August 8, 2014|By Kerry Close, Sun Sentinel

From oatmeal shampoo for dogs to mouth freshener for cats, Synergy Labs of Fort Lauderdale is growing by tapping into the worldwide trend to humanize pets.

The company makes pet health products in colors, fragrances and packages similar to those for humans.

One popular line, Richard’s Organics, looks like brands found at a high-end natural food store. Another, Pooch Scents, is packaged in bottles that look like top-shelf perfume vials.

A soon-to-debut pet toothbrush — designed with three heads to clean the inside and outside of the mouth and the pet’s face at the same time — will come in blister packs like toothbrushes in any supermarket.

With women buying most pet products, Synergy Labs takes its cues from homemakers’ purchases.

“I want to make her pet products mimic what she has in her own bathroom,” said Richard Ticktin, founder and chief executive of the company that now sells more than $8 million yearly to more than 50 countries.

Chemistry buff Ticktin started the business in his garage in his home off Las Olas Boulevard almost 20 years ago.

A recent college grad, he’d been running a company installing underground radio wires as invisible fences to keep pets inside yards. Then he added a service sprinkling an anti-flea powder in homes.

After a customer copied his service, Ticktin tried to retail his powder. But buyers asked for a fuller product line.

He’s been developing new products ever since, winning national and local awards and becoming the largest business of its kind in South Florida.

Ticktin is tapping a market that has exploded in the past two decades. In the United States alone, spending on pets has more than tripled to nearly $56 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Overseas, a rising middle class also is spending more on pets. In a recent four-city tour in Colombia, Ticktin said his partners sold roughly $100,000 in just one week. Exports make up more than 20 percent of company sales, as more owners worldwide also see pets as a full member of the family.

“More people let their animals sleep with them than ever before. More people travel with their pets than ever before. More hotels accept dogs and cats than ever before,” Ticktin said. “That’s a little bit of the proof that people are treating their pets more like humans.”

Starting out, Ticktin focused sales on pet stores. He made his own brands and some for private labels such as Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan.

At Sunrise-based Pet Supermarket, Ticktin’s oatmeal shampoo sells best among his products.

“Dry itchy skin is a big issue among pets,” said Steve Feinberg, a Pet Supermarket executive doing business with Ticktin for about 15 years. He calls Synergy Labs’ products “extremely high-quality.”

Ticktin’s next frontier is supermarkets. He already sells to Stop & Shop, Giant Foods and Whole Foods in the U.S. northeast; HEB in Texas; and Walmart in Puerto Rico.

“I say to supermarkets, ‘Please stop underestimating what people will spend on pets,'” he said.

To appeal to major retailers, Ticktin is obsessive about packaging. Consumers walking down a supermarket aisle usually glance less than a second at a product to size up whether to buy.

Synergy’s headquarters hosts a replica of store shelves called a “planogram” to help buyers visualize how his products will display. His factory keeps close tabs on product quality too.

“Kick-ass packaging will sell the product once,” Ticktin said. “But if it doesn’t blow you away with the performance, it’s a one-time deal.”

South Florida is the “wrong place” for global manufacturing, conceded Ticktin, who moved to the area to pursue scuba diving. With limited factories, “it’s hard to get people who have any experience,” he said.

Still, among local plants, Synergy Labs was recognized in a 2013 contest for strong management, worker involvement and sustainable practices, said Phil Centonze of the South Florida Manufacturers Association.

With that solid base, Ticktin is seeking investors for the first time to catapult company sales and challenge such major rivals as Hartz and United Pet Group in supermarkets.

“For every one person in a pet store right now, there are probably 3,000 in a supermarket,” Ticktin said. “And it’s really a numbers game.”

Staff writer Doreen Hemlock contributed to this report.

See Original Source: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2014-08-08/business/fl-synergy-labs-profile-20140806_1_pets-oatmeal-shampoo-steve-feinberg

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