For retailers interested in presenting holistic products, it’s not enough to line up some herbal supplements on a shelf and claim to have a holistic section.
Wholistic vet, whose office happens to be near our store, kept advising his patients to use the clear, thick juice of an aloe plant to treat all sorts of minor cuts, abrasions and insect bites on their dogs. Many of his patients didn’t know anything about aloe–what the plant looks like or where to get one. We did. So we let the vet know we could sell little plants in inexpensive plastic pots. We wrapped the plants nicely with strands of raffia that matched the color palette of our store brand and displayed them prominently in the front window with signage that provided bullet-point benefits of this wonderful plant.
By teaming up with the vet, we created an intriguing point of interest for customers and opened doors for all sorts of related conversation topics about a vast range of holistic remedies. Most important, however, we learned how important it is to consider the full implications of that strategy. Holistic, after all, refers to a school of thought that believes nature is best understood as a complete (or whole) system, rather than an assemblage of elements that can be dissected and treated discretely. As retailers interested in presenting holistic products, it wasn’t enough to simply line up some herbal supplements with a price tag and call them holistic, we had to be able to talk to our customers from a holistic point of view about various common ailments dogs suffer.
So, for example, if a customer comes to us with questions about what she can do to help relieve her dog’s incessant itching, we are obliged to probe deeply to understand the dog’s world. It could be a food allergy, fleas or mosquitoes, or an environmental reaction to carpet fibers, floor cleaners or lawn fertilizer. The dog’s condition could be exacerbated by obsessive-compulsive disorder or loneliness and isolation because their owners have to be away at work all day. One treatment to break this escalating cycle of scratch-itch-scratch is a soothing balm.
Another treatment is an herbal remedy. There are holistic herbal blends on the market that help to balance a dog’s overall health, and more targeted mixtures to calm anxiety, soothe arthritis, alleviate allergies and boost immune systems.
The point is: try to understand the ailment first, and then suggest a remedy. From a practical point of view, then, storeowners interested in offering holistic remedies–and there is plenty of evidence that this a worthwhile strategy–should imagine how their product lineups might address the following general ailments for which dog owners most commonly seek treatments:
Flea and tick control—Many dog owners are becoming increasingly uncomfortable using chemicals to kill fleas. We recommend a number of botanical-based dips, dietary supplements and spray-on products that repel. But flea and tick control can also lead customers to the grooming section. It’s a lot of work, but flea combs are effective. Take the time to understand how fleas behave and propagate. We even recommend homemade flea traps consisting of a simple, shallow pan of water that attracts the little devils and drowns them.
Hotspots, insect bites and skin abrasions—If these ailments are not serious, a retailer can offer any number of dietary supplements, as well as balms and natural oils. Always remind customers that any signs of infection need a vet’s attention.
Inflamed soft tissues–ears, teeth, lips, gums and paws.
With all of these, trouble signs could indicate larger more complex problems. This is why it’s good to have those discussions with vets to help guide customers responsibly.
Problems with digestion, like loose stool and gas.
Sometimes it can be as simple as overfeeding. Often, the dog needs a little help absorbing their food with natural digestive enzymes that can be found by switching foods or in a supplement.
General skin and coat conditions—Again, this is a good topic of discussion to have with a vet in order to understand how poor coat quality might be due to a dog’s poor general health. Still, fish and vegetable oils in the diet, as well as other supplements, can turn things around.
It’s okay to talk about holistic remedies with customers clinically or even philosophically, but in the end, in terms of the customer’s final purchase decision, the term should ideally come to mean “simple, safe, effective and practical.”
Take time to get to know the local holistic vet. There’s not many of them in most communities, but even if no vets in your market advertise as such, take the time to talk to vets who might have a distinctive point of view on the topic of holistic remedies and suggest ways a store might be able to help their patients. Storeowners don’t want to overstep boundaries when it comes to the medical care of dogs, but vets can help to guide them in terms of knowing when something more serious might be present requiring medical attention.
Try to bring veterinarians on board and organize holistic seminars or an “Ask the Vet” day at the store. Despite the perception many might have that holistic is somehow at odds with traditional veterinary science, storeowners can still benefit from the stamp of credibility that only a licensed vet can provide.
Along those same lines, we’ve found that it’s always helpful to provide lots of information in the form of literature and collateral material in the store. Customers do want to be educated, and these materials allow them to control the information they seek. More importantly, customers need to get to a certain comfort level with the basic concept of holistic remedies before they’re able to make a purchase.
Holistic remedies should not be viewed as a distinct product category. It’s best approached as a way of looking at customers, dogs and business. A holistic approach has the power to put a store’s entire merchandise lineup at its customers’ disposal, because the store is now seeing the forest instead of each tree.
In addition, train your staff. Train your staff. Train your staff. A knowledgeable sales staff really matters.
The vet that we work with at my store routinely sends his patients to us, and we just as often refer customers to him. The partnership is working quite nicely, and it hasn’t hurt sales, either.
Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who, with his wife Pam Guthrie, owns Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, NC. The couple, former corporate burnouts who just got fed up with having to leave their dogs home alone all day, opened Wag in 2003. The store has received numerous community and industry awards.