Natural Defense

Fleas and ticks can cause loads of problems for unaware dog owners, but pet specialty retailers can provide a preventative assist through education and products that effectively neutralize these nasty pests.


After the brutal winter that many parts of the country endured, many pet owners are looking forward to getting out of the house as we head into spring. And for the majority of dog owners, cooped up for months with their restive canines, this means taking the pack along with them; tromping along trails, nosing through the woods or romping by the shore. Fun times for sure, but along with all this outdoor activity comes a downside that pet store customers probably aren’t even thinking about—fleas and ticks. As the months heat up, these bloodsucking nuisances come alive, wreaking their misery on pets and people alike. They can even afflict those who don’t even have dogs, thanks to the fact that people’s furry buddies pretty much go everywhere with them these days. Consequently, providing customers with effective flea and tick prevention solutions isn’t just a matter of keeping their pets healthy, it’s just plain good manners.

The first step is getting customers thinking about flea and tick prevention before they have a problem. Start this process early, creating awareness through signage, banners and POS displays. Along with showcasing these products in their own section, cross-merchandising in areas of the store that customers regularly visit—such as food—is also a good tactic. Other places to locate them include the travel section, by the crates and carriers, with remedies, and near the register or front of the store.

Get store employees up to speed by not only educating them about the products the store offers, but also informing them about the need to be proactive with customers—for example, by asking, “What are you doing about flea and tick prevention?”—rather than waiting for folks to inquire about these products.

Offering a sufficient array of choices is also important. Some stores prefer to inventory a mix of conventional and natural options; others prefer to carry only natural alternatives. These have become increasingly essential, since many pet owners are trying to avoid chemical-based products, says Dr. Adelia Ritchie, CEO/founder of DERMagic Skin Care for Animals, Inc. Located in Kingston, Wash., the company provides alternatives to conventional flea and tick treatments, as well as for a variety of skin concerns.

“So often, conventional flea and tick products, such as once-a-month drops, flea collars and so on, can cause other serious skin issues, or depress the skin’s natural immunity to these diseases,” says Ritchie. “[Consequently], pet parents are seeking products that are natural and organic, and especially products made in the USA.”

However, because the natural flea and tick remedy category has become so popular, more products are entering the arena, some of which work better than others. If pet specialty retailers are going to maintain their standing with customers, they must be certain to fully vet the natural alternatives they’re offering—particularly since some consumers still harbor doubts about the efficacy of these products, says Ritchie.

Due Diligence
First, retailers should look for manufacturer transparency and sales support. Consider Marshall Pet Products. Located in Wolcott, N.Y., the company provides pet solutions for a variety of species, among them a new tick releaser/testing product, says Linda Cope, global marketing manager for the company.

“The increase in the tick epidemic is the main reason we brought this product to the market,” she explains. “[Plus] all-natural products are in high demand.”

Along with offering a mail-in diagnostic option to see if the removed tick is carrying any diseases—the testing is conducted by a lab they’ve partnered with, says Cope—the company provides retailers with a variety of collateral materials. These include product brochures listing the ingredients, directions and illustrations for tick removal; a chart to identify the tick; and a POP floor display.

DERMagic also makes product brochures available to all their wholesale buyers, and posts videos on their website demonstrating how to use their products. Additionally, they’ve placed QR codes on their product labels for customers who want more information on the spot. They also offer a money-back guarantee, says Ritchie.

Coming across as knowledgeable to customers will not only help store staff close sales, it will inspire loyalty. The key to establishing a pet store as the go-to for these remedies is asking the right questions. First among these should be an inquiry about whether the customer is looking for a preventative or removal solution, says Cope.

Other questions to ask include:

• Are there signs of an established flea problem, such as red bumps on the stomach or under the arms? Is there evidence of flea dirt (actually excreted blood specks that look like pepper)?

• What are the animal’s surroundings like? Is there tall grass or woods; is it rural or suburban? Are there other pets in the house? What about wildlife that may have access to the yard? Do other domestic animals wander into the yard?

• What products have they already tried? What didn’t seem to be effective or what worked? What application method did they like? What kind of application method and/or frequency are they looking for?

• Does the dog have any allergies, sensitivities or skin issues?

• What kinds of activities does the dog participate in and where do these take place?

Don’t overlook the environment, says Ritchie, who recommends asking customers if they’ve treated their yard, carpet, bedding, car and any other place the pet has inhabited for fleas.

“People often forget that for every flea spotted on a dog, there are at least 100 more in the carpet and pet bedding that will not be affected at all by a flea collar or drops,” she says. “Fleas need to be killed as they hatch to eliminate them from a pet’s environment. Flea collars or drops only kill those fleas that jump on or bite an animal.”

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