Buying Multiple Independent Pharmacies Can Make Sense

July 25, 2018

Not all independent pharmacy owners are content with one pharmacy.

Not all independent pharmacy owners are content with one pharmacy. Sometimes it makes sense to buy a second store, or even a fourth.

“It’s all about the makeup and the culture of the pharmacy,” explains Robbie Leark, PharmD, owner of Burt’s Pharmacy. He recently worked with AmerisourceBergen to purchase his fourth independent pharmacy, north of Los Angeles.

“If the value is there with your pharmacy, your employees, and your patients, and that’s really important to you, it’s not a matter of stopping when you reach a certain size. It’s about values and culture and patients, not how big you grow the business.”

Leark got into pharmacy ownership straight out of pharmacy school. He was part of a pilot program launched by AmerisourceBergen that matched new pharmacists with existing independents who were planning to sell out to a chain or close the doors. The pilot was part of AmerisourceBergen and Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s Pharmacy Ownership Program that matches independent pharmacy sellers and buyers.

The program coaches both buyers and sellers, sometimes working with both over several years to maximize pharmacy value for the seller and buying qualifications for the buyer. The goal is to find the ideal buyer for every seller while working with financial and other partners to get the best terms possible.

“Pharmacy Ownership services is built around preserving community pharmacies by planned acquisition and divestiture,” explains Charlie Le Bon, director of pharmacy ownership at AmerisourceBergen. “We work hand in hand with pharmacy owners to create an exit plan so they can leave the business in an orderly fashion when the time comes to retire or move on. Their legacy in pharmacy lives on while patient and employee continuity continues.”

Working with Pharmacy Ownership is an enormous advantage for both buyer and seller, Leark says. Sellers know that the potential buyer has the capabilities and the financing to keep the pharmacy healthy into the future.

“As the buyer, I know that it is a vetted store,” Leark continues. “That store, that owner, those employees all have a history with AmerisourceBergen. They have reliable data on sales, inventory, customer base, trends, operations, and everything else going back years. You know the value you are getting and you know the challenges. And AmerisourceBergen knows the lenders who can make it happen, even for somebody fresh out of pharmacy school with student loans coming due. I went into that first store with AmerisourceBergen and hit the ground running.”

Just like owning an independent pharmacy is not for every pharmacist, owning multiple pharmacies is not for every owner.

“When you own a pharmacy, it’s your baby, you’re there all the time,” Leark says. “It’s a leap of faith to step back and not be in the store as much because you physically can’t be in two or three or five pharmacies at once. You have to have a team behind you. You have to build and develop and trust your team.”

Owning multiple pharmacies offers economics of scale in some areas, Leark adds, but creates new problems in others. Operating in multiple communities means dealing with multiple sets of local regulations, expectations, and customer needs.

“Sure there are financial risks and rewards, but there are no guarantees that it’s going to work,” he cautions. “If you can scale yourself and your values, there are tremendous benefits to you and, more importantly, to the community. I can help more people with four stores than I can with one. That’s why I’m doing it.”