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Seeking Solutions

Consumers are turning to independent pet retailers for answers to flea and tick concerns.


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Pet owners have some very specific criteria in mind when they are shopping for flea and tick control products. They want products that are safe, effective, convenient and fast. It’s a tall order. As a result, successful pet specialty retailers must carry an assortment of products.

“If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Mike McCutcheon, owner of H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn. “It always depends on the animal. Think of it this way. You have 20 people that have a cough and all of them start [using] an over-the-counter cough medicine. You’ll hear that it worked for some and not for others. With flea and tick control products, I’ve seen every brand be successful and every brand fail and be returned. I’ve learned it just depends on the animal.”

Brook Bickford, owner of Gone to the Dogs Boutique & Grooming in St. Pete Beach, Fla., said that in Florida’s climate, where fleas thrive year-round, customers are very concerned about finding products that work. Because the retail shop also includes grooming services, he finds some successful crossover between the two.

“We often find fleas on dogs that the homeowner didn’t even realize were there,” Bickford said. “Of course, they want to take care of it right away. We talk to customers about also checking their carpets and their homes.”

While there’s no question that pet owners want fleas and ticks handled swiftly and effectively, they are also concerned about their pets’ safety. To that effect, more pet owners are interested in products that are perceived as safer.

“Pet parents are seeking products that are natural and, on top of that, products that are effective,” said James Brandly, content writer and public relations manager for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo. “TropiClean created easy-to-use, natural solutions that provide complete protection for the pet, the home and the yard.”

Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, and founder and owner of Earth Heart in Dundee, Ill., added that customers are looking for botanical-based products that are made in the USA and are safe and easy to use.

“They also want to trust that the botanicals—such as essential oils of citronella or geranium and neem seed oil—have proven track records for repelling fleas and ticks and won’t be toxic to their pets,” she added. “Consumers want to learn about alternatives.”

Marketing

In-Store Promotion

One of the hurdles for independent pet retailers to overcome is misinformation. For example, a lot of consumers think they can only buy flea and tick control products at the veterinarian office. Laura Gustafson, store manager at H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn., said that she finds customers are often surprised to see that the store carries certain flea and tick products.

For pet owners, shopping at independent retail locations offers a lot of benefits, said Sarah Batterson, director of marketing for H&C Animal Health in Parker, Colo., and retailers should take the opportunity to promote these products.

“Independent retail stores offer the convenience of a one-stop shop,” said Batterson, whose company is rolling out a single pack of its Catego for Cats flea and tick product this spring. “You can buy your flea and tick products in the same place that you buy your pets’ food and other supplies. Retailers should cross-promote with other categories to further incent shoppers to buy everything they need for their furry friend at the store. Plus, no appointment necessary.”

Lindsey Monk, store manager at Dogs & Cats Rule, which has stores throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said that product variety has helped draw more people into the stores. Dogs & Cats Rule specifically advertises that the stores have a wide variety of solutions.

“Customers often come in just to see what we have,” Monk said. “They like that we have a lot of different options so that they can find something that works best for them.”

While promoting flea and tick control products in-store, retailers should emphasize that product safety is not just important for the pet—but for the customer, too, said James Brandly, content writer and public relations manager for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo. After all, many pet owners let their pets share their bed.

“Pet parents want to provide relief and protection for their pets, but they also want to find safe solutions that will achieve that,” Brandly added.

Consumer Education

In-Store Guidance

There are a lot of flea and tick control products to choose from, and it is easy for customers to get overwhelmed, said Laura Gustafson, store manager at H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn.

“Nothing beats having a conversation with the customer about what exactly they’re looking for,” she added. “With so many choices, the customer often needs some guidance.”

Mason Williams, pet specialty category and shopper marketing manager for Bayer Animal Health in Shawnee, Kan., agreed.

“With so many products available in many places, pet owners can become confused or frustrated when shopping,” Williams said. “Bayer Animal Health is partnering with retailers to share insights and to create sets that help shoppers more easily choose products based on their needs.”

Display strategy can help cut down on shopper confusion, said Amy Cairy, marketing manager for East Longmeadow, Mass.-based W.F. Young, maker of Absorbine products.

“Helping consumers understand the difference between the products and how they can find the right one for their fur kid is key,” Cairy said. “Grouping products by delivery method of the product—collars, sprays, shampoos, etc.—is a great way to help consumers start to navigate the aisles.”

Stephanie Boone, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Wondercide Natural Products, recommended positioning a featured product or brand of flea and tick control products behind the counter, displayed on the wall directly behind the register. This gives well-informed employees the opportunity to educate consumers, she said. 

“People naturally look there while they are checking out and tend to ask, ‘What is that?’” she said.

James Brandly, content writer and public relations manager for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo., said that flea and tick sales vary by region and by season. But for some retailers, it would be beneficial to group products by brand with special seasonal call-outs, he said.

“Regardless of your location, floor displays and shelf displays are also wonderful merchandising options that highlight specific solutions,” Brandly said. “Our floor display houses the complete protection for the home, yard and the pet, and it educates pet parents on the importance of treating multiple locations.”

Mike McCutcheon, owner of H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn., as well as an Amazon.com leading retailer in flea and tick products, said that education is the whole draw of the independent retailer. Though McCutcheon does nearly 500 times the sales online as he does in-store for this category, he said there is still that need for face-to-face interaction with customers who have questions.

“You don’t get that experience online,” he said. “We do a lot of hand-holding with the customer through the process of dealing with fleas or ticks. They want to know how to get rid of them and what works best. There is a lot more education and a lot more conversation when you’re able to talk face-to-face with someone.”

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