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Fashion Plus Function Fit the Bill
Posted: September 8, 2010

By Janet Randall

Courtesy of Haute Dogs
Retailers might consider stocking a variety of collars with designs that characterize the local community or reflect the interests of pet-owning families. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Haute Dogs
Even though collars, leashes and harnesses fit into the category of standard purchases for dog owners, they still undergo constant innovation in response to trends and the wants of consumers. Currently, quality-minded pet owners are seeking out function and style in these items.

In harnesses, specifically, men and women are displaying a big difference in buying patterns, according to Robert Bay, first assistant/manager in training for Superpetz in Birmingham, Ala.

“Men are more interested in sturdy harnesses that go over the body and buckle into place,” Bay said. “Women are more interested in ease of use. They like harnesses the dog steps into. And, of course, the harness and leash must coordinate.”

Besides gender, the down economy is also affecting the types of collars, leashes and harnesses that customers want to buy.

“In this economy, people want multifunctional products,” said Gordon Spater, president of Kurgo, a manufacturer in Salisbury, Mass. “It makes them feel like they’re getting more for their buck.” 

Product guarantees may also translate into greater perceived value for consumers.

“We sell more Lupine collars and leashes than anything else,” Bay said. “It’s because of their 100 percent lifetime guarantee. People want the added value.”

The current economic state is not only impacting the products customers buy, but the ones retailers carry. Price sensitivity has forced some retailers to look for alternatives to high-end products.

“After the recession, we started looking for cheaper options in collars and leashes,” said Jason Sanchez, owner of Pet Stuff in Chicago. “About a year ago, we started selling a product manufactured using a heat overlay printing process. The products are less expensive, but they look very nice.”

Yellow Dog Design, a collar, leash and harness manufacturer based in Greensboro, N.C., is one example of a company using this distinctive printing method.

“The process is complicated, but the end result is a very durable, washable and unique design,” said Pat Cockrell, designing partner for Yellow Dog Design. “We have over 200 exclusive designs.”

Style is also on many consumers’ minds as they shop for collars, leashes and harnesses for their pets. Pet fashion often mimics human fashion, and manufacturers recognize that their customers are conscious of both. 

Spater noted that Kurgo goes through a three-step process to integrate both a fashion and retail perspective into color selection for its products; the goal being to produce contemporary rather than trendy products, which ultimately helps the retailer. 

Tattoo art designs are hot sellers for Yellow Dog Design, according to Cockrell. Donna Bodell, director of marketing for manufacturer Up Country Inc. in East Providence, R.I., agreed with this trend.

“This year we launched the West Village collection, which is funky and tattoo-inspired,” Bodell said.

“People are always looking for something new because they want what is stylish. We have created coordinating products and added treats to our line to create an up-sell situation for the retailer.”

She added that a good selling strategy is to offer enough of a selection to give customers the chance to find what they want.

Among the products to include in this selection may be designs that characterize the local community or pet owners’ families, which could prove profitable for retailers.

“We buy most of our collars from Haute Dogs, a local manufacturer,” said Jake Patton, manager of City Lickers Pets in Charlotte, N.C. “She has hundreds of ribbon collar designs, and I can easily custom order styles and sizes from her catalog.”

According to Kimberlee Evert, owner of Haute Dogs, which is also located in Charlotte, pet owners like to match their dogs to their family’s personality or activities.

“Boating is popular in Charlotte, so nautical theme collars and leashes are hot,” Evert said. “When children play baseball, they like the family pet to have a coordinating collar.”

Merchandising can be particularly important, with so many styles and designs available. 

“Our top-10 best-seller list is regularly updated and readily available to retail stores because we want them to be successful,” Bodell noted. “We’ve also created displays specific to a retailer’s need relative to space and demand.”

At Superpetz, merchandising is done in layers.

“We merchandise by style and color, and then within that range, by size,” Bay said. “It’s an important selling concept.”

A number of manufacturers even use product innovation as a means for concentrating on merchandising.

“Our designs are human-market inspired and cover a range of tastes,” stated Tracy McCarthy, who works in the marketing department at Lupine Collars & Leads in Conway, N.H. “We design new patterns every six weeks for several reasons. For one, it forces retailers to keep track of their displays. It’s like the sweater table at the Gap; someone has to refold those sweaters several times a day.”

When it comes to selling holiday merchandise in particular, manufacturers offered marketing and display advice to retailers.

Up Country Inc. again plans to offer Christmas stockings and its popular combo cuddle toy and treat set, as well as introduce the Sleigh Ride Collection, which is a combination of collars, treats and toys, according to Bodell.  

“Holiday collars are an inexpensive, fun item for pet owners,” Cockrell said. “If retailers think outside the box, they can also make great window dressings and store decorations.” 

She added that Yellow Dog Design will accept returns on unsold holiday items for credit on the customer’s next order, making them easy to stock.

Travel is big during the holidays, so Kurgo is offering a display that is more travel harness-oriented with new colors on it. The company’s Tru-Fit Smart Harness and Quantum Leash make good holiday items to stock because of their multifunctional designs, according to Spater. 

Kim Stout, marketing manager for Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio, noted that people like to include pets in their holiday gift giving.

“Offering cross promotions can increase sales,” Stout said. “For example, offer a discount on a holiday collar with the purchase of a treat or a toy. We are offering gift tags this year, so retailers could offer a gift wrapping service for their clients. The holidays are a wonderful time to say ‘thank you’ to your customers.” 

As manufacturers of collars, leashes, leads and harnesses are intent upon regularly updating their lines to reflect seasonal, lifestyle and fashion trends, retailers might consider being especially mindful of consumers’ tastes as well as attentive to their own inventory and store displays.    <HOME>

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