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Over the past year, sales of collars, harnesses and leashes have picked up, pet specialty retailers reported. In many regions, stay-at-home orders increased owners’ attention on their pets, and more are incorporating dogs in outdoor activities.

“People are including their companions on more of their daily adventures, such as going to the beach, on a hike or beyond,” said Leah Angelos, sales manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of dog accessories and toys.

Pet adoptions also helped move these pet accessories, said Kris Lamoreaux, owner of Healthy Pets Mountain West, a pet store in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

Safety and comfort top the list for customer demands, but fashion also ranks high when choosing collars, harnesses and leashes for dogs, industry insiders said.

“In this category, it’s important to create functional products that are also fashionable,” Angelos said. “Safety and comfort are, of course, a priority for these products, but that doesn’t mean to sacrifice on style.”

Todd Finney, co-founder and vice president of Wolfgang Man & Beast, a manufacturer in Salt Lake City, agreed.

“We are seeing trends in collars, harnesses and leashes—and almost any other product category, for that matter—that are more design driven, rather than just function or price driven,” he said. “[Pet owners] want something that fits their aesthetic style and their lifestyle.”

Bright colors and designs are sales drivers in the pet accessories category, said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, an Indian Trail, N.C.-based manufacturer.

The desire for USA-made and sustainable products is also blossoming in this pet category, like so many others.

“One of the biggest changes that we have seen is that people are looking at where products are sourced and where is the country of origin,” said Jordan Fetzer, owner of Brookpark Pet Supply, a pet store in Lewisburg, Pa. “We have always carried as many leashes, collars and harnesses that are made in USA as we can, but we have received more feedback on that in the past year than ever before.”

Concerns about breaks in the supply chain, as experienced during the pandemic, have boosted customer preference for local products, he added.

“People feel better knowing where these products are coming from and that the supply chain may not be disrupted quite as much,” Fetzer said.

New Designs and Top Sellers

To keep customers excited about new offerings, many pet collar and leash manufacturers said they are scheduling more frequent fashion releases for their current lines.

2 Hounds Design has been adding colors to its EarthStyle collection of collars, harnesses, and leashes made from recycled webbing.

“We’ve been going back to our roots and trying to release new designs and fashions faster,” Navarro said.

Wolfgang Man & Beast has released a new print almost every month this year, Finney reported. Fashion prints have included HighPlains, GreatEscape, ParkLands and DarkFloral.

“We understand that not everybody likes every print,” he said, “so we work hard to keep the variety coming.”

Three colors top the list for ZippyPaws’ best-selling items, Angelos said.

“Our top-selling Climber’s Rope Leashes are our bold black, teal and pink styles,” she said. “Our top-selling Mod Essentials leashes are our black (with black accented leather), teal (with pink accented leather), and pink (with gray accented leather) styles.”

Assortment Optimization

Strategic Selection Boosts Bottom Line

Step one to curating an ideal assortment of collars, harnesses and leashes for independent pet retailers is “knowing the taste of those who roll into your store,” according to Todd Finney, co-founder and vice president of Wolfgang Man & Beast, a manufacturer in Salt Lake City.

Region, neighborhood and the retailer all influence consumers’purchasing habits.

“It all depends on the store itself,” said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, a manufacturer in Indian Trail, N.C. “A store in NYC can likely sell a $60 collar easier than one in Indian Trail, N.C. But, most importantly, know your customers and what they are looking for. If they are looking for luxe, don’t offer basic.”

Keith Zeiler, owner of Paws on Chicon, which has two locations in Austin, Texas, said solid colors sell best in his stores, and his customers are comfortable with paying $25-$30 for collars and leashes, and harnesses for $35-$40. However, dog owners at Brookpark Pet Supply in Lewisburg, Pa., spend around $12-$30 for their pet accessories, said owner Jordan Fetzer.

“Collars and leashes tend to fall on the lower end of that scale, and harnesses tend to fall on the upper end of the scale,” he added.

Savvy stores not only consider their customer’s budget and buying habits, but their preferred product features and the store’s own bottom line. Navarro suggested that retailers offer a good, better, best selection.

“Most people will go for ‘better,’ so make sure your margin is great on that set,” she said.

Kris Lamoreaux, owner of Healthy Pets Mountain West, a pet store in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, said she sets up her selection for a variety of customers—“the parents that want their dog to look good, those that need functionality and those that just need something cheap for a second lead, collar or harness.”

“Most of my customers don’t mind paying extra for a stylish, durable collar, lead or harness,” Lamoreaux added. “I have a pretty good selection ranging in prices.”

Offering a wide variety has paid off for Fetzer at Brookpark as well, when pairing it with excellent customer service.

“Not every style is best suited for everybody, so a variety has worked well for our store,” he said. “Having a personal conversation with the customer about their needs and what issues they are having allows us to demonstrate multiple styles of harnesses, collars and leashes.

“The most important part is having our staff explain each style,” he said. “Additionally, we encourage our customers to bring their dogs into the store for a personal, customized fitting.”

Helping customers choose products and fit their dogs has been an important strategy at Paws on Chicon as well.

“We explain to customers that we would prefer them to bring their dogs in so we can fit them and find the right harness for them,” Zeiler said. “This helps with no returns.”

5 Tips for Effective Dog Accessory Displays

Product displays are critical when selling pet collars, leashes and harnesses in brick-and-mortar stores. Often, retailers strive to merchandise variety without overwhelming customers or creating a cluttered or messy appearance.

Organization makes it easier for shoppers to find their preferences and see the various colors, patterns and materials available, said Leah Angelos, sales manager for ZippyPaws, a manufacturer in Chino, Calif.

There are many ways to organize, so industry insiders offered their tips for effective dog collar, harness and leash sections.

1. Limit selection.

“If space is limited, maybe a lean selection is better,” said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, a manufacturer in Indian Trail, N.C. “Unless you have a ton of collar customers, then figure out how to make space.”

Kris Lamoreaux, owner of Healthy Pets Mountain West, a pet store in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, agreed.

“We have found that it’s best to not overwhelm our customers with too many to choose from,” she said. “They are hung on a slat wall and spaced so they are easy to see and remove.”

2. Hang products neatly.

“Have it organized by color and organized by size and not make it look like a mess,” said Keith Zeiler, owner of Paws on Chicon, which has two locations in Austin, Texas. “I will not bring in any collars, leashes or harnesses if they do not hang well and look good on [a] wall.”

3. Incorporate unique backdrops.

“Frame up the brand and product in a very functional way that is also attractive in retail settings,” said Todd Finney, co-founder and vice president of Wolfgang Man & Beast, a manufacturer with a boutique in Salt Lake City. “We use all wood construction—barn wood and Baltic birch—for our displays, which means they’re not cheap, but the shopping experience is unique and top tier.”

4. Use in-store models.

“Having stuffed dogs wearing products also grabs attention,” Navarro said. “Since real dogs tend to be very interested in stuffed dogs, they will drag their owners over to investigate.”

5. Highlight important attributes.

“We like to offer a variety of styles, colors and brands that will appeal to a wide range of consumers,” said Jordan Fetzer, owner of Brookpark Pet Supply, a pet store in Lewisburg, Pa. “We also like to advertise the fact that the product is made in USA or that it carries a guarantee.”