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Hot Under the Collar

Posted: November 25, 2013, 9:45 a.m. EDT


Lead customers straight to your leash and collar display.

By Keith Loria

Selecting a dog collar or leash isn’t always a simple decision. Owners seek comfort, durability and good looks when shopping for their pets’ accessories. Luckily, pet retailers strive constantly to offer the latest and greatest options to customers.

The collar selection at Lofty Dog in Austin, Texas, is changed often to give shoppers a varied selection and also to keep inventory at a manageable level.

"We do well with flat leather collars and Dublin Dog no-stink collars,” said Jon Michelson, co-owner. "For leashes, basic is better; 6-inch solid color Premier leashes are our best sellers. In addition, Timberwolf and Rok-Strap leashes have done very well. We’ve found recently that people are not looking for a collar/leash combo. They’re more interested in a fun collar with a basic leash.”

While there’s no clear winner at Life on the Leash in Doylestown, Pa., when it comes to leashes and collars, customers tend to gravitate toward the Yellow Dog Design and Douglas Paquette lines, said Victoria Schade, owner.

Dog Collars
Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Pet Supply

"Although my store is located in an affluent area, I strive to stock amazing products that are actually affordable,” she said. "Most of my customers don’t want to pay much more than about $12 to $25 for a leash or a collar.”

What’s Hot
At Coastal Pet Products, Pet Attire Ribbon, the company’s most popular fashion line, features new patterns and matching designer wrap harnesses, said Jennifer McEowen, merchandising manager for the Alliance, Ohio, company.

"Soft, eco-friendly New Earth Soy collars, leashes and harnesses satisfy the ever-growing interest in natural products,” she said. "Another trend is unique hardware options, a great example of which is found in Coastal’s K9 Explorer line.”

TailsSpin, with three stores in Georgia, has found great success selling Coastal nylons.

"We carry a wide variety of colors,” said Kristen Watson, co-manager. "We also have patterned and ribbon collars and leads from this brand.”

According to industry insiders, collars and leashes made in the USA are big right now. Customers also want safety without sacrificing fashion. Matching patterns and coordinating colors are important for complete wardrobe options.

Cycle Dog’s Latch-Lock metal collars with the Pup Top Bottle Opener are its current best-selling product, said Lanette Fidrych, president of the Portland, Ore., company. All of its no-stink solutions are made from postconsumer recycled material and are hand-sewn in the USA.

"Eco-friendly and made in USA are the biggest things going right now, as well as odor-free options,” she said.

The most popular selling styles among Up Country’s 100 designs are Big Bones, Bella Floral and Green Kismet, said Donna Bodell, director of marketing of the East Providence, R.I., company.

"We find that anything with a bone theme is popular, florals are a classic, and modern patterns have recently become more popular,” she said. "The biggest buzz is for special collars like martingales. This year we are adding a buckle to simplify putting it on. We also have many requests for masculine designs.”

According to 2 Hounds Design, which manufactures collars and leashes for Wiggles Wags & Whiskers, the newest collars in the line are also the best sellers, said Alisha Navarro, president of the Monroe, N.C., company.

"The Foxes sell well, and the Dragonflies,” she said. "Tile Leaf Navy and Tile Leaf Red launched at SuperZoo, and we’ve had an excellent response so far. 2 Hounds Design collars feature materials sourced from all over the world, but the collars themselves are made in the USA.”

Higher-End in Vogue
Collars often can last more than a year. When dogs wear something that long, industry insiders said, it might make sense to offer products that feature more functions than a standard price-point collar.

"Offer something really cool to make your store different from the grocery and hardware stores,” Fidrych said. "Amortized over the life of the collar, the price is negligible.”

Specialty Leashes
In an era where people flock to stores that offer everything they need—food, apparel, hardware, etc.—all in one spot, it’s no surprise that pet owners are interested in leashes that claim to do it all.
Chico, Calif.-based UltraLeash, for example, offers an all-in-one leash and poop carrier that features bag and wipe dispensers, a built-in LED flashlight and a 16-inch retractable cord.
Another popular specialty product that sells well is no-pull leashes, said Victoria Schade, owner of Life on the Leash in Doylestown, Pa.
"Pulling is the most common problem for my customers,” she said. "I keep the no-pull harnesses close to my counter so that I can walk shoppers through the fitting process. I then allow them to take a stroll around the block to see if it works for their dog.”—KL 

When merchandising higher-end collars and leashes, Coastal Pet Products’ McEowen believes stores should think outside the box and use unique and creative ways to display items.

