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Cat Marketplace: Consumer Education Leads to Success With Spot-Ons

Posted: March 26, 2012, 1:45 p.m. EST

Boost profits from spot-ons and other systemic products by keeping cat owners informed.
By Lizett Bond

Fleas and ticks might not be able to travel through walls, but cat owners experiencing infestations may feel these pests are capable of just that and more. With a vast array of treatments on the market, recruiting spot-ons and other systemic products into the flea campaign arsenal allows retailers and customers to wage a successful war against these pests.

Where once flea collars commanded the largest segment of the flea control category, spot-ons now occupy that position as an effective and lasting means of control.

cat flea products
Spot-ons are popular with shoppers who want an easy-to-apply flea and tick solution. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at PetStop Warehouse

“Spot-ons are the driving factor of flea and tick remedies right now,” said Steve LeVeau, director of marketing animal health for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet, which offers flea, tick and mosquito control products with brands such as Adams and Bio Spot.

However, because application on a routine basis is important for efficacy, consumer education is an essential building block to profits in this area.

This is a key selling component for retailers, confirmed Dr. Paris J. Revoir, DVM, training manager for Bayer HealthCare Animal Health in Shawnee, Kan., maker of Advantage II for cats.

“The problem I see as a veterinarian is that pet owners with dogs that go outdoors often forget about their cats, particularly indoor cats,” he said. “If dogs bring fleas inside, the indoor cats can foster an infestation if not treated.” 

Spot-on treatments, such as Advantage II, containing insect growth regulators (IGRs), kill all life stages of fleas, and pet owners are now seeking convenient availability of these products, Dr. Revoir added.

Due to the ease of use of spot-on treatments, sales of foggers and dips have declined, said Jodi Liddle, merchandiser for Drs. Foster and Smith of Rhinelander, Wis.

“Consumers are looking for easy, quick and safe products at a reasonable cost,” she said.

Two over-the-counter treatments from Sergeant’s Pet Care launched this spring. Sentry Fiproguard Max and Sergeant Pronyl OTC Max combine fipronil with a second active ingredient, etofenprox in the cat formulas, and are equivalent to the latest technology introduced in veterinarian-dispensed products, according to the Omaha, Neb.-based company.

Length of flea season must be taken into account when considering flea and tick product inventories, according to Laura Bednarczyk, owner of Lulu & Luigi, which has three locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

“For cats, we don’t carry a lot of flea products,” she said. “We do try to have something on hand and carry Frontline for cats and kittens.”

The shorter flea season in Minnesota leads to a focus on flea and tick products in the springtime, but local veterinarians are now advising owners with outdoor pets to provide protection all year long, Bednarczyk added.
Application Advice
For flea treatment success, certain factors need to be taken into consideration, said Sandra Eland, owner of 50/50 Pet Supply, a wholesaler in North Port, Fla. She cautioned that while spot-ons are generally very effective, they are not necessarily a cure-all, and certain factors may lessen treatment success.

“Spot-ons require an oil base to spread,” Eland said. “The product may not be able to spread properly on an animal with extremely dry skin or one who has been bathed within 48 hours of treatment.”

In response to consumer concerns regarding proper application of spot-ons, Central Garden & Pet has developed the Smart Shield Applicator, introduced in spring 2012. The product assists owners for an easier and safer application, the company stated.

“This device basically creates a barrier between the pet owner and the pet,” LeVeau said. “With the Smart Shield, the tube is placed in the applicator and the device opens the tube, spreads the pet’s fur, and applies the product.”

To Stock or Not to Stock?
Take a flea, any flea and ask where they prefer to raise their large families. Beyond an obliging host, these bloodsuckers promise to flourish in warm, humid conditions. For this reason, climate considerations and geographical demand are often taken into account when stocking flea and tick control products.

In Santa Fe, N.M., Laurie Wilson said her boutique experiences very few requests for flea control products.

“I have had a few people come in with flea problems, but it’s pretty minor because it’s so dry here,” said Wilson, the owner of Teca Tu: A Pawsworthy Emporium & Deli. “Customers might buy some product if they are traveling, especially mosquito and tick remedies for humans.”

Likewise, Dan Barton noted that because fleas do not thrive in desert climates, local demand is lacking. For this reason, Barton, owner of Hollywood Premier Pets in Palm Desert, Calif., carries a small inventory of Central Garden & Pet’s Bio Spot to cater to “snowbirds” arriving with dogs from other climate zones. Because cats are less likely to travel, the store does not carry feline treatments.

The time to begin flea treatment is in the springtime because by summer, flea season is in full swing in most areas, according to Carol Starr, office manager for Dr. Goodpet, a manufacturer and e-tailer in Inglewood, Calif.

“If you start using a homeopathic product like Flea Relief around springtime, it builds up the pet’s immunity to the fleas,” she said. “In parts of California, though, flea season is all year long.”

