THE BLUE-CHIP INDEPENDENTS OF 2003

October 6, 2003

Wholesalers pick independent superstar pharmacies for 2003

 

SPECIAL REPORT

THE BLUE-CHIP INDEPENDENTS OF 2003

Who are the phenoms among independent pharmacies for 2003? Drug Topics invited wholesalers across the country to nominate independents that are the cream of the crop, particularly in four areas: pharmacy and nonpharmacy services, merchandising/advertising/promotion, overcoming competition, and crisis handling.

The pharmacies made our hall of fame by bending over backwards for patients, beating back the competition, and providing services that are first rate. What better time than National Pharmacy week, Oct. 19 to 25, to honor these shining stars for their outstanding performance? Here is a look at what some of these luminaries are achieving.

Exceptional pharmacy and nonpharmacy services

No, a genie won't pop out of a medicine bottle here at Giant Genie Health Mart Pharmacy. But the 20-year-old Charlotte, N.C., pharmacy does perform magic by delivering medications and supplies to the hospice patients it serves.

Robby Jones, R.Ph., owner of Giant Genie, explained, "We serve two hospices in Charlotte, which serve six counties—so we go where they go. We have seven full-time drivers and will go as far as one hour away."

So intent are Jones; his wife, Leslie; and the eight full-time pharmacists he employs on serving patients that the pharmacy recently moved into a new 6,000-sq. ft. facility.

"We brought compounding up front in a nice glass clean room, so people can see it," he said. The pharmacy compounds drugs for hospice patients as well as for pets.

When asked how the pharmacy got its name, Jones explained that in 1983 Giant Genie Food Store approached him to run its in-store pharmacy. "They were one of the first in Charlotte to have a pharmacy inside a supermarket. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse and pretty quickly turned the business over to us. The food store closed four years ago, and we took its name and moved into the facility that we were in until we just moved into this new facility."

Offering health screenings for cholesterol and diabetes is part of the pharmacy's strategy in servicing patients. "One of the most fun things I do is once or twice a month I go out and have Ask Your Pharmacist Day. I get in front of senior citizens and spend an hour answering their questions. I try never to turn those requests down, because it's good for us and good for them," said Jones. For over a decade he has also found the time to coach either the high school varsity or junior varsity tennis teams.

As Jones put it, "We are in a town filled with drugstores on every corner. We have Walgreens, Eckerd, and CVS a block from us. That used to worry me. But these chains have really helped our business. Most of the chains know that we do compounding, that we keep hard-to-find drugs, that we have in-house charge accounts, and that we deliver. Because we have a good relationship with the pharmacists in town, they go out of their way to send us business. It's been positive for us."

Dry cleaning. A UPS drop-off station. Free faxing. Free popcorn. Is this any way to run a pharmacy? Andy Palans, R.Ph., owner of 30-year-old Wharf Pharmacy in Lake St. Louis, Mo., wouldn't have it any other way.

Wharf may just be the most scenic pharmacy, as its back door opens on Lake St. Louis. With a large sail sitting behind the pharmacy, the facility looks like a boat when the door is kept open, according to Palans. Noting that his father, who is now retired, started the pharmacy in 1973, he said Wharf doesn't have any competition from a chain. And there's not another independent within a 15-mile radius.

Still, Palans is not complacent. He goes to great lengths to offer blood pressure screenings and flu shots and delights in getting to know his patients. "My father saw people's kids grow up to be adults, and now I see the same thing," he said enthusiastically.

Palans is happy to buy used medical equipment so that when an elderly patient comes in with a broken piece of equipment, he gives them the used piece for free. Then he fixes the one that's broken and gives the repaired equipment to yet another patient. "They are really shocked when we give it to them for free. It's just another service we provide," he said matter-of-factly.

Palans recently attended a weeklong class and became certified by the Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA) so he could expand into compounding.

While he doesn't have the need to advertise his pharmacy, Palans does plan on promoting the compounding services so that customers are aware of this new service.

Palans' wife is responsible for purchasing the unique gift items featured in Wharf Pharmacy. He also employs a full-time pharmacist as well as a technician who has been with the pharmacy for more than 25 years.

Palans and his crew are planning to thank their customers with a big celebration for the drugstore's 30th anniversary.

Exceptional merchandising/advertising/promotion

Where can a patient test a scooter or try out several walkers or view an entire bathroom display complete with grab bars and transfer benches?

Enter Medical Arts Pharmacy, Fayetteville, Ark., which recently expanded into the durable medical equipment business with the opening of a separate pharmacy called Medical Arts Home Health.

Since buying the 40-year-old pharmacy in 1999, owner Michael Smith, Pharm.D., doubled the facility's square footage when he moved to a new location in March 2002.

