Purveyors of Creature Comforts
This is the tale of how two veterinarians went from selling mail-order pet vaccines from a back room in their clinic, to being the nation’s largest pet supply cataloger.
Drs. Race Foster and Marty Smith have spent the last 20 years engineering a company known for remarkable customer service, high-quality merchandise, efficient fulfillment operations and sound fiscal responsibility. Today, the veterinarians-turned-merchants own six catalog titles and four Web sites, and say they’ve never had an unprofitable quarter.
Moreover, these two catalogers show no signs of slowing down, even in this difficult economy. If anything, business is booming for the Doctors Foster & Smith (DFS) catalog operation. One could even call this a lesson in survival of the fittest. This year, the company launched its own line of branded pet foods and unveiled the country’s first veterinarian-owned mail-order pet pharmacy — two ventures that took years to set up — and it’s expanding its Rhinelander, WI-based headquarters.
“We’re not a ‘me-too’ company,” says Foster. “We found an unfulfilled niche, and we’re serving it. Our products slip in between the high-priced pet products people buy at their vet clinics and the low-cost items found in a big box retail store. We’re licensed veterinarians, and that means we take our customers’ trust very seriously.”
Joe Voellinger, Internet and public relations manager at DFS, says the doctors started selling pet products in the early 1980s simply because they wanted to help their clients buy the quality products their pets needed at affordable prices. At the time, he says, many veterinarians were putting high mark-ups on the products they sold from their clinics.
“Marty and Race had many clients who said, ‘I’d like to buy these products, and I know my pet needs them, but I simply can’t afford them.’ So they started [selling products] out of a back room in their clinic, and now they’re the largest direct-commerce pet supply merchant in the country. But it all started because they wanted to make pet care more affordable to more people.”