Q&A: How Coffee Helped This Pharmacy Improve Front-End Sales

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Chris Schaffner, PharmD, owner of Schaffner Pharmacy and Apothecary Coffee in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, sat down with Drug Topics to discuss his joint business venture.

Over the past few years, a unique pharmacy operation has been making waves in the Pacific Northwest. Chris Schaffner is a pharmacist by trade, but he also serves as the owner of Apothecary Coffee, a co-located coffee shop attached to his other business, Schaffner Pharmacy. Opening the pharmacy in 2018 and the coffee shop in 2022, Schaffner and his staff have achieved great success in the community pharmacy industry.

In his discussion with Drug Topics, Schaffner explored the genesis of his 2 businesses, his personal journey, and the unique opportunities that have come with the opening of Apothecary Coffee, among other topics.

Chris Schaffner sat down with Drug Topics to discuss his 2 businesses: Schaffner Pharmacy and Apothecary Coffee. | image credit: splitov27 / stock.adobe.com

Chris Schaffner sat down with Drug Topics to discuss his 2 businesses: Schaffner Pharmacy and Apothecary Coffee. | image credit: splitov27 / stock.adobe.com

Drug Topics: Can you first start by telling us how the pharmacy-coffee shop combination came to be?

Chris Schaffner: It was an idea that a preceptor of mine had when I was an intern in pharmacy school. He did his thesis back in pharmacy school on a concept called RX Espresso. Coffee culture in the Northwest is kind of crazy. We've got a Starbucks on every corner, much like the rest of the country has Dunkin or other chains. But the idea was we wanted to bring the casual atmosphere that coffee provides into the clinical setting of a pharmacy. My philosophy is that relationships are the foundation of great health care. The drugs are the same everywhere you go. The knowledge is all readily available. The thing that we can make a difference on with patients is getting to know them, and having frank conversations, and coffee is just a great sort of conduit to that. It's a catalyst that lowers barriers. It makes everybody more comfortable. And quite honestly, it's a great feel. You walk in, you smell coffee, people are immediately at ease. They're happy. My staff is super energetic because they get free drinks all day long. So, it's been a very symbiotic relationship having the two married together.

If you think about it, the pharmacy is often sort of a cornerstone of community and so are coffee shops. [It also] provides a tremendous boost to front-end sales. Half the patients who come in also stop and get something at the coffee shop. From an economic standpoint, both businesses support each other. The pharmacy is only open Monday through Friday, so having a coffee shop in the same building that's open on a weekend provides additional revenue. So, from a cost standpoint, it makes a lot of sense, but also from just how communities respond to each one of those businesses. Putting them both under the same roof has worked out really well.

Drug Topics: What was your initial vision for Apothecary Coffee when it first came into fruition and how has that ultimately evolved up until now?

Chris Schaffner: The idea is I love coffee myself. I wanted to have a specialty coffee shop without the attitude that you typically run into at some of those shops. I wanted it to be kind of like how our pharmacy is: super welcoming. I wanted people to come in and be able to experience something different, to try something different, and to have an extremely high-quality cup of coffee. So, everything we do, it's very much like pharmacy compounding. We weigh the coffee grounds before they go into the espresso machine. And then we're looking for a specific output, plus or minus a certain timeframe, so that we can guarantee similar profiles from drink to drink. So that consistency and sort of scientific process we brought into the coffee-making experience at Apothecary Coffee.

With that said, your initial vision is never really what comes out at the end. Our town wasn't really ready for a super high-end specialty coffee shop. So, we've had to bridge that a little bit with what they wanted, with Redbull drinks and other things for younger customers. But in general, I think all of it's been really well received and it's a fun journey to sort of bring your vision of just a really comfortable inviting space that has excellent products to your community so that they can enjoy it has been super rewarding.

Drug Topics: Whether it’s on the pharmacy or coffee shop side of things, what would you say has been the biggest challenge since beginning this joint business venture?

Chris Schaffner: Staffing, for sure. I think we were all feeling that pinch. It's always a challenge but now we have a whole other skillset that we have to find people with experience in the coffee industry. What's interesting is almost all of our baristas are also licensed as pharmacy assistants. So since we have a drive-thru window that services both businesses, they're able to seamlessly help patients of either business and the result is a seamless experience for our patients and customers as they come in. They get the prescription needs, they can get coffee—maybe they're just getting coffee—but that same person can help them. And so that's allowed us to maintain the efficiency that we were known for. But it's always a challenge. In the restaurant industry, or in the coffee industry, [there is] higher turnover in general than the pharmacy industry. So that was a bit of an adjustment. But while people are the greatest challenge, I think they're also the greatest reward. So, we have all these high-energy individuals who’ve brought great ideas for what we can have for front-end sale items from different marketing campaigns for different events that we can attend. It's been a really great experience overall.

And I have a wonderful manager who runs the day-to-day on the coffee shop. I just can set the vision and she does all of the purchasing and the training for new employees and all of those logistics are handled. So, it takes that huge weight off my shoulders and I can then focus on the pharmacy side, which is complicated enough.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview series with Chris Schaffner, discussing Schaffner Pharmacy, Apothecary Coffee, and other overarching trends in the community pharmacy industry.

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