Success with Pet Supplements

Pet supplements can enhance pet food sales for retailers that take the right approach to these synergistic product categories.


Supplements have become one of the fastest-growing niches in the pet industry in recent years, with an astounding assortment of options to consider. But with all of the great natural food on the market these days, are supplements really necessary? And if so, what is the best way to market them?

To begin, it is important to gain a basic understanding of why so many people are turning to natural supplements, and how diet and supplementation are linked.

Most people who are shopping for supplements are looking for a remedy for a specific ailment or condition that cannot be addressed entirely by diet. They are motivated by their desire to take a preventative stance in the care of their animals. Most have been inspired by their own uses of dietary supplements, by what they have learned through media or from the testimonials of other pet owners. They will come into your store loaded with questions about which supplement to use, which brand to buy and how the product is best applied. At first, this may seem daunting—especially to retailers that are new to the animal supplements arena—but with a general understanding of the supplements you stock, more questions will frequently lead to more sales.

“I use supplements as a tool to open discussions, and that leads to sales,” says Terri Grow, owner of PetSage in Alexandria, Va. “Typically, if a client wants a supplement, her pet has a health issue like constipation, ear, diarrhea [or] skin problems. They want products that help, but my approach is to find out what they’re feeding the animal to trigger the problems. This leads to more sales through food, and we help them with the transition to our special food. Supplements and good food help develop a relationship between you and the customer, and that leads to customer loyalty. They come back for the advice and the help.”

“Our goal is to educate customers,” reports Mary Jansky of Noah’s Natural Pet Market in San Diego. “They get a mini class in animal health and nutrition when they come in our store. We train our employees on how to present the information in an easy manner without scaring the customers off. Education is huge for us, and it’s the foundation of what we do. We take it in baby steps with customers. We recommend one product, like essential fatty acids, and the customers see the benefits and come back eager for more. We gain their trust step by step. To accomplish this, we train our staff, make them study a manual and take quizzes, and we do webinars and in-store training with manufacturers.”

Many of the pet product retailers I visit throughout the world have gone beyond traditional marketing techniques to capture much more than increased sales. They are building networked communities of like-minded pet owners and veterinarians that come into their stores to share pet care experiences and purchase products. In the process of sharing information, everybody wins—especially the animals—because finding the right pet supplement means finding the right pet food first, and during the process, the pet owner will invariably learn more about their pet.

“It’s not just about finding solutions to specific problems,” says Jim Hober, guardian of a small mixed breed dog that I met during a “Yappy Hour” at Green Dog Natural Pet Store in Portland, Ore. “Coming here to talk with staff and other customers about natural pet care and supplements has improved quality of life for my dog and myself. I felt helpless and at the mercy of whatever ailment might happen next, until I started coming here and getting on track with the right foods and supplements.”

In simple terms, supplements improve the body’s ability to function properly and stay healthy, but the body must first be provided with the right fuel and building blocks from which to work. If an animal is on a poor diet, even the best supplements cannot work efficiently. Therefore, the high-quality foods you sell should be at front and center of any effort to sell supplements. Without good food, supplements are often useless.

Supplements are not a hard sell. They help the animal utilize nutrients better and support the body at what it is naturally designed to do. Even animals that are already on a good diet and do not exhibit any health problems will benefit from the correct mix of supplements, because in addition to their value as remedies, supplements can also be quite effective at preventing disease and providing extra measures of support against illness or factors that the owner or her vet may not be able to see. A well-balanced natural diet must be at the core of daily pet care, but good nutrition may still not be enough to address all of the needs of every individual animal.

“Even with the best kibble we recommend supplementing digestive enzymes and probiotics,” says Liz Oshant of Noah’s Natural Pet Market in San Diego. “Manufacturers cook all the enzymes out of the food, and the body can overtax trying to produce the required enzymes, so why not supplement this and let that energy be used elsewhere in the body? The food with a spray-on coating of probiotics is not bio-available to do the job.”

It is important to keep in mind that no two dogs, cats or other animals are alike. Just like humans, animals experience physical and non-physical influences every day that will alter their requirements for added systemic support. The effects of stress, aging, immune imbalances, excessive exercise or lack thereof are only a few of the factors that can manifest into health issues in absence of the right systemic support. And because we cannot see inside of an animal or ask it questions about how it feels, we are left guessing about what more we can do for the animal. This is where supplements come in—by adding an active matrix of added support that may not be provided through diet alone. Enzymes and probiotics assist with digestion. Omega-3 fatty acids (marine oils) support healthy skin, coat, nervous system and increased resistance against flea bites. Vitamin and mineral supplements assure that the animal is getting enough of the essential nutrients he needs. All that needs to be added is good food.

Greg Tilford is a well-known expert, author, consultant and teacher in the field of natural animal supplements. He is an author of five books, including the acclaimed Herbs for Pets, the Natural Way to Enhance your Pet’s Life. He is also a charter member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Animal Supplements Council (NASC) and chairs the Animal Products Committee of the American Herbal Products Association. He is the CEO and formulating herbalist for Animals’ Apawthecary Co. and Animal Essentials Inc., two Montana-based companies that produce a full line of natural supplements for companion animals.

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