When it comes to protecting pets from fleas and ticks, consumer concerns center on safety and efficacy, with ease of use and the variety of options coming into play as well.
"Over the past seven years, the purchase of natural, chemical-free flea and tick solutions among dog-owning households increased by 300 percent, according to the American Pet Products Association," said James Brandly, content writer and public relations manager at TropiClean Pet Products in Wentzville, Mo. "We believe this is driven by pet parents’ desire for natural pet products and overall product awareness. Pet parents seek products [for which] they can understand the ingredients and see results."
The demand for natural solutions is driving sales at retail, industry participants report.
"Sales are most certainly on the rise as we see more and more new customers every day, and a good amount of those people are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of chemical applications," said Betsy Head, owner and operator of Family Dog Naturals in Leland, N.C. "We see that the trends are moving more and more toward oils and herbs, both topically and internally."
Essential oils as well as topical and internal remedies are popular items at Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif., according to Kelly Pierce, sales associate.
"People are becoming more self-educated on what is safe and beneficial for their pets," she said. "It seems that essential oils to help kill and repel insects are common, as well as use of certain herbs to help build immunity and repel insects from the inside out."
Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, and founder and owner of Earth Heart in Dundee, Ill., said that while customers want botanical-based flea and tick products, they prefer those made in the USA and with substantiated safety and efficacy.
"They want to know that the botanicals, such as essential oils of citronella or geranium and neem seed oil, have a proven track record for repelling fleas and ticks and won’t be toxic to their pet," she explained.
Educated consumers seek to protect their pets as well as the environment with their flea and tick purchases, pet specialty retailers reported. And there are much more products to choose from now.
"Clients want to safely repel fleas and ticks without exposing themselves or the pet to toxic substances," said Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, Wis. "Being safe for the environment is also a concern. We are seeing an increase [in sales] for sure as a number of really great products are hitting the market, giving clients many options."
Trade shows provide an ideal place to launch new products, and several companies took advantage of Global Pet Expo, which was held in Orlando, Fla., in March, to highlight their latest natural flea and tick offerings.
Earth Heart launched its Buzz Guard essential oil blend as a roll-on in a coconut-oil base that absorbs quickly, doesn’t stain or leave sticky residues, and has a long shelf-life, according to the company. It was designed to help improve outdoor comfort during activities such as walking, camping, hiking, boating, dog sports training and competition, and just having fun outdoors.
"Like all Earth Heart products, Buzz Guard roll-on is puppy friendly from 10 weeks, made in the USA using pure essential oils that have been studied for their effectiveness with insect control," said Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, and founder and owner of the Dundee, Ill.-based company. "Customers like the smaller size for travel, and there is no ‘spritz’ for dogs who are fearful of that sound."
Southport, Conn.-based Earth Animal has introduced its Nature’s Protection Flea & Tick Protection Program for Dogs & Cats. The three-step program is designed to eliminate fleas and ticks, from the inside out, the company stated.
According to the manufacturer, step 1 of the program is adding the new Daily Internal Powder or yeast-free Daily Herbal Internal Powder to the pet’s daily diet. Step 2 is adding the new Daily No More Flea & Tick Drops to the pet’s food, water or mouth twice daily to bitter the blood, thus deterring bug bites and helping to quiet the allergic reactions caused by flea and tick bites. Step 3 is using additional protection in the form of Herbal Bug Spray for dogs, Herbal Shampoo for dogs, Herbal Flea & Tick Collars for dogs and cats, and Herbal Flea & Tick Spot-on for dogs and cats.
Savvy Ways with Displays
Strategic in-store merchandising of natural flea and tick products for pets can both offer educational assistance and boost sales, according to industry experts.
"It is about having the right displays both inline and in places to interrupt the pet parents’ shopping experience," said James Brandly, content writer and public relations manager at TropiClean Pet Products in Wentzville, Mo.
