When it comes to fleas and ticks, pet owners are serious about protecting their animals from these potentially dangerous pests. But many are also concerned about the safety of the products they are using. Pet specialty retailers should be prepared to answer questions and provide customers with a comprehensive suite of product selections, from shampoos and sprays to spot-ons, collars, combs and more.
Bethany Lontz, store manager of The Blue Dog Pet Shop in Lemoyne, Pa., said that the store’s customers could almost be split right down the middle when it comes to those that want all-natural flea and tick control products and those that don’t. That makes options important.
"We have both all-natural and not-all-natural products to choose from," Lontz said. "Most pet parents already have their minds made up before they even come into the store about their feelings toward the natural or not-natural debate. It’s mostly a matter of giving them choices that coincide with what they already believe is best."
While there’s a split in preference now, Lontz said that there was a time when natural products were not really on anyone’s radar. Now she has plenty of customers who come in requesting them specifically.
Jan Hopper, owner of Living Pawsitively in Lafayette Township, N.J., said that more pet owners are educating themselves and lean toward natural products.
"Just like they’re more interested in knowing what’s in their pets’ food, they’re more interested in learning about the products they use on their pets," Hopper said. "There are lots of pet parents that simply don’t want products with chemicals."
A shift in pet owner age might even influence product popularity, according to industry participants.
"The increase in younger pet owners especially is driving a desire to only purchase products for pets that live up to the standards people have for products for themselves," said Stephanie Boone, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Wondercide Natural Products. "That means they’re doing a lot more research, and we’re proud to offer safe, natural and effective products that live up to their high standards."
But there are still plenty of pet owners who prefer traditional flea and tick control products. Janet Monaco, owner of Pet Pros in Rockledge, Fla., said that in her climate, ticks never die, and pet owners take the threat very seriously.
"Effectiveness is No. 1 for our customers," she said. "Since we don’t get enough of a freeze here in Florida to kill off these pests, it’s a year-round concern, and pet parents want a product that works."
Drawing Attention to Flea and Tick Control
Flea and tick control is one of those categories that most pet owners already know is important. Even so, it is still essential for retailers to give proper space to the category. For one, many times pet owners forget that they can seek out these products at their independent pet supply retailer as opposed to their veterinarian’s office.
Jan Hopper, owner of Living Pawsitively in Lafayette Township, N.J., said that the store carries options that the veterinarian’s office might not even offer, such as collars and sprays.
While most retailers seemed to agree that there were limited ways to get creative with displays, they all said that prominent placement of product is a key to cluing customers in to what products are available.
Stephanie Volo, vice president of marketing and sustainability at Earth Animal in Southport, Conn., said that the company provides free displays that will help draw customers’ attention to its products. It is important for pet owners to be able to see what their choices are, and displays can make that possible, she noted.
Mason Williams, pet specialty category and shopper marketing manager for Bayer Animal Health in Shawnee, Kan., said that Bayer has made a concerted effort to ensure that its merchandise and product packaging more clearly articulate the differences between Bayer’s brands so that customers can understand their choices.
"If shoppers aren’t clear about what makes products different, they may choose a product that doesn’t solve their problem or is just the least expensive on the shelf," he said. "If that product doesn’t end up meeting their needs, the retailer risks the shopper going somewhere else to solve their problem."
Assessing the Options
With so many different flea and tick products on the market, it is not uncommon for customers to have questions. This poses an opportunity for retailers to shine.
Bethany Lontz, store manager of The Blue Dog Pet Shop in Lemoyne, Pa., said that most of the direction customers need is regarding which product is best for them. In most cases, they already have their minds made up about what type of product they prefer, in terms of natural versus conventional, but they still need some guidance as to which product or brand to use.
Stephanie Volo, vice president of marketing and sustainability at Earth Animal in Southport, Conn., said that these opportunities to educate begin with a common customer question: "What do you have for flea and tick prevention or protection?"
"We feel that it’s up to us, the manufacturer, to help the retailer go on to answer customer questions and also ask more questions to be able to engage in a truly helpful conversation," Volo said. "For us, a big question that retailers need to be able to answer is how to guide a customer who wants to switch from a chemical product that kills fleas and ticks to a natural product that prevents them in the first place."
Mason Williams, pet specialty category and shopper marketing manager for Bayer Animal Health in Shawnee, Kan., said that retailers hold a valuable role when it comes to guiding pet owners.
"Store associates can make a big difference in helping pet owners understand the importance of flea and tick prevention," Williams said. "Bayer Animal Health is supporting associate training through our partnership with [ExpertVoice, formerly known as] Experticity. We have also invested in providing information about our brands and the flea and tick category in general to help build associates’ confidence to proactively engage shoppers with product recommendations."
While viewpoints might differ when it comes to determining which product is best, there is no doubt that the end goal is the same for all pet owners seeking flea and tick control.
"Pet parents just want the best for their pets," Lontz said. "It can often be challenging to know what that is when it’s a category with varying opinions. But both sides are just trying to do what’s best for their pet, which is protect them from dangerous fleas and ticks with the product that is best for them. We believe the best thing that we can do is give our customers choices."