Today, collars, leashes and harnesses come in a dizzying array of styles for dogs and cats and cover a variety of needs for pet owners, depending on function, style and use.
Products that are focused on solutions and specific functions are especially good sellers.
"Multipurpose leashes, light-up collars and antipull harnesses are represented better than ever because they either solve a problem that the pet owner is having or they shine a light onto a problem that they never knew they had," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Jill Connolly, creative director for RC Pets, a brand of RC Pet Products in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, noted that harnesses have continued to be a growing category for the company.
"People now own multiple harnesses to address specific activities and occasions with their dog such as training, control or everyday comfort," Connolly said.
Alisha Navarro, president of Indian Trail, N.C.-based 2 Hounds Design, agreed that functionality and comfort are key attributes pet owners look for when purchasing harnesses.
"Harness trends are centered around safety, functionality (no pull) and comfort for the dog, [in that it] doesn’t restrict movement, protects sensitive areas, etc.," she said.
The company is launching two reflective designs of its Freedom Harness at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., this month.
"This harness has the same functionality and works exactly the same as the Freedom Harness—with added reflective [properties] for nighttime safety, and the double-connection leash that comes with the harness has a brand-new padded handle," Navarro said.
Cat owners, in particular, have been inspiring new designs for harnesses.
Last summer, RC Pets released the Adventure Kitty Harness, which sold out immediately, Connolly said. The harness is specially designed for cats and features breathable air mesh and reflective binding.
As more cat owners express interest in bringing their cats along on outdoor adventures and traveling with them, brands are taking advantage of the demand to create safe and comfortable harnesses designed for the adventuring kitty.
"Cat owners are becoming more vocal about their desire to get out there with their cats and explore," said Lindsy Argenti, marketing manager of Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio. "We’ve seen increased interest in cat harnesses and continue to focus on making our collars safer for cats who roam with technology like breakaway buckles."
For dogs, Coastal Pet Products has also been focusing on safety, with rechargeable light-up collars and attachable lights. The company introduced the USB Light-Up Neck Ring to increase visibility and safety during nighttime walks.
RC Pets recently introduced the Momentum Control Harness, a versatile harness for dogs. Designed for everyday adventures, the Momentum Control Harness has front and back connection points, plus five points of adjustability for optimal fit. The air mesh fabric is lightweight and breathable, allowing for use in a variety of climates and activities.
Fashion has played a large role in driving sales of collars and leashes, according to industry insiders. Pet owners are increasingly seeking to accessorize their pets.
"Collars and leashes are still trending alongside the fashion trends, and, oftentimes, the trends you see in children’s clothing will also show up in dog collar designs," Navarro said.
Leah Angelos, sales representative for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., agreed that fashion is a big factor in determining collar popularity.
"Collar sales are continuing to rise because pet owners love to show their personal style through their pets," Angelos said. "People have ever-changing fashion senses and love to humanize their pets with accessories."
Argenti said that while Coastal Pet Products has seen an increased interest in whimsical patterns such as unicorns and mermaids, "most people are sticking with classic solid colors. Teal has been the color of the moment," she said.
The company recently launched its Accent Microfiber Collar, Leash and Harness line, which combines fashion and function with the addition of a removable flower or bow tie. The company is also presenting new products at Global Pet Expo.
Offer Your Expertise
With the variety of functions and uses for collars, leashes and harnesses for cats and dogs, pet store employees must demonstrate their knowledge of them in order to help ensure that customers are going home with the right product to suit their needs.
Knowing the details is especially important, said Alisha Navarro, president of Indian Trail, N.C.-based 2 Hounds Design.
"Our products are all made in the USA with as many components sourced in the U.S. as we can get," she said. "Highlight that when talking to the customer. Talk about the hardware, ours is solid brass or stainless steel; talk about the construction, we use a box X stitch; and talk about why this collar is more expensive than [another] collar and what you get in return."
Sales of these products are a great way to show that a store offers pet owners a personalized shopping experience.
Because "harnesses have many different functions, [they] are a great opportunity to get to know your customer and their needs," said Jill Connolly, creative director for RC Pets, a brand of RC Pet Products in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Retailers should ask detailed questions about the types of activities or training challenges unique to each individual customer in order to determine product recommendations, Connolly said. A well-informed sales team will gain trust in clients by demonstrating its knowledge of the range of products available.
Homes Alive Pets in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, invests time in training its staff members to develop confidence with shoppers.
"Our team needs to be familiar with how it works, fits and best practices for training," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for the store.
Manufacturers also provide ample information on their websites and e-newsletters, or directly on product tags.
"We always include important information on each of our product’s hang tags," said Leah Angelos, sales representative for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. "On these tags, you can also see that additional specifications are always readily available on our website."
Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio, is launching a new website this spring that will include a business portal available to customers that includes marketing materials, point-of-purchase (POP) materials, images, video and social media content that they can use and distribute through their channels, said marketing manager Lindsy Argenti.
Calling Attention to Collars, Leashes and Harnesses
In order to highlight collars, leashes and harnesses suited for different uses, trends or seasons, retailers should consider the following advice from industry insiders to help draw customers to these products.
1. "Pet owners love the ability to feel and even try out a product before purchasing. Our retailers tend to do a great job in providing eye-catching displays that help show the features and benefits of our products," said Leah Angelos, sales representative for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif.
2. "Creating a designated harness section that has call outs to the various benefits of each helps to make selection easy for the customer," said Jill Connolly, creative director for RC Pets, a brand of RC Pet Products in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
3. "We encourage pet owners to bring their pets and try on different collars and harnesses so they can try them out for function and fit," said Caitlin Triana, sales lead at Whidbey Natural Pet in Coupeville, Wash.
4. "As far as in-store displays and marketing, our strategy lies in seasonal trends," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. "During summer months, we promote gear that is better for hiking, traveling and outdoor activities like car harnesses, recall leads and sporting harnesses. Winter dips more towards light-up collars and smaller form-fitting harnesses that fit underneath dog jackets."
5. "For a brand to be successful in our stores, the products have to be relevant to our guests’ needs and routines, as well as be eye-catching in a wall full of similar products," Janisse added.
6. Mannequins are also a great way to show the product in action and allow the customer to see the way it needs to be fitted and to test the function, Connolly said.