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Collars, leashes and harnesses are considered necessities for almost all dog owners. As they are going to purchase one or more of these products anyway, why not put a little flair into them? That’s what industry insiders are finding.

“Based on our product portfolio, we are seeing interest in premium, quality products, especially leather collars and leashes available in colors other than the traditional black or brown,” said Tom Glessner, chief commercial officer for MyFamily USA, a manufacturer in Orlando, Fla.

Glessner pointed to MyFamily’s Tucson collection of Italian-made crocodile-textured leather collars and leads that come in a “rich” red and “vibrant” blue.

“MyFamily’s collars and leashes are for those who want the finer things for their four-legged friends as our products are handcrafted in Italy with the finest materials, unique hardware and features such as our Always Ready D-Ring that stands at attention, making it easier to anchor a leash,” Glessner said.

Katie Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C., has noticed that more people are looking for unique and personalized collars.

“UpCountry collars are very popular at [Just Dog People],” Ast said. “With all of their colorful designs, pet parents enjoy finding a ‘theme’ that fits their dog’s personality. And the quality of the collars is top-notch.”

As for harness choices, Ast said that it largely depends upon whether the dog is a puppy or an adult.

“We have a wide variety of harnesses in our store, and by far, moms and dads that are looking for a harness for their puppy want something much more affordable, as they know their dog is going to grow out of the harness quickly,” Ast said. “Once the puppy reaches full size, we often see the parents back in the store looking for their ‘big-girl/boy’ harness. Pet parents are much more likely to spend more dollars on a harness once their dog isn’t growing a pound per week.”

Functionality is a key consideration for shoppers.

“I think functionality is the driving factor for this category,” said Tara Belzer, owner of Pet in the City, a pet store in Charlotte, N.C. “Whether looking for training, no-pull solutions to waterproof collars/ harnesses for dogs that hike, I believe that [purchases are driven by] what the product can do for both the owner and pet. Comfort, ease and functionality.”

Lifestyle, particularly where a person lives, also influences purchasing decisions, according to Kevin Manning, chief marketing officer for Doggie Design, a manufacturer in Centennial, Colo.

“People with a more active, outdoor lifestyle want collars, leashes and harnesses that are more rugged, easy to wash, and can handle wear and tear,” Manning said. “Urban consumers have different needs. While fashion does play a bigger role in what they’re looking for in a collar or harness, functionality is still important. Urban settings require more reflective elements so pets are easily visible in low light.”

Whatever pet owners are looking for, manufacturers are doing a great job in meeting those needs, according to Ast.

“The pet industry is bringing innovative products to the market, and pet parents are getting ‘hip’ to the idea that not all products are meant for all dogs,” Ast said. “The industry is doing a great job innovating, and customers are rewarding us with their hard-earned dollars.”

Merchandising

A Springtime Boost

With the promise of warmer weather around the corner, pet owners will be looking to spend more time outdoors with their pets. With this in mind, it’s important for retailers to expose shoppers to the products they will need, according to Tom Glessner, chief commercial officer for MyFamily USA, a manufacturer in Orlando, Fla.

“Creating an endcap or space within the store where you can cross-merchandise products like toys to play fetch, travel bowls and feeders, clothes and jackets, visible identification as well as collars and leashes will give them the ideas needed to get them ready,” Glessner said.

Showcasing your products is vital, said Katie Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet supply store in Garner, N.C.

“We change our store tables monthly, and always with a theme or concept in mind,” Ast said. “We use some wonderful stuffed dogs to show off collars, harnesses, leashes, etc. Maybe use a dummy and a stuffed dog to connect ‘pet parent’ to ‘pet’ via leash and collar combo. … We’ve created small-scale farm fencing and wrapped collars around the posts to create an interactive-type display.”

A fresh perspective always comes in handy.

“Treat 2021 like the reset it is,” said Kevin Manning, chief marketing officer for Doggie Design, a manufacturer in Centennial, Colo. “Encourage customers to treat themselves and their pup to a new collar, a new leash and a new outlook on life.”

New Products

Bright Technology

There are several new options available to offer customers in the collars, leashes and harnesses category.

MyFamily USA plans to launch its Memopet collection in the first quarter of 2021. Tom Glessner, chief commercial officer of the Orlando, Fla.-based company, described the line of nylon collars, leashes and harnesses as “bright” and “attention getting.” But it’s the technology that the company hopes will grab the attention of pet owners.

