Thursday, February 7, 2019

Goodbye Drs. Foster And Smith

There will be no more Drs. Foster and Smith catalogs for my cats and I to read
© Hilary Roemer | Dreamstime.com
Back in the day, my cats and I loved finding a Drs. Foster and Smith catalog in our mailbox. 

We thought there was way too much dog stuff, but we always found a few cat items to buy. Our first floor-to-ceiling cat tree came in a huge box from Drs. Foster and Smith.

That was before there was an Internet and online retailers. And more important to Drs. Foster and Smith, it was before there was a giant pet supply company called Petco.  

Petco purchased Drs. Foster and Smith in 2015. It will shut the company down this month and move its online services to Petco's website.


Changing Times, Changing 'Pet Parents'

In a statement on Petbusiness.com, Petco says its decision to close Drs. Foster and Smith was based on "the needs of modern pet parents, shifting consumer preferences and the ongoing evolution of the Petco brand. 

"We believe this will enable us to streamline operations and better focus on our core business and customer,” the statement adds.


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But as the company dumbs itself down to meet what it believes are the needs of its core customers, we've suddenly become "pet parents," a term my elderly cats would find offensive and disrespectful. In cat years, some of the cats who live with me are older than I am.  

Getting lost in nostalgia again, I remember when Petco was just a pet supply store and grooming shop. We were customers or "guests" then. And we could find just about everything we needed in one store. If our cats liked Fancy Feast or Friskies, we could find both there. If we also lived with cats who preferred "super premium" food, those were on the shelves, too. Petco was our one-stop shop for food our cats liked and would eat. 

But then Petco got wind of a survey that shows Millennials (I'm assuming they're the "modern pet parents") want to give their cats healthy food. So the store removed all the food with artificial ingredients (that includes Fancy Feast) from its shelves. That means thousands of people who either cannot afford high-end cat food or whose cats won't eat it, can no longer shop at PetCo. And there have been other changes, too.

In moves that look like it's trying to meet Petsmart, it's main competitor, head on, Petco is beginning to offer in-store, full-service vet clinics in some locations, partnered with Express Scripts to sell companion animals' medications online and acquired Pet Coach, a website where "experienced veterinary professionals" answer companion animal caretakers' questions online. 


Only problem is, the veterinary professionals sound bored when they write their answers, and many of the answers are incomplete or incorrect. 

The "sick cat' Facebook groups and email lists are better resources for cat care information, and you'll get an answer a lot faster.


Back In The Day With Drs. Foster and Smith

Doctors Foster and Smith catalog cover
Veterinarians Martin Smith and Rory Foster started Drs. Foster and Smith in the early 1980s, when one of Smith's clients asked how to give the vaccines he'd purchased from a mail order company. Seeing an opportunity, the two added a sheet of mail order medications to their existing newsletter.

By 1983, Foster's brother, Race, had joined the business, and the three produced their first 16-page, two-color mail order catalog. The first year, the catalog generated $30,000 in sales.

Within a few years, the Drs. Foster and Smith catalog included dog, cat and horse supplies, toys and accessories in addition to the medications. It was the nation's first full-color pet catalog. 

But the catalog was always almost as much about education as selling products. In 1997, the company launched Peteducation.com, one of the best cat care sites on the web.

If you go to Peteducation.com now, you get Petco's not-very-useful PetCoach. All the helpful articles thoughtfully written by veterinarians are gone.

When the Drs. Foster and Smith website goes offline on Feb. 12, its private label cat food will be available "for the foreseeable future" on Petco.com, a Petco spokesperson said. Autoship orders and prescriptions will transfer to Petco.com, and customers can use their existing credentials to log in. 

Read more about changes at Petco.

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