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Getting to the Root of Pets' Skin Issues

Independent pet retailers who are successful selling the skin and coat product category understand the underlying causes of these pesky issues and are able to provide dog owners with immediate and long-term solutions.


When it comes to solving dogs’ skin and coat issues, it’s no surprise that consumers want products that are safe and all natural, as this has been a trend in other pet categories as well.

“The trends we have seen are definitely in the direction of natural, organic, non-GMO, chemical free and nontoxic,” said Lisa Burns, founder and chairman of Eye Envy Inc. in Torrance, Calif. “Consumers are concerned with what products are applied to their dogs’ skin just as they would be if they were applying the product to themselves.”

Once consumers are confident a product is safe, their next biggest concern is that it’s effective. Tamie Waugh, owner of Cobber’s Pet Pantry in Enumclaw, Wash., said that her customers already know her focus is on natural products, so they bypass that request and immediately start asking about what is most effective.

“When they come in with a skin or coat concern, their dog is probably already very uncomfortable, and they want a solution that will work fast,” Waugh said. “The No. 1 complaint is itching, and we’ll often explore whether it’s an allergy or something with their diet. But because that kind of change doesn’t give an instant result, we’ll also pair a topical product with dietary changes to give the pet some quick relief.”

Brian Collier, key accounts and marketing manager for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo., agreed that products that help soothe itchy skin are a top priority for pet owners.

“We find that some of the most popular products we’ve developed are those that help promote healing and soothe irritation from itching,” Collier said. “That’s because it’s awful to see our little one constantly itching and uncomfortable.”

New Skin and Coat Products

The skin and coat category has seen a lot of activity in product launches. TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo., had one of its largest product launches in company history with the recent introduction of 46 products and/or product designs in the grooming category. Among them are the new Natural Flea & Tick line and the first-ever Aimable Pet Shampoo pouch, said Brian Collier, key accounts and marketing manager.

“As we developed our new Aimable Pet Shampoo pouch, we discovered how pet parents really feel about bathing their pets, and it’s not good,” Collier said. “Most will admit it is messy, time consuming and back breaking. Our new Aimable Pet Shampoo pouch comes in a patent-pending flexible pouch that allows you to evenly distribute shampoo 360 degrees around the pet.”

Natural Paws LLC in Scottsdale, Ariz., recently introduced Ditch The Itch, an all-over body spray for itchy dogs. The nonsteroid, nonchemical spray naturally calms itchy, irritated skin on contact while also reducing the histamine response, which affects many dogs during allergy season, said Elyse Horvath, owner.

Eye Envy Inc. in Torrance, Calif., is working on a new whitening shampoo and conditioner, which will not mimic the properties of bleach or peroxide, said Lisa Burns, founder and chairman.

“Many whitening, brightening agents tend to open the hair shaft, causing hair to become extremely porous,” Burns said. “When the coat stains again, the stain sets, making it very difficult to remove the next time around. The oils and ingredients we are looking at will close the cuticle shaft, preventing stains from setting.”


Education in the Skin and Coat Category

Retailers and manufacturers both seem to agree that the skin and coat category already is huge—and growing—making it important that store employees are trained on some of the more common conditions. Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., said that hardly a day goes by that a customer doesn’t come in with a skin or coat concern. As a result, she said it’s important to keep up with the latest skin and coat issues and the products that can treat them.

Lisa Burns, founder and chairman of Eye Envy Inc. in Torrance, Calif., agreed. Ongoing training, she said, will help store employees keep up with an ever-growing selection of products.

“My No. 1 tip for retailers is to educate your employees,” Burns said. “Employees should be able to spot potential issues on an animal and guide the consumer to the proper product. For example, if a consumer comes into the store with a bichon full of eye or beard stains, the employee should ask the consumer if he or she would like something to remove the stains. If the consumer says ‘yes,’ the employee should be able to take the consumer to the products and explain the benefits as well as point out the differences among products.” 

Dina Martin, director of communications for John Paul Pet in Ventura Calif., recommends that retailers remind pet owners that regular grooming can be beneficial for other reasons as well.

“Grooming not only creates a strong bond between the pet and owner, but also provides frequent opportunities to examine a pet’s body from head to tail, looking for new lumps, bumps or sores,” Martin said. “Early detection is key in keeping our pets healthy.”

Skin and Coat Care Tips

Because skin and coat issues seem to be increasing in number and frequency each year, Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., said it’s important to have a “well-stocked variety of remedies.” At Furry Face there is a skin and coat section, where all remedies are displayed and can easily be referred to when staff members are discussing a particular problem with the client.  

Laura Clark, co-owner of Wylie Wagg, which has locations in Virginia and Washington, D.C., said it also can be effective to pair natural products with their whole-food ingredients in a creative display.

“It would be easy to draw attention to the benefits of coconut oil, for instance, by showcasing multiple coconut-themed products surrounded by actual coconuts,” Clark said. “Summer is obviously a great time to create a fun and eye-catching coconut display. The most important thing about merchandising these products is that the skin and coat care functionality is front and center. For that, clear signage is key.”

In addition, don’t overlook skin and coat products as potential impulse buys. While it’s true that many of these products are sold because customers come in with a specific issue, the summer is a time when insect repellent or a coat spray with SPF might be purchased as an afterthought.

“The item might not be something the person is specifically looking for but solves a common issue—such as insect repellent, coat spray or paw balm,” said Lisa Burns, founder and chairman of Eye Envy Inc. in Torrance, Calif. “Those items are great for impulse buys at the counter.”


A Bit of Detective Work

Itching appears to be one of the biggest skin concerns that customers come in to discuss with their local retailer. While topical skin and coat products will provide relief, retailers also stressed the importance of getting to the root of the cause.

“Unless you can identify the true cause of the skin or coat issue, you can’t possibly identify a true fix,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif. “Is a hot spot actually OCD behavior, a response to diet, environmental pollens, vaccinosis, chemical irritations, allergies or yeast?”

Tamie Waugh, owner of Cobber’s Pet Pantry in Enumclaw, Wash., said that itching is the single most frequent complaint of her customers, and although she’ll provide a topical solution to offer instant relief, she said that getting to the bottom of the larger underlying issue is important.

“The first thing we address is their diet,” Waugh said. “A topical product is often only a temporary solution to a larger problem. If the dog is reacting to a certain ingredient or maybe even a low-quality diet, then the issue isn’t going to be resolved with a topical treatment alone. We explore dietary changes but always pair that with a topical treatment to provide the dog some relief while we aim to get to the bottom of it.”


This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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