Not long ago, customers looking for a leash or collar had limited options: Leather or nylon? Red or black? Buckle or… buckle?
“Once upon a time, collars and leashes were a ‘commodity’ item: choice was limited and most shoppers did not have strong feeling about what they bought,” said Tracy McCarthy, part of marketing and product development for LupinePet. “Now the category carries about the same prestige in pet supplies as clothing does for people. Function, durability, style and material quality are important. Price is a component of the buying decision, but value is considered in relation to the other factors.”
The array of options available today is seemingly endless. Product is still available in the traditional leather and nylon, as well as modern iterations, like odor-resistant neoprene, upcycled seatbelts, hemp and organic cotton. The designs also encompass nearly anything your customer could imagine: licensed sports teams and cartoon characters, rhinestones and studs, holidays and even night-safety reflective strips.
Ultimately, this category is about style. Dog owners use collars, leashes and harnesses to reflect their own personalities. While not every dog owner wants to dress their pet in costumes, every dog owner needs their pet to wear these items, so it provides an opportunity to reflect their own sense of style.
Kurgo Chief Business Officer Gordie Spater said that his company noted a shift away from flashy designs to products that are purposeful, durable and secure.
“That doesn’t mean that people aren’t still interested in fashion or matching colors between collars and leashes,” he said.
He cited two trends affecting consumer demand. The first is that pet owners are taking their dogs more places and need to maintain security and control.
The second: The rise of the “athleisure” trend in human fashion.
“We see with the rise of the athleisure trend in human sportswear, a similar trend with pet accessories. People are looking for the sporty, rugged styling and reliability they like for themselves in their Lululemon yoga pants, North Face jackets and Patagonia wicking shirts that they wear every day,” he said. “While they may not need a tech shirt to go get a coffee, they like the style and the knowledge that the apparel has purpose and can be used on their adventure days, too. It’s natural that this fashion trend translates to their dog who reflects their personality. We see more popularity with products with outdoor styling and features like durable ripstop or reflective materials.”
Kurgo offers the Quantum Leash; it’s an award-winning dog lead that comes in seven colors—in reflective and non-reflective nylon—and converts into six different styles. With a carabiner adjustment, this leash switches from a 6-foot lead to a 3-foot lead to a hands-free dog leash that goes around the waist or over the shoulder, courier-style. It also has the ability to become a two-dog walker.
The brand also offers a practical but stylish Muck Collar, which comes in a suite of bright, colorful designs and resists odor. It’s a solid solution for dog owners who want the combination of practical and cute. Kurgo is launching a Patriotic Flag Muck Collar to expand the line.
Coastal Pet Products manufactures every type of collar for every type of dog owner. For the littlest pups in the pack, the L’il Pals line includes adjustable collars and harnesses in bright colors and prints, along with a fashion-forward glitter overlay. The line also includes specialty pieces like suede, jeweled leash and collar sets.
The Coastal Soy Adjustable Dog Collars are natural, soft and eco-friendly with anti-bacterial properties. The line is made from natural fibers that feel like soft cashmere. While there are few color choices in this line, the leash, collar and harness coordinate and appeal to an eco-conscious consumer.
Coastal Pet Products also offers licensed products from popular, best-selling brands, like Harley-Davidson.
Another fashion-forward manufacturer to consider is Hip Doggie. The brand carries an NFL license, which is a great pet product for a football fanatic family.
In addition, Hip Doggie’s collars and leashes appeal to the young, fashionable set. With designs like its bowtie collars and matching leashes, and glittery options with coordinating charms, the brand’s offerings allow dog owners to showcase their—and their dog’s—style with flair. Jeweled and studded pieces that include decidedly feminine and masculine options round out the offerings.
“There’s always going to be that person who doesn’t have a closet full of clothes or a closet full of shoes, but they still buy clothes and they still buy shoes—that carries into their pets,” said Alisha Navarro of 2 Hounds Design. “They’re just going to use their collars until they wear out. Others use collars to express their personality and express their pet’s personality.”
Navarro says that some of her customers stock up on the brand’s unique designs, some boasting collections of up to 50 collars.
This year, Navarro plans to launch a collection close to her heart.
“I’m a geek by preference. I have an MA in applied physics, and my background is in electronics, programming,” she said. “The collection that we’ve got coming out in time for Global, we’re calling our geek collection: monsters, aliens, robots, ninjas, full force, that whole geek line.”
Even for owners who love the practical, there are options for leashes and collars that are both functional and fashionable.
Eran Konorty, CEO of Angel Pet Supplies Inc., noted that more dog owners training their dogs has caused a shift.
“I believe one of the largest, if not the largest growing trend is training,” he said. “Training has gained immensely in popularity, and so many products which aid in training a puppy, security dog, guide dog, et cetera, are very popular. The Angel Rio Martingale collar collection is very popular amongst many consumers seeking a humane approach to training collars. They are constructed of top grain leather with a soft-padded bottom and stainless steel hardware. Our Multi-Function leash is great for training as well. It can be used in several different lengths, hands-free and more.”
For eco-conscious customers, Planet Dog offers leashes, collars and harnesses made of hemp. In a range of five colors, from a neutral green to a bright pink, these are persistent bestsellers.
The eco-friendly products are naturally dyed pure hemp. The natural strength of the hemp fiber makes a strong fabric and a safe product. Their Hemp Leashes are made with chrome hardware for extra durability and safety. The products are also fleece-lined for the comfort of both person and pet, and all three product lines can match one another.
Style emphasis tends to fall on collars and leashes, yet Charlie and Spike is a brand that manufactures lightweight harnesses in its fashionable WagSwag line. The line includes harnesses with superhero emblems, leopard prints and sassy sayings, such as “Single & Looking.”
An important aside: There is a large and growing sub-category within the harness segment. Consumers are looking for crash-tested, safety-rated car harnesses as distracted driving laws around the country come into effect. Those pieces are best merchandised separately from the fashionable set, simply because the consumers are two different shoppers. Safety products, though, group well together or in a dedicated travel section.
Ultimately, pet owners are defining themselves through their pets’ style. Plus, many pet owners like to showcase their pets’ personality in these purchases. Though safety will always be a concern when it comes to picking these products, style is the deciding factor for most purchases.
One key to success in merchandising these pieces is to group similar items together in a thematic display or endcap.
“We have always suggested a traditional collars-above-leashes, although that doesn’t work for every store. One SKU per hook and color-blocking are two points that will have good results every time,” McCarthy said. “Waterfall displays are difficult to keep tidy and don’t do a very good job of encouraging people to browse. Handling the merchandise does increase sales, but requires more frequent straightening. Any display will sell better if it gets a daily touch-up. Harnesses seem to get handled the most, and readjusted the least, which greatly reduces unit sales.”
The jumbled leash, collar and harness aisle can sometimes obscure standout designs. Instead, create a theme—like an NBA endcap during the height of basketball season, or a display that showcases all things studded for a cowboy display. This type of grouping allows for cross-merchandising with other categories that hit on the same theme. Rotate the displays throughout the year to showcase your most fun, fashionable and forward-looking lines.