With the next fashion trends always just around the corner, manufacturers and retailers say they feel confident in the ongoing success of the collars, leashes and harnesses category.
"The pet accessories market has been growing for years, and we expect that trend to continue," said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, an Indian Trail, N.C.-based manufacturer.
Sara Schrekenhofer, marketing specialist for Leather Brothers, a manufacturer in Conway, Ark., agreed that the category will continue to see growth in the coming years.
"Collars, leashes and harnesses have continued to be essential items for consumers to purchase," she said. "… With an explosion of colors, patterns, materials and ornamentation available to consumers, pet owners are purchasing collars and leashes for every occasion, according to their needs and desires."
Manufacturers such as 2 Hounds Design aim to combine fashion with function.
"We are funny and quirky and a little bit on the nerdy side," Navarro said. "We also focus on safety and comfort, and our products are made in the USA."
Navarro has found that pet owners purchase designs that speak to them.
"People buy stories, they buy things that mean something to them, and they buy things that make them laugh," she said.
People also buy prints with stars and plaid, and they have recently become more interested in tie dye patterns, said Kim Matsko, owner of Natural Pet Essentials, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va.
Matsko said one extremely popular choice is Up Country’s flamingo design, which is available in both dog and cat collars as well as a lead and a harness for dogs.
Dog owners and cat owners are drawn to different types of prints and designs, Matsko noted.
"We find cat owners tend to lean more toward mice, fish and bird patterns," she said.
Teca Tu in Santa Fe, N.M., is known for its Southwestern-style beaded collars and leads. The store’s Southwestern patterns are popular with dog and cat owners alike, as well as with both locals and tourists, said manager Mira Lopez.
"Our collars and leads with the Zia symbol of New Mexico are very popular, as well as Southwest prints from Sandia Pet Products," she said.
The store also offers handcrafted leather and turquoise collars from RN Design and Woofwear, along with a new line of collars and leashes made with leather, real silver and genuine stones by Pamela Kellett of Santa Fe Dog Collars.
Adding in new designs, refreshing old styles, and constantly bringing in new products keeps collar, leash and harness sales on the rise, Lopez said.
"We try to carry items that other stores may not have," she said. "We do try to carry a few lines of locally made items also. We try to have all price points."
Both Teca Tu and Natural Pet Essentials are seeing successful sales of the Italian-made Tre Ponti step-in harness, which has variations for all sizes of dogs and cats. Matsko said that in addition to being easy to put on and take off, the harness fits well and is stylish and comfortable.
However, for customers who are struggling with a dog that pulls, Matsko’s recommendation is "hands down" 2 Hounds Design’s Freedom No-Pull Harness. She also recommends 2 Hounds Design’s martingale collars for owners who have trouble with slipping collars.
The Freedom No-Pull Harness discourages pulling with a control loop at the back that tightens around the dog’s chest when it pulls. It also has a second, optional ring at the front of the harness. Attaching leashes to both allows the dog walker to control pulling and redirect the dog’s attention.
When retailers discuss harnesses with customers, they should emphasize how to find a proper fit, Matsko said.
"It’s important to fit the harness on the dog for the customer or be sure to communicate to them that it will not be effective if it doesn’t fit correctly," she said.
Stores looking to improve their assortment of collars, leashes and harnesses should turn first to their customers.
"Establishing who your customers are and determining their needs will enable you to select the product needed to increase overall sales of these items," Schrekenhofer said.
Matsko said Natural Pet Essentials tries to offer a little bit of everything to fill as many niches as possible.
"I have Up Country ribbon-style leashes and collars for the owner who wants something bright and colorful," she said.
For the eco-conscious pet owner, the store carries hemp leashes and collars from Earthdog. Matsko’s personal favorites also include the slip and snap leashes from Mendota Pet. She also offers products with outdoor- and adventure-oriented dog owners in mind.
Manufacturers find inspiration for collar, leash and harness designs in a variety of ways.
2 Hounds Design, an Indian Trail, N.C.-based manufacturer, finds that pet collar, leash and harness design trends follow clothing and home décor trends.
"There’s something for every style, from rugged and outdoorsy to trendy and fun," said president Alisha Navarro.
Navarro said 2 Hounds Design’s customers want products that are safe and comfortable, and that express their pets’ personalities.
When the 2 Hounds Design team is coming up with new prints and patterns, ideas can spark from pretty much anywhere.
