Employees purchasing Tulsa pharmacy chain

January 27, 2014

As he moved closer to retirement, there were no shortages of offers for Deril Lees’ three compounding-only pharmacies in the Tulsa, Okla.-area. But Lees’ feared that many of the prospective buyers would close The Apothecary Shoppe, scattering his long-time employees, which include numerous family members, at his two Tulsa locations and the one in Broken Arrow.

As he moved closer to retirement, there were no shortages of offers for Deril Lees’ three compounding-only pharmacies in the Tulsa, Okla.-area. But Lees’ feared that many of the prospective buyers would close The Apothecary Shoppe, scattering his long-time employees, which include numerous family members, at his two Tulsa locations and the one in Broken Arrow.

“What would happen to my employees?” he recalled repeated asking himself. “All of them are top of the line? What would [the new buyer] do to the store?”

Instead of selling to an outside interest, Lees decided to create an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that transfers ownership from Lees to his employees. Under typical ESOPs, company shares are allocated to individual employee accounts. Allocations are made either on the basis of pay or some other formula. Employees’ shares become fully vested within three to six years. Initially, a loan is taken out to pay off the owner, and then profits from the business are used to repay the loan. Mosaic Capital Partners, a Charlotte, N.C. investment firm, helped create the ESOP.

Lees believes the ESOP was the perfect solution. “Every customer is so critical to our business and our employees handle it that way,” Lees said. “We wanted to reward them for that effort.”

Lees’ son, Deril Jr., will serve as CEO of the business. However, he and several of his relatives will be partners in the business.

“I was very excited about the plan,” the younger Lees said. “It was our goal to reward our employees for the growth that they are responsible for.”

Lees started the business in 1995. He began working in pharmacy in 1980 at a grocery store before eventually opening his own pharmacy. Over the years, he said the Apothecary Shoppe has become a place where employees are on a first-name basis with customers.

“We have a great customer base,” the younger Lees sad. “Our employees know our customers. When they walk through the door, [the employees] head to the back and start working filling the prescription.”