Desert and mountain regions experience fewer problems with fleas than warmer, moister areas, noted Steve Le Veau, director of marketing animal health for Central Garden & Pet, based in Walnut Creek, Calif. Central offers flea, tick and mosquito control products with brands such as Adams and Bio Spot.

“For example, Minnesota’s flea season is much shorter than southern states for obvious reasons,” he said. “Once the temperature hits 78 degrees, that’s when we start seeing more activity.”

“The moist heat is a great place for fleas,” he added. –LB

To further protect pets, the cat device and tube are not interchangeable with the product intended for dogs.
Likewise, consumer education plays a significant role in the use of flea remedies, as formulations for dogs can prove lethal if used on cats. In addition, cat owners should know that a cat that sleeps with or rubs on a dog risks exposure to the canine spot-on, making use of those products prohibitive.

“The consumer often doesn’t realize this,” Eland said. “That’s the reason they shop with specialty retailers and why it is so important that we not assume the customer knows what they want when they come in.”

For customers experiencing heavy infestations, LeVeau suggested a three-step process beginning with shampooing or spraying the cat, as well as the carpet, with a product such as Bio Spot or Adams containing an IGR to eliminate all four stages of fleas.

Alternative Treatment Options
As consumers become more concerned with their own health, they are also seeking healthy alternatives for animal companions, retailers reported.

Lorna Michaud said that because customers are seeking more natural solutions to fleas and ticks, she’s receiving fewer requests for spot-ons.

“I carry spot-ons, but people are coming in looking for more natural flea products,” said Michaud, the owner of PetStop Warehouse in Mission Viejo, Calif. “That’s where the demand is.”

Systemic oral preventives, often given as a food additive for cats, prevent flea reproduction, and Drs. Foster and Smith’s Liddle noted that these products, such as Novartis Animal Health’s Program, are effective for flea control.

However, Eland added that administering oral medicines to a cat is a challenge that many owners are not equipped to handle.

“It’s much easier to just snap open the spot-on and put it between the shoulder blades and they are done for the month,” she said.

For ease of use, 50/50 Pet Supply offers customers Pest Defense, a chewable tablet manufactured by Eland’s company of the same name, as a dietary supplement. Used daily, this palatable liver-flavored product contains natural, human-grade ingredients to repel fleas, ticks, flies and mosquitoes and is safe for cats or dogs, Eland stated.

“It’s a repellent that builds up in the pet’s body, making them unattractive to blood-sucking pests,” she said.

Comparatively, homeopathic treatment is based on the theory that “like cures like.” In this way, Dr. Goodpet, located in Inglewood, Calif., has created Flea Relief, a natural, homeopathic flea and tick remedy containing pulex irritants, a flea extract. The liquid product can be administered orally, in food or in water, and it activates the body’s self-repair by building up immunity to the irritants in the fleabite, according to the company.

“If they get bit by a flea they are not going to have the itching or redness,” said Carol Starr, office manager. “It’s similar to a polio vaccination where they actually give a little bit of polio in order to build up the immunity.”

In addition, Starr recommended using a vitamin supplement, such as Maximum Protection Formula, to further boost a pet’s immune system.

“If a pet is healthy, the fleas and ticks are less likely to bother them,” she said.

Proper diet and supplements help cats to resist other problems associated with fleas and ticks such as dry, itchy skin and infection from bites, noted Diane Beaty, district manager for Red Bandanna Pet Food, with 14 stores in the Atlanta area. Beaty further emphasized the importance of educating customers regarding natural treatments.

“Much like other life changes, this program requires dedication and commitment,” she said. “No instant gratification here.”

Educating Cat Owners
The best time to integrate flea control in the mind of the cat owner, according to Bayer’s Revoir, is upon acquisition of a new pet.
As consumers become increasingly conscious of ingredients and their role in effective treatment of flea and tick issues, Central Garden & Pet’s LeVeau noted, they are more likely to question products on the shelf. In this way, well-trained sales associates with the ability to identify the problem and discuss solutions with a customer become vital to solving flea issues.

“Years ago, every dog and cat wore a flea collar and that was their ‘treatment,’” Beaty said. “Today, consumers ask more questions about those ingredients and the effects they will have on their pets.”

For this reason, retailers, distributors and manufacturers agreed that the most effective marketing for these products is employee and consumer education.

In tough economic times, consumers are eliminating purchases that may not be deemed necessary, and flea control is secondary in some cases, noted 50/50 Pet Supply’s Eland.

“Sometimes customers think they know what they want but are not fully informed,” she said. “What they really want is a product that works, and you may have something to offer at a better price.”

It follows that retailers who take the time to provide education to customers will find that those pet owners have no problem spending in order to keep their cats healthy, according to Revoir.

“Consumers are going to remember where they get that information,” LeVeau said. “A retailer providing a credible solution will most likely create a loyal customer.”


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