Fleas. They’re so small and yet they—and their equally repellant cousins, ticks—are capable of striking huge fear into the hearts of pet owners everywhere. Upon discovering these bloodsucking little beasts residing on Miss Precious or Max, folks typically whip into a frenzy of chemical counter measures—especially in the case of fleas, which exhibit an unhappy tendency to spread to the rest of the house.
Although the desire to quickly eliminate the problem is understandable, pet owners do not necessarily have to rely on chemically based formulas, according to manufacturers of natural flea and tick products. However, convincing pet owners of this still remains somewhat challenging, says David Brinker-Wessel, sales manager for Natural Chemistry, a Norwalk, Conn.-based manufacturer of chemical-free, botanical-based flea and tick solutions, among other natural products.
“When a person gets a flea infestation, it becomes a very emotional situation and finding a solution that ‘works’ is of the utmost urgency,” Brinker-Wessel says. “People have a belief that ‘natural’ products don’t kill or work as quickly—especially when the emotions kick in.”
Dwight Holcomb, president and CEO of PetLife Organic, Inc., says his company also has to battle the perception that natural products aren’t as powerful as conventional ones. Located in Pasadena, Calif., PetLife Organic manufactures a full line of bio-based cleansers and nontoxic insect treatments for dogs and cats.
“For a variety of reasons, some people perceive anything that is either labeled or associated with being green or eco-friendly as being either ineffective when compared to other non-green products, or that there is a hefty premium to be paid at the cash register,” he laments. As a result, he adds, some consumers are reluctant to give these kinds of products a try.
Chemical Versus Natural
However, perceptions are changing, say Holcomb and Brinker-Wessel. As folks increasingly incorporate more natural and organic products into their lives, they’re doing the same for their pets—purchasing natural/organic foods, treats and toys—and steering clear of chemicals and synthetic ingredients whenever possible. Consequently, natural flea and tick products are becoming more popular, especially as word of their effectiveness gets out.
To continue this shift, consumers must be made to understand the differences between how conventional and natural treatments work, says Stephanie Boone, founder and CEO of Wondercide. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, the company provides natural alternatives to chemical-based pesticides and products.
“Spot-on chemicals that are applied to the necks of dogs and cats are systemic poisons; neurotoxins,” Boone explains. “They work by spreading poison to all systems and bodily organs in varying degrees. When the flea or tick bites the animal and ingests the poison, it kills them.”
Natural treatments use active ingredients that tackle the problem differently, while helping users—pets and the people in contact with them—avoid the potential adverse effects that may be linked to the chemicals used in some conventional treatments.
“Natural products work by affecting the neurotransmitters, like octopamines, that only insects have,” she continues. “This is how we repel (preventative) and kill (control) the fleas and ticks on the animal and in the environment without using poison.”
Boone says if retailers are going to sell customers on the idea of natural treatments, they will also have to explain the benefits. “[It is more than a courtesy for new consumers, it’s a direct investment in customer loyalty,” she says.
Selling these products takes commitment and conviction from retailers, especially when it comes to educating customers. Manufacturers, however, get the ball rolling by providing information on their websites, and by offering in-store support and staff education.
Boone says Wondercide provides “scientifically backed information,” along with “solution-driven, practical advice.” Additionally, the company’s website offers a feature called “Ask a Holistic Vet,” where visitors can get a personal response from a holistic veterinarian.
PetLife Organic connects with its target consumers by working with vets, kennels, associations, non-profits and pet-centered social media communities. The company provides retailers with counter-top displays and encourages them to hand out free samples to customers purchasing chemical treatments.
“We also support store clerks with product information, so they can better serve the needs of their customers,” Holcomb says. “Plus, we have our website, which has good information and we’re adding more all the time.”
Adding natural flea and tick lines to their inventory helps pet specialty retailers in several ways. For example, says Boone, selling complete treatment solutions with products for pet, home and lawn provides the opportunity to more completely serve customers, enhancing the value of the retailer to the customer and, consequently, loyalty.
Offering all-natural treatments not only helps ensure customers won’t wander off to a competitor, these products also produce sales increases by appealing to an entirely different type of consumer, says Holcomb.
Brinker-Wessel agrees that offering natural treatments can attract a new type of clientele to the store, which will likely result in additional sales of other products. But ultimately, it all comes down to generating repeat business, he cautions.
“Effective products and treatments mean satisfied repeat customers,” Brinker-Wessel says. “[Therefore] it is important for retailers to ensure they have researched and are knowledgeable of these products before recommending them to their customers.”