The Shampoo Solution

Informed retailers who understand the shampoos and conditioners on their shelves can help customers find the right product to solve almost any skin or coat issue.


Shampoos and conditioners may not be a large segment of a pet store’s retail offerings, but they are an important one. It’s easy to bathe short-haired and small dogs at home, and as people try to skim a few dollars off the budget here and there, owners of larger and full-coated breeds are beginning to do the same. Although customers may still bring their pets to a salon for clipping and styling, bathing at home can stretch the time between professional groomings.

Yet, while some customers need little prompting to buy shampoos and conditioners to use at home, retail stores can still boost sales of bathing products in the same way they do in other categories—by sharing what they know. The first step for every retailer will be acquiring the knowledge to help guide their customers purchasing decisions.

Know Thy Products
Every dog has a problem that can be alleviated by the right shampoo and/or conditioner. Retailers should know what each product is designed to do and what the ingredients are, and they should approach shampoo sales as a problem-solving exercise. Manufacturers can be instrumental in getting retail employees and customers up to speed. Whether it’s a well-designed website, color brochures or personal answers from a representative, manufacturers can provide information designed to help customers select the right product for every problem. 

For example, a retailer can steer a customer with a dog that has itchy skin to shampoos and conditioners containing ingredients that soothe itching and forestall skin infections. A pet owner who wants their dog to look great may be interested in color- or texture-enhancing shampoos, and the “doggy odor” customer can select from odor-controlling or masking shampoos.

Generally speaking, customers are looking for shampoos in the following groups: medicated and anti-itch, odor control and deskunking, color enhancing or stain reducing, and the often asked for regular shampoo. Conditioners are used to reduce static on dogs with longer coats, such as poodles or shih tzus, and they can encourage shedding of dead undercoat on shorter, double-coats such as those on beagles or huskies.

Just as we can’t all be veterinary nutritionists, we can’t all be canine dermatological experts—but we can have the basics down to share with customers. Beyond Suds and Scents, by Barbara Bird, is a good book for an overview, as it deals exclusively with pet grooming products and covers what’s in shampoos and conditioners, how they work, differences in specialty products, soap versus detergent, understanding harshness, shampoo reactions, pH, and how the products are marketed. It includes ingredient lists and a complete glossary of ingredient terms and definitions. It’s a good way to familiarize your staff with common ingredients and what they do.

Retailers can also use this kind of background intel to make wise choices about what to stock. Stores, for example, will want to make sure to stock shampoos that have enough of a listed ingredient to actually have an effect. According to Bird, the current trend toward “green” has some manufacturers putting in botanicals, but perhaps just enough to provide a recognizable scent, not enough to have an effect on a dog or its coat. “There’s no regulation of labeling for pet grooming products,” says Bird. “No requirement to put ingredients in order of volume.” 

The pet-owning public wants some kind of disclosure on labels, and some manufacturers are responding, according to Bird. Some are using human-product standards and listing ingredients in descending order of percentages. A few examples of brands that list their ingredients in this way are Pet Silk, Isle of Dogs, EZ-Groom, and Eqyss. Other manufacturers are very good about giving ingredient information upon request.

Bird warns retailers to beware of what she calls “dodge-ball” ingredient listings—listings that are ambiguous, such as “mild coconut oil base,” which could be anything as most detergents are derived initially from coconut oil but go through a number of chemical processes to become sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or other detergents. Being general about the working ingredients, such as the shampoo base, but specific about more desirable sounding additives, such as aloe, panthenol or anything that sounds natural/botanical, can be misleading.

Labeling, however, does pose some challenges for even the most well-intentioned of shampoo manufacturers. For instance, chemical preservatives of all kinds have gained such a poor reputation that many companies simply leave them off of their ingredient lists rather than having them act as a red flag to consumers. The truth, according to Bird and cosmetic scientists, is that unprotected, unpreserved products with risks of contamination can be potentially more hazardous than the chemicals used to preserve them. Chemical ingredients aren’t necessarily bad; for example, cocamide DEA, a common component of many shampoo bases, is simply a foam builder and thickener, and it serves to reduce the harshness of the cleaning agents.

Essentially, just as with dog food and nutrition, a lot of shampoo sales come down to trust in the manufacturer. Are they ethical, pet oriented people? Or are they only about the sales? Find a few lines you are comfortable with and fill your shelves with product you and your customers can trust.

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County. 

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