"We find inspiration everywhere, from a trip to Arizona to a movie about monsters," Navarro said.
Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C., looks close to home for new harness patterns: It follows trends from its own bow tie line.
"We can easily see what is resonating with the consumers by looking at our sales, and then translate that pattern into a harness," said founder Robin Kershner.
The functional design of Huxley & Kent’s Back Out Brake Harnesses was inspired by a negative experience Kershner had while walking her own dog.
"Being a small-dog owner, I panicked when my dog backed out of his harness when he was being stubborn, and [I] realized how dangerous that was," she said. "We quickly came up with a unique fix to the problem that reduces the ability for the dog to ‘back out.’"
The Back Out Brake Harness is currently offered in six solid colors and two prints, but Kershner said more options will be released throughout the upcoming year.
Fashion Meets Function
Recent and planned new product releases include a variety of stylish prints and colors and incorporate useful functions into their designs.
Coastal Pet Products has several releases planned for this year.
The manufacturer is adding an orchid color to its K9 Explorer line, as well as adding front-connect harnesses and rope leashes to the Brights palette of that line, said Cathy LeDonne, category manager for the Alliance, Ohio-based company.
Coastal Pet’s New Earth line of collars, leashes and harnesses, which is made of natural soy fibers, is being refreshed with new colors.
"The line was made up of a very natural color palette, but we’re adding in some fun, bright tones this year," LeDonne said. "Fuchsia and mint are joining the assortment, and we’ve revamped our rose and slate to look more vibrant. Throw in the black onyx, and it creates a really striking assortment at retail."
The soy fibers, she noted, are a byproduct of food manufacturing and have naturally antibacterial properties that reduce odors.
In September, Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C., expanded its Back Out Brake Harness line with two new patterns: buffalo check and London plaid. The new prints join six solid-color designs that were also released in the last year.
The Back Out Brake Harness’ safety-oriented design makes it more difficult for dogs to back out of the harness, said company founder Robin Kershner.
"We added two sliders that move up and down based on the size of the dog to create a snug fit, and we call it ‘Back Out Brake Technology,’" Kershner said.
The harness also has reflective strips for nighttime walks, large leg holes that prevent chafing, and a wide chest area that reduces strain on the dog’s neck by redirecting pressure to the chest, she said.
"An easy step-in style is best and perfect for pets who don’t like things going over their head," Kershner said. "… Harness construction needs to be consistently strong to fit even the strongest of pullers. We use double layers of mesh, wider webbing and a larger D-ring as the sizes get larger to accommodate the extra strength of the large breeds."
Last August, Leather Brothers in Conway, Ark., introduced its Attitudz collection of matching collars and leashes made from Biothane. The products, which are sold under the OmniPet brand, are made in the USA and "perfect for the dog with an ‘attitude,’" said marketing specialist Sara Schrekenhofer.
Attitudz’s Biothane material makes the collars all weather, waterproof and stink proof. They are easy to clean, durable, adjustable and available in 10 patterns with matching leashes.
Show off this Colorful Category
Retailers have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to merchandising collars, leashes and harnesses, but finding the ideal arrangement might take some trial and error.
"We work so much with independent retailers, and one of the great things is how creative they are," said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, an Indian Trail, N.C.-based manufacturer. "We’ve seen every display, from pallets to ladders to standard slatwall."
Kim Matsko, owner of Natural Pet Essentials, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., said she has seen direct boosts in collar, leash and harness sales from switching up her displays.
"Changing how the collars are displayed has definitely helped," she said. "Over the years, I have changed, rearranged and adjusted how I display my collars and leashes to find what works best with the space I have."
Matsko arranges dog collars by pattern, not size. She uses a combination of 3-inch hangrail brackets and 48-inch hangrails on slatwall. Harnesses and leashes hang next to the collars on another slatwall. Cat products are displayed separately in their own section.
For the most part, Teca Tu, a pet store in Santa Fe, N.M., keeps dogs and cat products together.
"We have a special ‘made in New Mexico’ section, but otherwise we have most of our collars in one section of the store, hanging on pine slatboard," said manager Mira Lopez. "We usually try to display by color and size to make it easier for our customers to choose the correct item."
Leather Brothers, a manufacturer in Conway, Ark., offers its retailers point-of-purchase displays, signage and colorful display headers, said marketing specialist Sara Schrekenhofer.
"When a [retail] customer orders a display, we always provide an Easy Re-Order Strip to ensure easy reordering of sizes and products," she said.