September 27, 2021
Michael LeMasters has always had a heart for animals, especially for rescue dogs. His closest companion is a pocket pitbull named Stella, but he likes to call her Shadow because she never leaves his side.
″My dogs have always been the center of my life,″ he said. So it was only natural for the owner of Pierpont Landing Pharmacy in Morgantown, West Virginia, to start treating the furry members of the family along with their humans. ″You’re taking care of the community as it is. Why not afford their pets the same level of care? Why not take care of the entire family?″
The service is a huge benefit to patients who otherwise might not be getting the kind of care that only a community pharmacy can provide. ″It can be a tremendous asset to the community because it’s a patient population that is often served by online pharmacies,″ LeMasters said.
When he began offering veterinary medicine 10 years ago, he didn’t know of any other community pharmacies doing it. And even now, he wonders why more haven’t hopped on board. ″There’s a ton of opportunity out there for pharmacies. If you aren’t doing it, why not?″
Pet prescriptions circumvent the greatest cause of pharmacy profit woes. All of them are paid for with cash. ″There’s no switch fee, no DIR fee, any of these clawback fees,″ LeMasters said. ″That alone is worth it.″ Pet meds allow you to substantially grow your patient base with very little work and investment. Not only do you get new business from additional family members of your current patients, but you also attract new patients who are looking for better service and more affordable meds for their animal companions.
Because pet meds were exclusively dispensed at veterinary offices for so long, finding a supplier willing to sell them to pharmacies used to be the greatest challenge. But as the market has opened up, access has become easier. ″Many of the wholesalers that pharmacies deal with day in and day out are starting to have more access to these products,″ LeMasters said. ″It’s a matter of a pharmacy manager talking to the wholesaler and saying, ‘Can you help me out with this?’″
He said there are animal med wholesalers that could be considered the Big Three in the veterinary world. ″With a little bit of research, a pharmacy owner can figure out who those are and reach out to them.″
Getting started was the toughest part for Pierpont Landing. People are still adjusting to the idea of getting meds from pharmacies rather than veterinarians. It took some convincing for patients who have been getting theirs from the same place for so many years. Pet owners also like the convenience of delivery from online pharmacies and didn’t realize Pierpont Landing would deliver.
″We have had a lot of conversations, and we did a lot of marketing,″ he said. Eventually, he broke through. ″As the service is advertised and as you build that relationship in the community, you take care of one pet owner who then turns around and tells their friend what you did for them and they tell their friends.″
Once he got started, incorporating the meds into his workflow was straightforward. ″The orders are treated the same. You’re doing the same virtualization review, the same allergy checks, the same QA process that you’re going to do on any prescription that rolls through your pharmacy,″ LeMasters said.
Having built relationships with veterinarians and pharmacies in the area, the pharmacy will connect patients with someone to provide any medications they can’t—so they always receive the care they need. ″It’s not just one of those unfortunate circumstances where they feel like the door gets shut in their face,″ he said. ″We try to always have an answer. Either we take care of it or refer the owner to somebody who can.″
This category of drugs serves both human and animal patients at different doses.
As LeMasters frequented the veterinary office for his dogs, the vet educated him on animal health and animal pharmacology, which led to LeMasters into this new world of medication. He researched, took continuing education courses, investigated state and federal regulations, and talked to more veterinarians. ″I started to ask all these questions and found out there were a lot of ways to get into this realm of patient care for this other sector of the community.″
Along the way, he discovered ″a big opportunity.″ There are several human medications that can also treat animals at the right doses. LeMasters refers to these as crossovers: ″One bottle for two populations.″ That was an easy way to initially add an entire new patient base without altering inventory.
Before LeMasters established himself as a resource for pet medications, he was careful not to make himself a direct competitor with veterinarians. Instead, he took a more collaborative approach. He asked them what they needed and how he could support them, specifically helping with items that frequently go out of date, rarely turn, or are on backorder. ″You want to be an asset to the veterinarian. You don’t want to be a liability,″ he said. ″It’s how can you build a relationship that benefits them?″
He has also found compounding to be a good entry to the relationship. Many veterinarians need a simple dose change or a flavoring that they outsource.
LeMasters recommends approaching your relationship with veterinarians the same as your relationship with prescribers. ″You’re not going to make a recommendation that goes above and beyond what an MD, DO, PA, or nurse practitioner does,″ he said. ″You’re going to call them and discuss it with them, and as a team, come up with a plan for your patient.″
Establishing these relationships is essential, but they have taken a lot of work. ″The difficult part at first was the amount of time you have to put into the networking and the relationship building to be able to have those one-on-one conversations with your veterinarians,″ LeMasters said.
In addition to marketing, LeMasters grew his patient base by reaching out to local animal shelters and the humane society. He found the most success throwing fundraisers with them. ″It’s a win-win for everybody,″ he said. ″You’re doing it for a good cause, and it helps your PR.″
This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.
More articles from the September 2021 issue:
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