"We're the only place in the area that has a full line of DME that's displayed. We have it visually separated from the pharmacy. The DME section has carpeting, and it's decorated with plants. We try to make it look more like a home environment and less like a retail environment. We have a DME counter with a couple of chairs where customers can sit and look at the catalogue while we call their insurance provider. We make sure they leave here with the right items."

With Fayetteville's 50,000 population located in what he dubbed Wal-Mart Country (Wal-Mart's headquarters are located just 40 miles from the pharmacy), Smith doesn't scrimp on advertising. The pharmacy's advertising carries the theme, "The service you come to expect from an independent pharmacy, without the outrageous premium." Smith added, "We offer all the services that anybody else in town offers—a drive-thru window, free delivery, in-store charge accounts, as well as most insurance accepted—and yet we are trying to compete with chains on price."

Smith runs ads in local newspapers and has found it particularly useful to advertise in special sections devoted to charity events for the arthritis or kidney foundation. "We know those patients will need our services," he said. He also uses a unique marketing tool to gain referrals from physicians and prescribers at a nearby rehab hospital. "We have clipboards that have our logo and phone number on them. We give them the clipboard with our catalogue and a one-page monograph that gives them the basics on what's required to process an order," he said.

This pharmacist's promotional efforts do not stop there. Pointing out that the University of Arkansas is a few blocks from the store, Smith said, "We give away baseball and football tickets every year during in-store drawings. We have a promotional end cap that we do circulars on. We put circulars in the statement and in bag stuffers. Every month, we have a new end cap of discounted items."

With a newly expanded over-the-counter line in his regular pharmacy that includes vitamins, sugar-free foods for diabetes patients, and wound care, Smith said, "Having a larger selection reinforces in people's minds that we're an OTC destination."

Overcoming competition

There are two Osco Drug stores, two Wal-Mart stores, and a Walgreens located less than five miles from Grain Valley Pharmacy, Grain Valley, Mo. But co-owner Rebecca Foudree, R.Ph., who opened the store last December, doesn't seem the least bit worried.

"From the beginning, we've offered more customer service than others are able to offer. I work with patients on disease state management. I'm licensed to give immunizations, so I'll be giving flu shots starting this month. I'm certified in diabetes, asthma management, depression, and congestive heart failure," said Foudree, who provides private consultations to patients. She also has a contract with a local business where she offers flu shots.

Noting that the front end of the store features a small greeting card and gift area in response to requests from the local community, Foudree said she has also created a children's corner, complete with table and chairs and comfy pillows where patients' children can keep themselves busy.

Another unique offering in this 2,500-sq. ft. store is a cozy coffee shop. "We're not going to say we compete with Starbucks. But we can offer every kind of drink that it does, if people tell us what's in it. We started with the idea of a soda fountain, but thought that people are gravitating toward coffee shops," said Foudree.

Explaining that Grain Valley is a community that's grown from about 2,500 people a few years ago to about 14,000 by the end of this year, Foudree said the community is no longer made up of mainly senior citizens. There are now more families with young children.

With a goal of treating people as patients and not just customers, Foudree said she counsels each and every patient. She was shocked when some of her 20-something-year-old patients told her that they'd never been counseled by a pharmacist.

Relating that her two partners are women and that they are pharmacy technicians, Foudree said they are very intent on providing innovative services and expanding the pharmacy's disease state management programs.

In the meantime, the pharmacy is testing newspaper advertising. "It does make a difference. We run coupons occasionally to see whether there is a response. Part of our ads provide information that we write on a health topic. I've had responses to that, so I know people are reading it."

Handling a crisis

Eisele's Caseyville Pharmacy, Caseyville, Ill., in this close-knit community of 5,000 people, has survived one burglary a year for the past three years. But Jim Eisele, R.Ph., owner for 20 years is not resentful. He just won't let his patients down—and he hasn't let these emergencies change his positive attitude.

"We're a nice little community, so this is something people don't envision happening here," said Eisele. "But I guess people want these things we have behind the counter. One time, all they took was costume jewelry from a display. Another time, they destroyed the alarm, cut the phone lines, and pried the door open. They were in here for a while. They had our safe out the back door and around the side of the parking lot when someone going to work happened to see something suspicious and drove over to the police station. Then last time, they were in and out of here in about three minutes and broke the windows and cleaned out the controlled drugs."

Despite the aggravation of having to deal with the aftermath of the burglaries—including cleaning up glass from broken windows and getting the phone and alarm systems back in order—Eisele is not bitter. He's just thankful that no one was in the store at the time of the burglaries. "We weren't here. It's not life threatening. We did finally put bars up—they are very nice-looking bars. Now they'll have to come in some other way than the windows. The worst part is the 3:00 a.m. phone call. Once, I barely got home after talking to the police and cleaning up the store. I just got home and took a shower and came back here," he said with a laugh, adding, "It's disturbing, but it's much better that no one was here."

