” she said. “Seeing the product in use also allows consumers to imagine the product in their own lives and becomes a great selling tool.”

Videos are particularly important for millennials when face-to-face conversation is not an option, said Jamie Popper, also a millennial and the business development manager for Blue-9 Pet Products in Maquoketa, Iowa. She added that comparative infographics that “outline the differences without badmouthing other products” is helpful.

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