Let's make a deal

February 20, 2006

Independent pharmacies are catching the eye of investor groups

At a glance

Independent pharmacy owners walked through the Valley of Death in the 1990s when it seemed as if pharmacy benefit managers and their mail-order minions would kill off community pharmacy. It's true that thousands of weaker independents did, indeed, succumb, but the leanest and meanest survived, and today, they are a hot commodity on the buy-sell market.

There are currently a lot more would-be buyers like the Boulangers than there are sellers, according to Tony De Nicola, R.Ph., president of Buy-Sellapharmacy.com, which has partnered with the National Community Pharmacists Association to try to keep independent pharmacy independent by matching potential buyers with sellers. His on-line pharmacy brokerage firm sold 27 pharmacies last year, but it would have moved even more, if more sellers had put their stores on the block.

"There's not enough good inventory of quality pharmacies to be sold," said De Nicola. "We have 10 times as many buyers registered with us as sellers."

There's also an upswing of interest in ownership among recent pharmacy school graduates, said Richard A. Jackson, R.Ph., Ph.D., professor of clinical and administrative sciences and director of the center for community pharmacy practice and research, Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy. He teaches an elective pharmacy ownership course to 66 students who are all there because they want to be. "They've seen several of our grads go out and open a pharmacy and be successful," he said. "One of our graduates owns four pharmacies, and he's a young guy. It's good that these students can see young people succeeding, not old codgers like me."

There is an "amazing amount of interest" in pharmacy ownership at pharmacy schools, said Douglas Hoey, NCPA's chief operating officer, who noted that when he did campus outreach 10 years ago, maybe four or five students would approach him after a presentation. Now, when NCPA officials give a lecture on campus, 20 to 25 students crowd around the lectern asking about ownership.