Initially, the mobility. My undergrad degree is in engineering. Unlike engineering where you typically had to stay put, as a pharmacist you can move anywhere. There is job security in there always being a need for pharmacists.
The first few years there were really nice. The decisions made by upper management made sense and felt like we (pharmacists) were treated as the professionals we are. The company was very efficient. They scouted great locations and got new stores up and going quickly. The building designs are good. When they initiated the vaccine program, it was well thought out.
Unfortunately, I think they were too big to know either their clients or their employees well enough. It was difficult for them to adjust to local issues or challenges as easily as an independent or community pharmacy might. I would have also liked to have seen more professional development options for pharmacists and the pharmacy teams.
I’ve always wanted to be the owner! Decades ago, I was looking at independent pharmacies to buy. In 2017, my then employer instituted a pay cut, so I geared up. I met someone who could be a partner who showed me how the money flow etc. works and how the big box stores manage to show a profit. Once I could see how to make a living, it all made sense.
Picking location was a challenge for me as a buyer. I looked at multiple properties. Originally I tried to buy the pharmacy that had been our community pharmacy where I grew up. But the owner was 75 at the time and the margins just weren’t there to pay himself. Also, it didn’t have a drive thru and there was no way to add one. The next one I looked at couldn’t handle the debt.
This one checked all the boxes. The former owner had passed away or this opportunity wouldn’t have been. First Financial Bank wanted to help. This location could be better, it’s on a highway, but 100k people drive by. You need the high foot traffic; a corner would have been ideal, but it is across from healthcare providers, so that is great. We are kind of between country and city, so everyone commutes by. And it is still way more convenient than the nearest big box pharmacy that is stuck in the middle of the thick traffic.
The real secret? Be ready to put in the 60 to 70 hours per week to make it work. Be sure to pay attention to your customers and your numbers. You don’t want to lose any of your customers or your good staff. It’s really rewarding – do it! Best thing I ever did. Do it as soon as you are comfortable with it. If you have it in you, do it now.
A niche that is human. It’s one at a time with 100 people. You need to connect with the individual. When someone has a specific need – whether it is something explained, or their prescription brought to their car, or to open another register or find a corner for a private consultation – you can make it happen. The big box chains can move a million people like a cruise ship with their processes. A community pharmacy is like a jet ski – personal service, moving one client at a time.
During the pandemic, you saw this in action. When our customers pulled up curbside, we knew who they were. They could make a list of their OTC needs, we’d shop it and bring it out. With the big box stores, it wasn’t necessarily as smooth and could be more difficult for those that struggle with technology.
I’m looking to have another store within a year. I’m fully invested in making my current pharmacy and any new one the best they can be by adding more services. Going to conventions and considering new ideas. Planning to add DME. Interested in creating a partnership with a local specialty care facility. Providing hormone replacement therapy care. Our vaccination program has been a real win. We were able to put that together really quickly. We had a challenge because the registration numbers were still linked with the old owners. My wife got on the phone and updated the connections through the government and we were able to get 1400 shots completed. We are planning to offer ongoing vaccine services and are building a shot room.
It’s important to always be making improvements and new additions. Have to keep moving forward!