"Show them on dog mannequins, pedestals or unique eye-catching hooks or racks to draw attention, taking inspiration from the clothing, athletic, outdoor or children’s fashion industries,” she said. "Use signage and POP with lifestyle, in-use images that create an experience in your customer’s eyes.”

Some of TailsSpin’s higher-end collars and leashes include such brands as Ruffwear, Lupine and Circle T leather collars.

"All of our collars and leashes are arranged neatly, hanging from a grid or pegboard,” Watson said.
"Having the collars and leashes arranged by style, color and size makes the display appealing and organized, and it makes it easier for the customer to find the item they are looking for.”

On Display
Many retailers find that being creative and building eye-catching displays helps increase sales numbers.

"Retailers should give the leashes as much exposure as possible,” McEowen said. "Collars should be placed at eye level, particularly the most popular sizes or styles. Strategic merchandising of colors and patterns will attract attention to displays.”

Fidrych recommends retailers look to how stores such as The Gap merchandize apparel.

"They never leave just a few items of each type standing by themselves; they are always merchandised with a great selection of colors and sizes,” she said.

TailsSpin showcases new items on an endcap or on a display area to catch attention.

"We also change displays with the seasons,” Watson said. "For instance, we had a summer display that included some of the Ruffwear collars and leashes alongside some outdoor toys and other accessories needed for summertime fun with dogs.”

TailsSpin also uses shelf talkers and signs to advertise certain items’ advantages or selling points. For example, the Lupine collars and leashes the stores carry are guaranteed even if they are damaged; the stores post signs next to them to share this selling point with the customer.

Collars and leashes should be displayed in a roomy area that allows clients to try them on their dog in the store, said Lofty Dog’s Michelson.

Life on the Leash’s Schade said she approaches her collar display differently.

"I divide them up by size instead of pattern,” she said. "I have a section for every pattern of small, then medium, then large. Making the sizing options obvious to the customer helps.”

Schade also uses vintage ladders to display the collars and a long Ikea bar with hooks to hang the leashes.

Merchandiser Support
Retailers don’t need to do all the work. Many manufacturers will provide the materials necessary to present an eye-catching display. Sometimes manufacturers will provide planograms to give retailers a general idea of how to stock the shelf or display products.

"Cycle Dog offers retail displays in wall, floor and table mount displays,” Fidrych said. "They really help tell our story and differentiate our product from the sea of sameness on the collar wall.”

For the first time, 2 Hounds Design collars are available with a hang tag that actually hangs from pegs.

This offers more flexibility in displaying collars: They can hang from pegs on a slat wall or grid wall, or the tag can fold down to hang the items from a jewelry bar or display on a table or on model dogs, Navarro said.

"The trick to selling collars is to make them accessible enough that customers can touch them, feel the lining, feel the quality of the materials used, and try them on their dogs to see how they look,” Navarro said. "Collars can be more of an impulse purchase, so display them in places where impulse decisions are made.”

Coastal Pet Products prehangs displays with racks and POP provided, while "Made in the USA” signage highlights the products’ American-made status. The company also offers spot signs and helpful charts for the consumer to help them choose just the right collars and leashes for their dogs, McEowen said.

Up Country encourages its retailers to display collars and leashes in one area, with either a bar or hook system, and to organize them by size to help customers zero in on what they need, said Bodell.

"A collar size chart is helpful, one that shows neck sizes and breed suggestions,” she said. "We find that customers buy three to four collars to each leash, so having a few on hand is great to upsell as a set, but not necessary to have a matching leash for every collar.”

The company also offers several displays to fit various amounts of merchandise and spaces, including visually fun displays, such as its bone stand and mannequin.

"We offer four displays, a standing display, a tabletop display, a dog mannequin and a bone stand,” Bodell said. "We also give away POP materials, such as retailer decals, signs and posters. Displaying collars and leashes in an organized way helps to sell collars. It is a category that gets messy looking very easily, so the more structure the better.”

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