While the pharmacy doesn't face any competition in Caseyville, there are three chains in a nearby town. Still Eisele, who finds satisfaction in carrying everything from shampoo to household items to school supplies, boasts that he offers items other pharmacies don't. "We carry ostomy supplies and surgical dressings. We're known for having these things when other places don't," he said.

Can a high-volume pharmacy remain open for a month and service customers while a jackhammer is tearing up the old cement floor to make way for a new tile floor? Miller Rexall Drug in Macon, Mo., is proof that this feat can indeed be accomplished. In fact, this past July, the pharmacy's employees went out of their way, operating the business from the street to make sure customers' needs were being met.

Rick Miller, R.Ph., owner of the store, noted that the pharmacy is housed in a building that is about 100 years old. The ground had settled, and there were crevices in the floor that presented a danger to customers. "Our clerks would wait on people on the sidewalk and find out what they wanted and then come in and get the items," he said. "The clerks are the ones who deserve an award. There was a little pathway they could come in to bring in their prescription. When the construction was at its worst, we had to go through the building next door and come through the back. It was very hot, because we had to turn the air conditioner off for several days because of the dust. It was kind of stressful, but we didn't have any complaints at all."

Noting that his father started the drugstore in 1946 and that he took over in 1975, Miller said the pharmacy is also being remodeled and will include additional shelving space to allow for a better product mix.

Although there is a Wal-Mart and another independent located nearby that serve this town of 5,500 people, Miller didn't worry about losing business during the month-long project, which was quite noisy. "I felt like my clients would stay with us," he said, "and they did."

Sandra Levy

AND THE WINNERS ARE

CATEGORY 1:
EXCEPTIONAL PHARMACY AND NONPHARMACY SERVICES

Bohlman Drug
Boscobel, Wis.

Clark County Pharmacy
Kahoka, Mo.

Copper Bend Pharmacy
Belleville, Ill.

Drug Mart of Millwood
Millwood, N.Y.

Drug Mart of Suffern
Suffern, N.Y.

Fifty Plus Pharmacy
Independence, Mo.

Giant Genie Health Mart Pharmacy
Charlotte, N.C.

Gibson Pharmacy of Dodge City
Dodge City, Kan.

Killdeer Pharmacy
Killdeer, N.D.

Mitchell's Park Street Pharmacy
Calico Rock, Ark.

Scott Robison's Rx Inc.
Tulsa, Okla.

Seymour Pharmacy
Seymour, Mo.

Smith Caldwell Drug Store
Benton, Ark.

Smith-McKenney Drug
Shelbyville, Ky.

S&S Drug
Beloit, Kan.

Stephens Pharmacy
Bolivar, Mo.

Steve's Corner Drug
Hiawatha, Kan.

Strauser Drug
Sullivan, Mo.

Wharf Pharmacy
Lake St. Louis, Mo.

 

CATEGORY 2:
EXCEPTIONAL MERCHANDISING/ ADVERTISING/PROMOTION

Dixon Drugs
Tribune, Kan.

Evers Pharmacy
Collinsville, Ill.

Family Pharmacy #1
Ozark, Mo.

Kolling Pharmacy
Junction City, Kan.

Lee Pharmacy
Keosauqua, Iowa

Medical Arts Pharmacy
Fayetteville, Ark.

Sam's Drug Store
Fayette, Mo.

Service Drug
Harvey, N.D.

Towne Country Pharmacy
Hardinsburg, Ky.

Trummel's Drug Store
Oologah, Okla.

Widner Drug
Manchester, Iowa

 

CATEGORY 3:
OVERCOMING COMPETITION

Berea Drug
Berea, Ky.

Collinsville Family Pharmacy
Collinsville, Okla.

Dan's Discount Drug Mart
Springfield, Mo.

Gardner Pharmacy
Gardner, Kan.

George's Pharmacy
Springfield, Mo.

Gibson Pharmacy of Dodge City
Dodge City, Kan.

Grain Valley Pharmacy
Grain Valley, Mo.

Magee Thomas Pharmacy
Mountain Home, Ark.

Service Drug
Brainerd, Minn.

South Side Drug
Ottumwa, Iowa

Watsons Drugstore
Greenville, Ill.

 

CATEGORY 4:
HANDLING A CRISIS

Eisele's Caseyville Pharmacy
Caseyville, Ill.

Hoch Drugstore
Tyndall, S.D.

Miller Rexall Drug
Macon, Mo.

Sorg Pharmacy
Marion, Iowa

Warner's Drug
Unionville, Mo.

Weigants Pharmacy
Pawhuska, Okla.

Zumwalt Pharmacy
Stockton, Mo.

 

Sandra Levy. THE BLUE-CHIP INDEPENDENTS OF 2003. Drug Topics Oct. 6, 2003;147:52.