Pharmacists who make a difference

October 13, 2008

Across the country, independent pharmacies are going the extra mile for their communities. Innovative pharmacists share tips on how they stay successful in a competitive world.

Key Points

They're forces to be reckoned with. They're the stars of their class. They're the independent pharmacies nominated by wholesalers in response to Drug Topics' 2008 Call for Excellence in the following categories:

Overcoming competition

Flint, owner of Mallatt Pharmacy in Madison, Wis., was working toward his degree in pharmacy when he started working at the store.

"I just kind of jumped behind the counter," Flint said. "It was odd because they used the same old-fashioned cash register that I had used in high school, working in a pharmacy. It was my first sign that this was where I was meant to be."

By the time he bought the pharmacy in 1992, it had become a pillar of the community.

Mallatt Pharmacy prides itself on going the extra mile to help a customer. Pharmacy employees have driven sick customers to the hospital. They are accustomed to staging fundraisers after natural disasters, and they match the sums they raise. The pharmacy even offers a 24-hour delivery service.

"Our customers are loyal," Flint said. "We make sure they are all treated like queens and kings when they walk through our doors."

Another attribute that sets the pharmacy apart from its competitors is its variety. A big draw, especially during the month of October, is the store's costume section. The store offers everything from Batman gear to fake blood.

"Not just the cheap stuff," Flint boasted. "We sell the stuff they use in Hollywood."

It's not unusual for more than 100 people to squeeze into the store during their hunt for the perfect Halloween costume.

"Cars can be seen parked six or seven blocks away from people checking out the selection," Flint said.

Situated in a snug 1,300 square feet, the pharmacy makes the most of its space, finding room for a post office and a wine display in addition to its specialty costume area.

The real fun for Flint comes when he can give back to his community. It's not unusual for him and his employees to thank patrons with a special customer-appreciation day. The pharmacy recently organized a cookout with hot dogs and bratwurst. Flint even dressed up as Elvis.

"You just don't get that everywhere," he said. "There really is a festive atmosphere in our store all the time."

Exceptional pharmacy and nonpharmacy services

By way of example, Zatarski points to his alter ego, the Vitamin Coach, created to help customers learn more about what vitamins may be helpful in treating their ailments.

The coach was actually the brainchild of Zatarski's father-in-law, who opened the pharmacy in 1977. Zatarski, along with his business partner Drew Odem, bought the business in 2006.

It wasn't long before Zatarski started to learn more about his community and its pharmaceutical needs. That knowledge led Zatarski to begin offering "healthy living" sessions. Featured about once a month, the presentations are open to anyone interested in hearing about blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid problems, or other health subjects.

"Whenever I hear about someone's fatigue or muscle aches, I start to think about what vitamin deficiency could be causing that," he said. "That's just how my brain works. That may not always be the case, but I just want to have all of my bases covered."

The most important tip that Zatarski said he can pass on to other independent pharmacies is to learn the names of customers. Knowing his customers has helped him get an edge on service in his area, he said. In fact, his larger competitors have even recommended his pharmacy's services over their own. Zatarski said in turn, he is willing to recommend CVS or Wal-Mart pharmacies if those stores can better serve a particular customer's needs.

"Everyone who comes into our pharmacy has an issue that needs solving," he said. "If I feel that a person's needs would be better met by another store's prices, then I have no problem saying so. They're good at what they do, and we're good at what we do."