Answering the Call

The supplements and remedies category offers pet specialty retailers effective tools to help customers who are increasingly searching for ways to keep their dogs happy and healthy.


Dog remedies and supplements have become increasingly sophisticated, enabling pet owners to better support the overall health of their dogs or target specific problems. This category also provides pet specialty retailers with the chance to make a meaningful contribution to pet health and their customers’ peace of mind. After all, nothing is more important to pet parents than keeping their fur babies feeling sprightly and looking their best.

However, there’s another reason why pet specialty retailers should make a serious effort to get a firm grip on this category—profits. Dog remedies and supplements offer the opportunity to make a pleasing difference to the store’s bottom line, says Dr. Frank Reilly, president and veterinarian for Dogheiro, Inc., a West Chester, Pa.-based company that makes supplements for dogs and horses. According to Reilly, the margins on these items are higher than those for other categories, like dog food. The bottom-line-boosting powers of these products are also not limited to those customers who come in specifically looking for these solutions; they can also increase the register ring as add-ons sales.

Still, this category requires a bit of brain power and elbow grease from pet specialty retailers, as these products won’t typically sell themselves. Effective merchandising requires that retailers understand the factors impacting consumer demand in the category, and then employ a few well-thought out merchandising strategies.

“When people look for supplements or remedies for their dogs, they’re trying to avoid a trip to the vet,” says Reilly. “Another reason is that they’ve been to the vet, and they’re not getting the results they want.”

Also, as more folks take supplements themselves, they have started considering how these products might help their pets. However, even though demand is rising, only a relatively small proportion of pet owners are buying these products, says Harald Fisker, president of Grizzly Pet Products, LLC., a Woodinville, Wash.-based manufacturer of salmon oil products for dogs and cats. “[Consequently], being well aware of which supplements to proactively recommend for which issues is a great way for pet specialty retailers to educate customers and increase sales,” he says.

Trends and Concerns
What are some of the concerns that might drive pet owners to seek out these products? They run the gamut—ear infections, skin issues, lack of energy, digestive upsets, mobility problems, age-related issues and more.

“Pet allergies are very common,” says Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for Pet King Brands, Inc., a Chicago-based manufacturer of a variety of enzymatic products for canine and feline health issues. “Allergies can’t be cured, but the symptoms can be managed. Pet allergies show upon the skin. It’s estimated that 85 percent of pets with allergies will battle infections of the ears and skin—often recurring.”

Frequently, pet owners attempting to provide relief for their dog’s ear infections or hot spots have been to a vet and have tried many products, Whitney says. “The retailer offering remedies becomes a ‘pharmacy’ to these pet owners, with one-stop shopping.”

Another issue that many pet owners are seeking to address is anxiety, says Denise Eaton, education manager for Nelsons USA—located in North Andover, Mass., it is the North American distributor of the RESCUE Remedy family of products, which offer a variety of homeopathic solutions for pets. “People want to make their pets feel comfortable, whether they’re staying at home alone, traveling on the road or hiding from the dreaded vacuum cleaner,” Eaton says. “The idea is to help them stress less.”

Although it is tempting to believe that everyone knows about remedies and supplements, especially since human supplements seem to be so popular, pet specialty retailers are better off setting this assumption aside—especially if it keeps them from proactively selling the products—says Reilly. For one thing, he says, it is important to actively market these products to younger pet owners, since older customers are more likely to be take supplements and be aware of their benefits—the younger ones, not so much. He advises that pet specialty retailers be sure to initiate a conversation with younger customers about these products, rather than assuming they already informed.

However, customer education is really important for all age groups, points out Erin Jones, marketing manager for Response Products. Headquartered in Broken Bow, Neb., the company develops joint health and nutrition products for companion animals, horses and people. For one thing, Jones says, not every supplement/remedy is going to be right for every pet, especially since not every product is created equally. “Most pet owners can recognize the need for a joint supplement, but they generally need help in distinguishing the best options available for them,” she explains. “This is where pet retailers can play a huge part in helping the pet owner make the best decision, by providing information and guidance.”

It starts with asking the necessary questions. The pet’s age is important, as is breed, says Whitney. “There are breeds and physical characteristics of dogs which tend to predispose them to ear and skin issues, such as those with body folds or floppy ears,” he explains, pointing to German Shepherds, Labs and Cocker Spaniels as examples.

A question Reilly suggests leading with is, “Is your dog having any problems or is your dog totally healthy?” Also, retailers can take a cue from what type of food a customer is purchasing, he advises. For example, if they are buying weight-management or senior dog food, you can discuss supplements designed to address these issues. Or, if they’re purchasing certain kinds of shampoo, such as those for dry, itchy skin, this opens up the door for a conversation about remedies and supplements that address this issue.

Inquire about lifestyle and situations that could result in stress or anxiety, says Eaton. Other questions to ask include: Does the dog travel a lot? Does the pet accompany the owner to work? Has the environment changed—for example, a move or a new baby? Is the dog exhibiting any behaviors indicating anxiety, such as howling, chewing, excessive barking, hiding and so on?

“Another great question to ask is what supplements [or remedies] the owner has purchased for their pet in the past,” says Jones. “What has worked? What hasn’t?”

Whitney points out that encouraging customers to share details about their pets’ health and history can be helpful on various levels. “Having a dialogue with pet owners not only builds rapport, but can be beneficial for both the pet owner and the retailer,” says Whitney. “In sharing feedback on products used and what kinds of health issues or concerns pet owners have, retailers are able to provide a selection of valuable products.”

Effective merchandising is also key in making the most of the category.  “Don’t let the supplements and remedies look neglected,” says Reilly. “In some large stores, these products are really orphans.” Other strategies include:

• Move the assortment up from the lower shelves to eye-level or placing them in a more visible area of the store, says Fisker. “Rotating different supplements to the register for shorter periods of time is also an excellent way to engage customers and create more awareness,” he says. “Supplements that move make good money for retailers.”

• Create a “pharmacy” in the store containing a good selection of health products for some of the more common ailments, says Whitney. Also, consider developing a dermatology section, so these products don’t get overlooked.

• Pay attention to customers who want to switch food, says Fisker. “Ask what they’re looking for in a different food, and then introduce them to the relevant supplements to better address the condition.”

• Cross-merchandise these products with other categories. “Think, ‘Where would my customer look for this?’” says Eaton. Anxiety-related remedies might do well in the travel section, or by the crates and carriers, and so on. Other remedies might do well cross-merchandised with the shampoos and grooming aids., as might certain supplements. And don’t forget the food aisles or register.

Additionally, take a page from online retailers, says Reilly. “Hang up a sign in the food aisle or by the register that says, ‘if you’re thinking of buying these specialty foods, consider these supplements.’

“But this is also where they have the advantage over online. They can talk with their customers and share their personal experiences. And by paring the supplements with food the dogs will do better, the customers will be happier, and the sales will be higher.” 

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