Every pet owner needs a collar and leash, and most also opt to use a harness at times, too.
For much of the products’ history, this ubiquitous demand resulted in less innovation. Consumers consistently purchased solid-colored nylon or leather leashes, collars and harnesses, so manufacturers weren’t forced to innovate to stay competitive.
Now, however, consumers are using these products to express their style and to reflect their dog’s personalities. Rather than simply being a commodity product, mass produced with little specialization, leashes, collars and harnesses are becoming more unique in design, material and function.
Historically, function trumped style. This is changing for consumers who want to purchase products beyond the basics.
“Like most categories, innovation in both style and function are performing well,” John Cullen, principal at Bulldog Marketing & Sales, Inc., said. “Simply having something different and colorful beyond the blacks, blues, and reds can be a hot button for consumers. Highly designed, high quality products can drive consumers to select certain items in the category.”
In order to stay competitive, manufacturers need to innovate in material, design and even function.
Katie Pusateri, communication manager at Coastal Pet Products, Inc., reported its brand has success with leashes and collars, and that harnesses are becoming more in-demand.
“Collars and leashes consistently perform well for us and harnesses are on an upward trend,” she said. “Collars can be used as identification as well as a walking tool, while harnesses should be removed when not in use. A leash can be used with a collar or harness, so it is always a big seller.”
Interestingly, Pusateri pointed out lifestyle changes are helping to drive increased sales.
“Working to combat pet obesity and become more active, an increased number of people are walking their pets,” Pusateri added. “As a result, leash and harness sales are on the rise.”
Many dog product categories are beginning to reflect consumers’ lifestyles rather than just providing function.
Lifestyle brands usually can command a higher price point, too.
Consumers are willing to pay a slightly higher price for a collar, leash or harness that reflects their sense of style or their pet’s personality.
“Companies like Zee.Dog are coming to market with innovative designs that allow consumers much more self-expression than has ever been seen in this category before,” Cullen said. “That, mixed with higher quality materials and competitive price points, makes for a powerful force in the category which will ultimately steal share from entrenched competitors.”
Even traditional leather collars are receiving a lifestyle-driven upgrade.
Leather Brothers, an Arkansas-based company of legacy leather workers, produces a wide range of styles to appeal to varied consumers. These range from on-trend neon designs that are water resistant, to decorative collars embellished with rhinestones and spikes.
In addition, some of their traditional and fun designs include a quick-release buckle rather than the standard buckle.
Changes in hardware are another collar trend that is reflected across the board. Pusateri said they are offering more hardware options to consumers beyond the standard buckle, as well.
“Coastal Pet has also developed multiple new lines that feature unique hardware,” she said. “Our collars and leashes have multiple different hardware options and we want the owners to be able to choose the hardware they desire.”
Mix It Up
While some consumers will continue to purchase standard, basic leashes and collars, retailers should consider a product mix that includes expressive brands. Retailers can leverage their consumer demographics to choose products that will appeal to their unique shoppers.
For example, Coastal Pet Products provides a product mix that reflects consumer preferences that range from the fashionista to the eco-conscious traveler.
“Our fashion lines are continuously updated to keep the category fresh and introduce new products that correspond to fashion trends,” Pusateri said. “Coastal Pet Products also has products that fit lifestyles of pet owners. For example, K9 Explorer targets people with an outdoor lifestyle while New Earth Soy is perfect for the eco-friendly pet owner.”
Cullen sees the category continuing to evolve.
“I wish the category would continue to innovate, not just in design but in functionality,” he said. “There are companies out there pushing the envelope, but only few, like Zee.Dog are attacking on two fronts: unique, edgy designs combined with highly functional, high quality and in some cases new innovations in functionality. Many will try, but few having the staying power of a true line of products within the category.”
Pusateri expressed a similar idea.
“We always want to retain our status as the quality leader and exceed industry quality standards,” she said. “Customers want fashionable items that are also safe for their pets. Our goal is to make new exciting products that continue to exceed industry safety standards.
“We would like to see the category continue to bring out unique and innovative products that meet pet and consumer needs. These innovative products should promote fun, healthy interactions between pets and their owners.”