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Harnessing Sale Potential

New puppy owners might be surprised to learn that one size doesn’t necessarily “fit” all.
By Sandy Robins

When it comes to shopping for a new puppy, a collar and leash and possibly a matching harness are must-have accessories. Because of the huge array of merchandise available, retailers have to be well informed about the styles they stock in order to help their customers make educated decisions.

Dog breeds can be very different in terms of size and shape. This, along with rate of growth from puppyhood to adulthood, as well as coat type, influences choice of collar style. Consequently, manufacturers find themselves having to produce a variety of styles to make their presence felt in the marketplace.

“It’s important to cater for all these criteria from puppyhood,” said Beau Dewitt, sales manager for Pet Ego in Chicago.

“Choosing the right style of collar for a puppy, such as a flat or padded collar or a tubular shape, should take preference over embellishments,” he said. “For example, breeds like whippets and boxers have longer necks, and a wider collar is often more comfortable. In the same way, a tubular collar works well on a puppy with long hair, as the hair is less likely to get caught up in it. Ultimately, the correct style is equated with comfort for the wearer. And it goes further, because comfort and safety go hand in hand.

“Leather is always a popular choice for new puppies because it’s so soft and easily shapes to the neck of the wearer,” he continued. “And when it comes to colors, brown and red are perennial puppy favorites.”

Tracy McCarthy marketing manager at Lupine Inc., a collar manufacturer in North Conway, N.H., said the company keeps a close watch on human fashion and lifestyle trends.

5 Tips to Pass Along

  1. By fastening a new puppy’s collar through the smallest hole size, the collar can be “let out” as the puppy grows.
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  2. If a collar fits over a puppy’s head, it’s too big. The right size collar should allow the pet owner to get two fingers under the collar.
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  3. An ID tag is a relatively easy add-on sale.
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  4. Offering discount coupons from time to time is an added incentive to purchase an additional or replacement collar or leash.
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  5. Group matching items together can be an effective merchandising strategy. Customers who find a style they really like might not be able to resist the entire collection.
“We bring out new designs every six weeks,” McCarthy said. “When it comes to puppies, whatever is bright and fun is consistently more popular.”

Some store owners said many new puppy owners like to treat their pups like babies and thus favor pastel shades for puppyhood.

“While this is a noticeable trend, once they are over the initial puppy phase, they often tend to try to complement the color of their dog’s fur with a stylish color or patterns,” said Kathy Ahearn, owner of Four Your Paws Only in North Conway, N.H.

A big dilemma often facing new puppy owners is how much to spend on initial accessories for a growing dog.

“We sell a range that comes with a chew guarantee, and many customers like the idea that the item will be replaced free of charge if the puppy chews it up,” said AdreAnne Tesene, owner of Two Bostons Pet Boutique and Gourmet Bakery in Naperville, Ill. 

“If a customer falls in love with a high-priced item, I will never talk them out of it,” she said. “But often we suggest purchasing lower priced items initially and recommend they buy their favorite in a bigger size that will work when the pup has stopped growing.”

Tesene said Two Bostons staff members are trained to ask customers to tell them something about the personality of the puppy.

“This helps a lot when making recommendations in terms of colors and patterns and whether to recommend a collar and leash versus a harness and leash combo,” she said.

These days, manufacturers are also focusing on the comfort of the person at the other end of the leash by introducing special shock-proof leashes designed to eliminate the stress dog walkers often suffer in their elbows and shoulder areas from being pulled.

“The idea is also to absorb the shock of any pulling motion on the dog too,” said John Hatcher, president of EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho. “The handle part of the leash is also a comfort factor. Designs that copy the water-ski type rope handle require less strength to hold and thus are ideal for anyone suffering with any hand or wrist issues, or a disease such as arthritis.”

Puppies aren’t usually put on a retractable leash until they have learned to walk on a standard leash. However, in order to introduce them to this concept, Cincinnati-based Flexi USA has a product that extends only 10 feet.

“This design operates on a belt resembling a leash and not a cord, and is available in four colors, giving puppy owners the option of using an extended leash safely,” said Rick Witte, vice president of sales for Flexi. “Trainers are now beginning to use them during training to teach a young dog to stay and come on command.”

While a collar is considered a dog essential because of the importance of pet identification, many puppy owners are now considering a harness and leash combo.

“It’s personal choice, as both offer a quick and easy leash snap-on when initially toilet training a dog to go outside,” Hatcher said. “Often, smaller breeds are more comfortable in a harness. It’s important that the harness has a comfortable padded chest plate to avoid chafing when worn for extended periods. ”

Store owners confirmed that a harness versus a leash has a lot to do with the size of the dog.

“We tend to see larger breeds in our area and usually recommend a collar and leash unless the owner really wants a harness,” Ahearn said. “On the other side of the coin, when we sell a harness and leash for a smaller breed, we always recommend that they purchase a collar in addition to hold ID tags.”

In this economy, trends are also driven by price, according to Sarah Julian, director of corporate communications and marketing manager for Petmate, operated out of Denver.

“We don’t produce a range special for puppies because we’ve found that our lines for smaller dogs double up,” she said. “Because there is such a big selection available at any given time, it’s easy for retailers to meet their customers’ fashion and budget requirements.” <HOME>


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