Healthcare for Sale

Retailers need to understand that cat supplements and remedies, while closely linked, have to be merchandised differently.


Health care has been in the news a lot lately with the passing of the Affordable Care Act—yet there’s another healthcare angle that retailers should educate themselves on. This one, rather than being discussed in Congress, is more likely to be a hot topic of conversation in the cat aisle.

Cat healthcare products, most notably remedies and supplements, have become an important part of an independent pet retailer’s product offerings over the last few years.

Alyssa Guertin is associate brand manager for Lambert Kay, which offers easy-to-use, at-home solutions for common pet-related issues. She says multiple reports have come to similar conclusion recently. “Cat owners are looking for more options to treat common ailments in their homes,” she says.

For that reason, remedies have become increasingly important for independent pet retailers—but remedies aren’t the only segment of the healthcare category independent retailers need to familiarize themselves with. “There is an overall paradigm shift, from treatment only to prevention [and] protection for all pets,” Guertin says.

Remedies vs. Supplements
These two trends, while strongly related—and both within the healthcare spectrum—actually drive demand for two slightly different categories. Supplements and remedies are both on the rise, yet retailers need to understand the unique properties and differences, says Susan Weiss.

Weiss is the president of Ark Naturals Products for Pets, which offers a complete line of health, remedy and lifestyle solutions for pets.

A remedy, she says, is exactly what it sounds like—a problem solver and solution. By comparison, a supplement is a product designed to optimize health by making up for potential deficiencies in diet.

Retailers should offer both within their cat healthcare selection. Yet choosing which remedy and supplement products to stock may be more complicated than it appears.

Because of the way that the two segments differ, each has different regulations and guidelines that manufacturers have to follow. Supplements cannot claim to prevent, cure or diminish a condition or disease. In general, that’s because they’re viewed as non-regulated products. This category includes things like glucosamine and chondroitin, and omega-three and -six fatty acids.

Since these products are not regulated, the onus falls on retailers to review manufacturing processes and safety record. For those who don’t want to do all the dirty work themselves, the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) reviews manufacturers and certifies them with permission to use their seal. But the NASC is something manufacturers need to opt into, and its approval process takes time, so retailers can’t rely on NASC alone if they want to stay on the cutting edge.

Most remedies, by comparison, are considered “regulated,” and are approved and governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and/or the Environmental Production Agency (EPA).
Examples of common remedies include dewormers, and ear-mite and flea-and-tick products.

A Pharmacy Aisle?

In most stores, both of these healthcare categories should be located in the same section; some stores have even created mini-pharmacy setups, says Wayne Whitney, sales manager at Pet King Brands, Inc., which manufactures enzyme-based products that address ear, skin and mouth conditions without the use of antibiotics and harsh chemicals.

“Retailers who develop a pharmacy-like environment are experiencing excellent sales results because it promotes more one-stop shopping,” says Whitney. “Pet owners are looking for products that will provide relief for common problems—developing this environment makes it easier for them to find the products, versus searching the Internet or another retailer.”

Yet, opinions on merchandising differ. Some, like Whitney, say retailers that group all healthcare products together are seeing the most success. Others, like Weiss, recommend stocking cat healthcare products within the cat aisle—separately from any dog healthcare products the store might also carry.

“Cat products should be merchandised all together—foods, remedy products, toys, beds,” Weiss says. “I think it gives more credibility to the category and the retailer is showing the consumer they love their cat families.”
There are clear advantages to both setups.

Dog products, in general, tend to see more turnover and higher demand than cat products, so locating all healthcare items together increases the chance that pet owners who have both a dog and a cat and purchase remedies or supplements for their dog will see the cat items and purchase those as well.

On the other side of the argument, a common complaint among cat owners is that stores don’t carry a large enough selection of cat-specific products. They want to see products specifically tailored to their cats, which often also means they want those products set apart in a cat-specific section.

Which strategy a retailer chooses will likely depend on floor space, the popularity of healthcare products and the size of the local cat-shopping demographic.

Selling Health & Wellness
Regardless of setup, employee education will play an important part in the sales process and can’t be overlooked. Retailers can partly look to pet supplement companies for help, says Oscar Tenorio, product line manager at PureLife 4Pets by Vetimed Inc. He is involved in almost every aspect of PureLife 4Pets—from sales to product development and research—and has been with the company since 2009. “Retailers should look for pet supplement companies that help them with education, either training, material or other sources for information,” he says.

Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corp., makers of NaturVet products, agrees. His company produces high-quality pet supplements in tablet, powder, gel and now soft-chew forms. “Retailers, employees and their customers need to be educated on the value of nutritional supplements, on the health of pets, and on their customer’s needs,” says Garmon.

That’s because pets are living longer, he says, leading them to develop more age-related problems, similar to their human counterparts. Flexibility and mobility are intrinsic in the life of most cats, making this category even more essential when kitty begins to age.

Once employees have an in-depth knowledge of the products, the key to selling supplements is to listen first, then ask questions, says Michael Melia, vice president of sales and marketing at the Missing Link from Designing Health, Inc.
The Missing Link provides nose-to-tail health products formulated from whole foods and food concentrates, to deliver nutrients that are bioactive and provide support to digestive, nervous and immune systems.

“The consumer will always tell you what’s going on with their companions if you ask questions of concern,” says Melia. “Learn about your customers, understand what they do and don’t like, then make the right suggestions to help them.”

While that may be a best practice throughout the store, he says it’s particularly important when it comes to supplements. “If a customer buys a bag of dog food they don’t like, they will come back and buy a different brand; if you sell a supplement that doesn’t work, they will go to a different retailer,” he explains.

The Power of Merchandising
Special displays and frequent-buyer programs can also help ensure strong healthcare sales. “A floor display will definitely increase the chance of that brand being seen,” says Tenorio. “At PureLife 4Pets, we have also had a frequent-buyer card, which gives the pet owner a 50-percent discount on any of our products on the fourth purchase and a free bottle on the eighth one. We’ve had great success with this, because the retail store gets information about what their customers are buying.”

NaturVet offers informational point-of-sale signage, easy-to-read labels and QR codes that direct shoppers to an informational-only website, says Garmon. “This helps customers select the proper product if an employee is unavailable,” he explains. “Successful stores will utilize all the tools that manufacturers have to offer.”

After all, while a good sales plan for cat healthcare products may not get a store in the headlines, suggesting life-improving products will almost certainly win over the hearts of its customers.

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