Sure, the mild winter that hit many parts of the country last year had some people celebrating, but for a lot of dog owners, there was a downside to all the climatic moderation, which the hot, hot summer that followed only intensified. We’re talking fleas. It’s a nasty reality. Give a flea some heat and an unprotected dog, and it won’t be long before there’s a veritable blizzard of the little parasites taking over both the house and the owner’s sanity.
Ticks are another issue, especially for owners whose dogs routinely tromp around in wooded areas. Ticks are a particular concern where deer are common, says Beth Eimbinder, director of sales for Tick-SR, a tick-removal product owned by Karykion, Inc. Based in Princeton, N.J., Karykion develops products for human and veterinarian use. With the mild winters, the deer population has exploded, says Eimbinder. This has caused the tick population to increase exponentially, and with it, potentially serious tick-related afflictions such as Lyme disease.
These are all reasons why the demand for flea and tick solutions was so robust through the spring and summer last year, says Dan Peizer, head of pet specialty marketing for Bayer HealthCare, LLC, Animal Health Division, located in Shawnee, Kan.
Another reason for the growth is that there are more options available to consumers, who are driven to take greater ownership over pet care, says Peizer.
Pet owners are also becoming more educated, or are trying to, putting the onus on retailers to stay abreast, says Peizer. “Pet retailers should be aware that pet owners are seeking more information and may have done some research before visiting the retail location,” he explains.
But even so, one of the biggest misperceptions many retailers have is that every pet owner is aware of the risk fleas and ticks pose to their dogs. Surprisingly, many are not.
“The American Pet Products Association survey shows that only about half of the pet owners surveyed use any type of control in a given year,” he says. “And many of those are likely not using them for the prescribed amount of time or are using treatments for infestations that could have been prevented.”
With this in mind, retailers should regularly convey to their customers that flea and tick control is an integral component of routine pet care, especially during the spring and summer months when pets spend more time outdoors. This sort of reminder is necessary because quite often, pet owners don’t even think about these products until after the fact—giving the parasites an unfortunate head start.
“Once a dog or cat is infested, it oftentimes takes weeks or even months to regain the upper hand in controlling them, at which point the owner could be facing expensive treatment and extermination costs, or worse, costly veterinary bills,” says Peizer.
Providing Sufficient Solutions
In addition to educating consumers about the need for regular flea and tick control, retailers should carry a sufficient array of solutions; conventional (chemical/pesticide-based) as well as alternative products that utilize non-chemical formulas. Offering non-conventional options has become increasingly important, since more consumers are looking for natural flea and tick products, says Dwight Holcomb, president and CEO of LifePet Organic, Inc. Formerly known as PetLife Organic, the Pasadena, Calif.-based company manufactures all-natural pet products labeled safe for puppies and kittens.
“The demand [for all-natural products] no longer stems solely from natural pet retailers,” Holcomb says. “Consumers are demanding natural alternatives at all retail levels. The growth in the natural products space will continue for some time.”
Making consumers aware that these natural options exist is one of the biggest challenges retailers must overcome, says Stephan Thomas, owner and operator of Tolleson, Ariz.-based Thomas Laboratories. Thomas Labs offers a range of professional-strength wellness products for dogs, cats and other animals. One such product is Organic D/Earth (Diatomaceous Earth), which, among other applications, can be used for controlling a variety of parasites, fleas and ticks included.
The product definitely requires some consumer education, says Thomas, explaining that food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is made from the skeletal and fossilized remains (shells) of microscopic plankton, or diatoms.
“[These] remains have a remarkable and safe bug-killing quality when mined and milled to a fine powder,” says Thomas, explaining that the “microscopically sharp diatoms” rub and wear down the insect’s protective barrier, leading to its dehydration and death. Because of the way it works, parasites will never develop immunity.
Thomas cautions there are two types of DE on the market—food grade and industrial. “Great care must be taken to make sure you are buying and using the food-grade, fresh-water form of diatomaceous earth,” he says.
Adelia E. Ritchie, founder and president of DERMagic Skin Care for Animals, Inc., also offers products formulated with food-grade DE. The company, located in Kingston, Wash., provides natural and organic skin care treatments for pets, including pest control solutions. Over the seven years she’s been in business, Ritchie has seen consumers shift toward alternative products, including those using eco-friendly packaging and manufacturing processes. She describes the natural products market as “huge and growing.”
Even so, there will always be a demand for conventional solutions so retailers should query their customers on what type of formula is preferred. Traditional and non-chemical products can complement one another, says Thomas.
“In addition to selling products as an alternative to chemical-based pest control, also offer these products as an additional layer to traditional pest-control products, thereby increasing protection, perhaps reducing the need for, the cost of, and the exposure to chemical insecticides,” he explains.
In order to best serve their customers, retailers must educate themselves on what products are available and their proper application, and effectively pass this information on to their staff and to pet owners, says Thomas. They should also energetically promote flea and tick solutions. This is especially important when a solution isn’t widely known, as is the case for many alternative options.
“Effective display in high-traffic areas or point-of-sale areas is needed in order to bring the consumer’s attention to the product,” Thomas says. “Simply stocking an alternative pest-control product next to more widely known products, or on the same web pages as those products, is not going to start the needed conversation between retailer and consumer.”
Peizer recommends placing flea and tick control solution in with the nutrition products, which are likely regularly shopped, especially during the flea and tick seasons of spring and summer. This strategy can prompt awareness of the need for such solutions, potentially boosting their sales. Retailers should also be familiar with flea and tick “hotspots” in their area, or query a local veterinarian about this if they’re not, Peizer says.
Asking what pet the customer is shopping for and about that pet’s potential exposure—indoors or outdoors, or walking in the neighborhood, dog park or hiking—will also generate awareness and sales, Peizer says. Also ask if they have any other pets at home.
“Oftentimes people who have a dog also have a cat, but some only treat the dog because the cat is considered indoors,” he explains. “It’s especially important in multi-pet households to treat all the pets in order to prevent a flea infestation.”