In every collar, harness and leash, there is an encased near field communication (NFC) microchip that essentially allows the product to become a virtual database. It can hold a pet’s health and wellness information along with microchip registration numbers, according to Glessner. Information is accessed via a smartphone.

“When used with the MemopetID App, [the collars and harnesses] will keep track of veterinarian visits and grooming appointments, while the leashes will track walks and adventures you have with your best friend,” Glessner said.

Just hitting the market is Doggie Design’s spring line. To go with its American River ombre harnesses, the company has added five new ombre leashes with a comfort grip: Raspberry Sundae, Raspberry Pink & Orange, Aruba Blue, Cosmic Splash and Lemonberry Ice.

“Now your pup can have the complete American River ombre look,” said Kevin Manning, chief marketing officer with Doggie Design in Centennial, Colo. “We’re also offering two new American River camouflage colors as well as three new American River polka dot options.”

2 Hounds Design in Indian Trail, N.C., recently launched four patterns in its Earthstyle collection: ROY G BIV (rainbow polka dots), Electric Glow (blue/green plaid), Twilight Glow (turquoise/purple plaid) and Neon Sunrise (fuchsia/purple plaid). The Earthstyle collection combines colorful, upbeat designs with recycled webbing, according to the company.

Assortment Optimization

Understanding A Customer’s Wants and Needs

Industry insiders recommend retailers take time to think about what will best suit their customers when considering their collars, leashes and harnesses assortment.

“Each retailer must understand their customers’ wants and needs when deciding on collars and leash product selection, but we recommend diversity when it comes to the category,” said Tom Glessner, chief commercial officer for MyFamily USA, a manufacturer in Orlando, Fla. “While MyFamily only offers premium products, our collections provide retailers the ability to offer different price points, materials and finishes that allow them to address their customer needs from price point, activity and quality perspectives.”

It’s also important to consider your store’s image, noted Kevin Manning, chief marketing officer for Doggie Design, a manufacturer in Centennial, Colo.

“For example, there are thousands of ribbon collar options available—holiday themed, sports themed, occasion themed, hobby themed, etc.,” Manning said. “If your budget can bear it, offering ‘a little bit of everything’ is sure to appeal to most people. However, if you need to be more restrained, focus on the image you want for your store. Do you want to bring in hikers and campers? Offer collars and harnesses that are durable and no nonsense. Are you a high-end boutique that is very niche? Pick a color—or color scheme—and lean into that.”

Using customer feedback can also help find what will and won’t sell best for you, Manning said.

To help boost the appeal—and sales—of harnesses, Just Dog People has a custom harness-fitting section.

“We stock almost 15 different dog harnesses in the harness-fitting section at all times,” said Katie Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C. “We created a sign that hangs in the harness section that helps dog parents understand which harnesses may be most appropriate for their dog.”

Just Dog People staff members are also available to help choose, size and fit a harness for customers.

The harness-fitting section is popular with shoppers, Ast reported.

“Customers love that we help them with their harness selection and fitting,” Ast said. “We also help customers re-size harnesses when their dogs gain/lose weight, and we’ve been known to size and fit harnesses from outside of our store as well. Obviously, this requires a high level of customer service and employee training, but customers appreciate the service we provide.”

Covering the Cat Customer

Though much of the collars, leashes and harnesses category is devoted to dogs, retailers can encourage cat owners to buy these products, too.

“While dog owners clearly have a need for collars, leashes and harnesses, cat owners do not seem to believe or understand that they do, so it is important for retailers to make products displays visible while trying to educate customers that collars are something for felines too,” said Tom Glessner, chief commercial officer for MyFamily USA, a manufacturer in Orlando, Fla.

A collar signifies that a cat, whether it be an outdoor or an “escaped” cat, belongs to someone, Glessner said. Plus, collars with a visible identification tag can greatly increase the chance of the cat being returned home if lost, Glessner noted.

“There is also an increase in the number of cat parents who take them for walks outdoors, so showing a harness and lead on a cat mannequin might spark new ideas for those who have felines at home,” Glessner said.

When a cat owner is perusing the store shelf, they are less likely to go for wide, bulky collars or overly complicated harnesses, according to Kevin Manning, chief marketing officer for Doggie Design, a manufacturer in Centennial, Colo.

“Thinner collars and basic, step-in harnesses that come in smaller sizes are the way to go for cats and even ferrets,” Manning said. “Don’t discount other types of pets, either. Our American River harnesses even work for potbellied pigs!”