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Health on the Shelf

Pet supplements are gaining popularity with pet owners as they seek to give their companion animals a healthful boost.


As the pet industry mirrors the consumer industry more and more, it is no surprise that supplements for pets are big business. Today’s shoppers are increasingly looking for effective, safe supplements that address their most pressing pet health concerns.

Supplements that live up to their claims are among consumers’ chief demands, said Chad Tillman, national sales manager for Grizzly Pet Products in Woodinville, Wash., adding that knowing where the products are made is particularly important to shoppers in this category.

“Certainly, the USA-made trend is still exploding, but pet parents want proven legitimacy in the USA-made supplements that they give their pets,” Tillman said. “This is why we are NASC Certified. The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) regulates everything that we do to ensure that our products are what we claim they are.”

Often, pet owners are looking to address specific concerns, and formulas for joint and digestive health are two of the most popular varieties.

“Supplements for joint health, skin health and digestion are definitely the most-sought-after supplements, although more customers are also turning toward natural supplements for stress and anxiety, as well as more acute health issues like urinary and bladder health,” said Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy in Pittsburgh.

She added that some consumers are starting to give joint supplements to younger dogs in the hopes of preventing problems as the dogs age.

Hemp-based supplements are gaining momentum, said Chelsea Joyce, vice president of sales and marketing for Pet Releaf in Englewood, Colo.

Julie Brewer, owner of Crunchie’s Natural Pet Foods in Crofton, Md., vouched for this and noted that she has seen an increased interest in hemp products—a change from several years ago, when no one was buying them.

“Now people are asking for hemp oil blends for skin and coat and CBD therapeutic oil for relieving many different types of health issues,” she said, adding that people are more aware of these products and looking at other supplements for healing, such as homeopathic remedies and essential oils. 

Selecting Stock

Retailers will often stock merchandise based on the items that are most commonly requested by consumers. Blum said that Petagogy carries a good selection of the most commonly purchased supplements and products in various delivery formats.

James Brandly, public relations specialist for Wentzville, Mo.-based TropiClean, recommends a similar strategy.

“When putting together a comprehensive selection, research brands and what products they offer,” he said. “Make sure you have products that address the top demands in the supplement category and meet today’s standards and requirements.”

The company launched Life by TropiClean Supplements for Dogs last year and added Calming Aid Supplement and Hip & Joint Supplement to the line this summer.

Getting to know your customers well and what their needs are will help in your stock selection.

“When you know them, and they are not just a number, they will tell you more,” Brewer said. “They might not have even been looking for a solution to a problem but in passing may mention itching, digestive upsets, etc. When you just listen and get to know them, you hear the same issues, so we make sure we have solutions to help.”

This philosophy also works well at TailsSpin Pet Stuff, which has stores in Georgia.

“We thrive on continually creating relationships with our customers,” said co-owner Jusak Yang Bernhard. “Those personal relationships help us better discover their preferences as well as their pets’ needs.”

Another factor retailers should consider is simplicity so that the shopping experience is straightforward. Thus, stocking products with easy-to-understand packaging and directions should boost sales, Brandly said.

A store’s geographic area might also provide an indication of what types of supplements to include in an assortment.

“In Maryland, we have a lot of dogs with allergies, so we have many different options for helping boost the immune system and relieving allergy symptoms,” Brewer said.

Retailers might also want to take into consideration weather and other local factors when deciding what to stock.

“In many cases, it’s more about the season and whether the store is in an urban area or a more rural environment,” said Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets in Naples, Fla. “Urban areas tend to have customers with smaller pups; suburban and rural areas favor larger dogs; and with that, the lifestyle of the pet changes.

“We designed the simple solutions sets to make it especially easy for retailers to merchandise products that cater to issues their pet customers have,” she added.

As many consumers seek products that are certified, Tillman suggested sticking to brands that have the NASC logo.

“These brands are held to much higher standards and can only carry the NASC logo if they produce legitimate supplements that work,” he said.

For the same reasons, he recommended stocking market-leading brands, which bring in customers.

Merchandising for Impact

However or wherever pet retailers display their assortment of supplements, consumers should be able to immediately identify a product’s purpose.

Weiss said that most retailers display supplements by use, but that there are pros and cons to this method.

“The plus is that the consumer gets to see all the products that retailer carries for that issue,” she said. “The negative to that is that human brains don’t do well when a bunch of products are next to each other; when the brain is confused, the human does not make a decision, so often no sale occurs.”

The solution, she said, is to make sure that salespeople are proactive in engaging with customers.

Meanwhile, some suggest that retailers might want to avoid having too copious a selection of products in the category.

“When there are too many options for one issue, people get confused and overwhelmed,” Brewer said, adding that Crunchie’s keeps educational literature within easy reach.

As they have no hard and fast rule about how to merchandise their stock, the staff at TailsSpin tries different methods when presenting supplements.

“We do have our supplements together in a designated section within our store,” Bernhard said. “But we often take the opportunity to move things around, trying different locations for effective selling locations. We often try placing supplements alongside our food lines to offer ways to complement better health opportunities. Sometimes the move will give a new perspective to our customers, as we are all creatures of habit.”

Tillman added that because supplements are typically add-on sales with high margins, often, the most effective way to sell them is to place them where shoppers can’t miss them.

“Supplements should have their own section near the register or points of purchase so store associates can easily recommend a supplement to any pet parent based on their needs,” he said.

However, cross-merchandising supplements with food can also be helpful if a particular supplement is something that can be added to food, but be careful about displaying them near treats, said Bethany Kassebaum, TropiClean’s merchandising specialist.

“Treats include added ingredients with claims of improving skin and coat or hip and joint, but [these do not] compare to the benefits of supplements,” she said. “By displaying them separately, this will help the customer see the difference between each category.”

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