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3:05 PM   April 16, 2014
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Ticking Time Bomb

Fleas and ticks don’t stand a chance against natural and holistic treatments.
By Scott and Ann Springer

When a pet owner has a flea infestation, nothing is more urgent than finding a solution that works.

“Having a flea problem is an emotional thing,” says Bob Yarmuth, president of Fleabusters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “People go into a panic state.”

In today’s market, many consumers aren’t looking for just any solution to flea and tick problems—they’re looking for a natural alternative. They prefer natural and/or holistic flea and tick preventives and treatments, reports Carol Brown, owner of Pawsitively Natural, a retail store in Humarock, Mass.

“Natural and organic categories are now a core base of customers,” reports Caryn Stichler, the vice president of marketing for Sergeant’s Pet Care Products Inc., based in Omaha, Neb. “We’ve seen double-digit growth each year.”

Customers who currently purchase other natural pet products, such as foods and treats, are looking for ways to go completely green with their pets, Brown says.

“People are becoming more informed and they want to make a different choice,” she adds.

Pick of the Litter
Many choices now exist on the market for consumers to pick from, Brown notes. It’s just a matter of pairing each customer with the product that best meets his or her needs, she adds.

For example, food-additive products and garlic tablets may prove effective in preventing flea and tick problems, Brown suggests.

All-natural shampoo treatments make great alternatives to harsh chemical products, says Mike Herr, the owner of Sanbar Tropical Fish & Pets in Costa Mesa, Calif. Eucalyptus-infused treatments may also help to prevent and eliminate fleas, Herr says.

Spray-on products—which last for about an hour at a time—offer additional protection when owners takes their pets are outside for a limited time, such as going for a walk in a wooded area.

Brown also recommends that retailers inquire about customers’ lifestyles, however, before recommending these types of products.

“Those customers who prefer not to give something to their dogs every day will not do well with some products,” she says.

According to Yarmuth, sodium-based powders, which contain no chemicals but kill fleas on contact, shut down flea and tick central nervous systems. The combination of borate and salt in large doses makes it impossible for the fleas and ticks to continue to breathe or live, he adds.

Topical products made from natural ingredients are another alternative for consumers who don’t want to fuss with fighting off fleas on a daily basis. When processed and synergized together, household herbs, such as lemon grass, mint, thyme and other common spices, work as a pesticide in insects but are safe for human contact, Stichler says.

Herbal flea collars have been staples in this segment for a long time and continue as good sellers for Brown.

“They’re more effective now than they used to be,” Brown says. “They don’t require a daily dose or much maintenance like other products might.”

Getting More Buzz
The trend for natural ways to eliminate fleas and ticks from pets will only grow in the future, Herr comments. "Everyone wants to go that way,” Herr says.

Herr adds, though, that a lack of information about these products has hindered the growth of this category.

Education about these products is a key component in successfully selling them because the general public doesn’t know that alternatives exist, Yarmuth says, although some customers are catching on.

A large portion of Herr’s customer base comes in seeking natural flea and tick control products from Internet product referrals, Herr says.

“People look the products up online and the product websites direct them to me,” he adds.

Carrying these alternative products can bring in an entirely new crowd of clientele, Stichler says. It may also help spur additional sales of flea treatments that may otherwise be lost, she adds.

“Thirty-six percent of people who buy pet food at retail stores buy their pesticides from their vet or somewhere else,” Stichler explains. “Carrying these products would open up a market for retailers to capture.”

Cross-merchandising flea and tick products with other organic products is an idea.

“Catch someone’s eye as they’re walking down the food aisle and give them a solution they wouldn’t see otherwise,” Stichler advises.

Using a PowerPoint presentation can also help draw attention to the category, Stichler says. Color pictorials may be another alternative for educating customers and marketing these products, Yarmuth says.

“They need to see there’s an alternative,” Stichler notes. “Once they find it they’re so excited they’ve got an alternative to a traditional pesticide.”

Be sure to merchandise a full line of products to treat not only the pet but also the pet’s environment to ensure effectiveness, Stichler says, adding that retailers can advise customers to make sure they kill the fleas on the pet and the fleas that infest the house.

An effective treatment means satisfied repeat customers, Brown says. Retailers should spend a significant amount of time researching products before recommending them to customers.

“Once they use something natural and they see how effective it is then you have a repeat customer,” Brown says. “I think the category is only going to expand as more people go into natural foods, then they will get into all lines of natural products to make their animal healthy.” <HOME>

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