Several stores reported displaying their natural flea and tick products at the registers, and highlighting them especially during the applicable seasons.
"We group all of our flea and tick products together near the checkout," said Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, Wis. "We are in the Midwest, so spring and fall are the seasons."
To alert customers to the changing needs for the season, Margarat Nee, lead educator at Dexter’s Deli, which has three stores in San Diego County in Del Mar, Calif., said they email customers in early spring.
"We send out an email to our customers with reminders about how to use these less-toxic products around their home, yard and pet," she said. "We also do seasonal displays to highlight the multilevel approach that we advocate."
Kelly Pierce, sales associate at Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif., reported a similar strategy.
"To highlight these products, we do a special seasonal display once the weather starts to get warmer, in a central part of the store," she said. "We also do a Facebook post and an Instagram post to highlight our natural options."
In-store demonstrations where customers can interact with the products also work well, according to Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal in Southport, Conn. She recommended placing jars of the products on an antique table for customers to open, smell and touch.
"Place literature on the table and provide literature about side effects of insecticides and pesticides, perhaps on a blackboard," she said.
However, no display can replace the benefit of personal interaction, others noted.
"The most successful strategy we’ve found is one on a more personal level," said Betsy Head, owner and operator of Family Dog Naturals in Leland, N.C. "Our patrons trust us and look to us for guidance when it comes to the overall health of their animals. We relate to them, and we practice what we preach without fail."
Offer Essential Information
Education is paramount in the natural flea and tick product category, sources agreed.
"It’s not only important, it’s required," said Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, Wis. "There is a lot of misinformation, and we strive to educate our clients on the pros and cons of a variety of options."
Margarat Nee, lead educator at Dexter’s Deli, which has three stores in San Diego County in Del Mar, Calif., said education is a regular part of her store’s culture.
"Natural flea management needs to be a multilevel approach that covers the home, yard, pet bedding and the pet itself," she said. "We have a pet health guide titled Natural Flea Management that is available in the store and on our website. We also ensure that our staff are knowledgeable about the variety of products and how to use them together for best effect."
In-store retailer training is an essential step in the education process, and several manufacturers reported working closely with shop staff to ensure they understand the category well.
"TropiClean works closely with our retailers through training sessions and by providing them educational discussion guides, resources and merchandising options to fully understand the ingredients and applications of each TropiClean Natural Flea & Tick product," said James Brandly, content writer and public relations manager at TropiClean Pet Products in Wentzville, Mo.
He added that through messaging on its displays, the company helps educate pet store shoppers about the importance of a multistage approach to fleas and ticks.
"You must treat the pet, home and yard to guarantee you get them all," Brandly said.
Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, and founder and owner of Earth Heart in Dundee, Ill., echoed the importance of in-store displays.
"Consumers want to learn about alternatives to spot-on products, [so we provide] point-of-sale material that’s easy to read, with pictures or simple text showing how to use the product," she said. "Customer testimonials are always beneficial, as is information about the efficacy of the ingredients."
Working directly with customers makes a big impact on education and sales in this natural category, industry participants said.
"In general, there is a lot more to know about natural remedies, and it takes more work than your typical over-the-counter chemical medication," said Kelly Pierce, sales associate at Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif. "We have always found it best to educate customers through interactions with our highly trained staff. We also send out email newsletters with pertinent information about our products."
Simply interacting with shoppers and asking the right questions can help retail staff to match customers up with the most appropriate flea and tick solution for their pets, said Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal in Southport, Conn.
"The best way [to educate customers] is to invest a little time to find out the animal’s history when it comes to fleas and ticks," she said. "Ask: Where is your dog or cat throughout the day? Do they currently have fleas or ticks? Do they have a history with them? This enables you to direct them to the appropriate strategy."
In addition, Betsy Head, owner and operator of Family Dog Naturals in Leland, N.C., said, "Supplying customers with free samples and literature is always helpful when someone is thinking of going natural."