The problem, he says, is that some veterinarians felt that PetMeds isn't only pitching cost-savings, but attacking veterinarians
in the process.
"If they promote a relationship with veterinarians, it's to their own best interests," Mader says. "They need to be saying
'save money with us and that same money you save with us you could go see a veterinarian and get better healthcare.' Turn
it into a positive," Mader says.
"The problem vets have (with PetMeds) in advertising their savings (is) they're comparing it to vets' prices," Donaldson adds.
Levengood says low pricing is a core part of PetMed Express' marketing platform, and one the company is not going to change
any time soon. But she thinks her presentation helped some veterinarians understand the value PetMeds provides consumers.
"In reality, we get letters all the time from customers about how they were going to have to put their pet to sleep or they
were not going to be able to afford medications at all. But because we were able to save them money, they were able to buy
these medications," Levengood says. "Obviously savings has to be a core part of our advertising message because this is what
we're providing them. And this is what customers want."
As far as where PetMeds obtains its products, Levengood says the company has confidentiality agreements with certain manufacturers
and can't discuss those relationships. But, she says, the online pharmacy undergoes a thorough accreditation process, and
the company has been audited on its product sources.
"We have a lot of relationships directly with manufacturers and distributors, and then we also work with authorized wholesalers,"
Levengood says. "We can't discuss an individual manufacturer ... but ... if you're proving an authorization for a prescription
medication, a vet has nothing to worry about."
Levengood also addressed questions about past policies and concerns about improper prescription authorization. Many policies
have changed as the company has grown, but the growth has also brought new problems, she adds.
"We are constantly trying to protect our trademark," Levengood explains, adding some companies are using PetMeds' reputation
to try to snag some of its market share. Those companies may send out unauthorized prescriptions in the name of PetMed Express,
or a client may use an alternate company after PetMeds gets a denial from a veterinarian for a medical reason and refuses
the order. In those cases, Levengood says the veterinarian may only remember the authorization request from PetMeds and assume
that company is to blame for filling the unauthorized prescription.
"I explained to veterinarians how it's possible for this to happen and one of the reasons is we have a tremendous amount of
copycats who use our name and pretend they're us," Levengood says. "We do our best to just give our customers the best experience
we can and have a great relationship with vets."
As for policies no longer in place at PetMeds and problems that happened in the past, Levengood says PetMeds is working hard
to improve its relationship with veterinarians.
"We have actually improved so many parts of our communication and advertising because we wanted to have a great relationship
with vets," Levengood says.
But Donaldson says she thinks the company is only seeking a better relationship with veterinarians because of increasing competition
from big-box stores and other online pharmacies.
PetMed Express cites this increasingly competitive space in recent financial reports. In fact, the company reported a 12 percent
decline in sales for the third quarter of 2011 compared to the third quarter of 2010.
Yet, the company still added 150,000 new customers in the third quarter and reports that new order sales are up 29 percent
in the third quarter of 2011 over 2010, according to the PetMeds' third quarter financial statement, released Jan. 23.
Levengood says the company is hoping to work more closely with veterinarians, who could provide educational resources for
PetMed Express customers. She says after the panel at NAVC, she has had a number of veterinarians call or write her expressing
interest in providing input for the company's educational sections, blogs and product pages.