The dream of pharmacy ownership

June 10, 2014

You can own your own pharmacy, and it can give you a fulfilling life. But you gotta play the angles.

Jim PlagakisI had no idea whether Rodrigo could make it as a drugstore owner. He certainly wanted it. He had earned the seed money. I’d hate to see him lose it.

Rod was a 34-year-old control freak who believed he could do well filling prescriptions and selling vitamins. It was 1972, and a bare-bones-prescription business would never make it with a Payless, a Thrifty, and a White Front flanking the store Rod wanted to buy.

Furthermore, this pharmacy was nothing special. A clean white counter. Gray electric typewriter by Royal. Blue counting trays from Abbott and shiny Eli Lilly spatulas.

Rod was an aggressive guy from Long Island. His few friends finally convinced him that his manner of bulldozing to get what he wanted would not work in a small-town drugstore in northwest Ohio. So at least when I knew him, Rod didn’t go for it.

 

Um, maybe not

A few years passed and I discovered that I wanted some of that ownership thing. I was recently divorced, but I had cash money from playing blackjack in Nevada every weekend for months. I was ready.

Then, my long-held dream of owning a pharmacy evaporated in a flash of self-knowledge: You won’t leave it be, Plagakis. You would obsess until you had no life at all.

So I sold my house, bailed from my job, and went to Europe. Not a bad choice.

During the autumn, winter, and most of spring 1977, I spent every evening in a tavern on Mykonos, sipping anise-flavored ouzo with an archeologist from New Zealand.

I did many things for the next five years, but I did not take a full-time pharmacist’s job until 1982. No pharmacy ownership for Jimmy Boy.

 

The dream that foundered

In 2002, a young pharmacist inherited enough to get into a drugstore. This was her dream.

We worked together when she was a student at Washington State University; owning a pharmacy was all she talked about.

This girl could not miss, I thought. She was too smart and had too much enthusiasm to fail.

It lasted about a year. I was stunned.

“I couldn’t make a living practicing pharmacy.” If bitterness were gray-scale, this was black.

“I found out that there is no money in consultation. Doctors get paid for their knowledge. Lawyers, that’s all they have. Pharmacists get nada, zilch, nothing.”

 

2014-style

Last week, I saw a sign at Family Pharmacy in Sarasota, Florida. Well, I’ll be, I thought to myself.

Here’s what it said: “Pharmacists are available for brief consultations. Detailed consultations - $75.00 per ½ hour.” 

“Do you get it?”

The founder smiled. “That’s too cheap.”

“A hundred-fifty bucks an hour?”

“We compound customized products.” He gestured toward the glass wall. A pharmacist and three technicians were at work, dressed head-to-toe in white gowns. Gloves. Full-face respirators.

Then he said, “Consultations are customized, too.”  

The founder is handing the store off to a new owner, who looks like a happy man. Almost a decade in hospital work and he wanted a change to the upward path. Regular retail appeared to be headed downward.

I asked the founder whether a chain had tried to buy Family Pharmacy. Turns out, the Walgreens offer was more than fair.

“Well?” I gave him a questioning look.

He hesitated. “Walgreens won’t go to weddings or funerals.”

 “And you did?”

“He grinned. “Occasional bar mitzvahs and confirmations, too.”

 

Niche work, if you can get it

This new owner is 30-something, and his dedication bleeds through. I cannot recall ever being this committed to my patients when I was in my 30s. I do not doubt that he will continue growing the business.

The owner of Family Pharmacy has little competition for the thinking person’s dollars. Most of the young pharmacists who work for the chains are robo-dispensers. Many of them went to for-profit pharmacy schools that do not even teach rudimentary compounding.

Back in the day, way back, you might prescription-fill your way to owning that lake house. In 2014, that’s a Comedy Central/CNBC Special.

To make a good living, you had better have a niche business that gives ’em what they want. 

Independent pharmacy. There has never been a better time.

Jim Plagakislives in Sarasota, Fla. You can e-mail him atjpgakis@hotmail.com.