The Pharmacy at the Heart of a Rural Community

First Financial Bank
Jun 29, 2022
Dr. Courtney Pitre, owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Thrifty Way Pharmacy, chats with us about her journey to becoming the owner of this independent pharmacy.

You worked as a bluegrass music talk show host and play competitive ice hockey. Why did you decide to become a pharmacist?

Courtney: (Laughs) I was “lost like a duck”! I finished my undergrad degree in Biology and had no idea what I wanted to do. I moved to Nashville and worked 3 jobs. One was as a cashier in a Kroger supermarket and saw the pharmacists at work. Really liked what I saw. And it turns out my grandfather went to pharmacy school and became a pharmaceutical sales rep. I went to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City for graduate school. It’s beautiful there.

Can you tell us about your independent pharmacy in Arnaudville, Louisiana? Please tell us about your business, your services, and working with your community.

Courtney: We are a small mom and pop pharmacy in a small town in the country. Maybe about 1500 people in the area in total. I have three wonderful employees. Every day, we are here to help the community, either medically or just in general. It’s different than a big box pharmacy chain. People tell us about their personal issues and we try to help them. We’ve created a really nice environment. It’s been like that from the get go and we try to help, whether it is something that is going to make us money or not. If I was doing it for money, I’d be doing something else. Especially our older customers. As people get older, they tend to leave the big box chains. People trust us implicitly and we honor that trust. It’s fun and exhausting but so is anything worth doing.

What were some of the challenges you encountered along the way? What did you learn from addressing those? Are there recommendations or insights you’d like to share with other people who may be choosing this path?

Courtney: I bought this pharmacy on January 1st, 2015, only one year after graduating from pharmacy school. I was 29 and had buying an independent pharmacy in my 5-year-plan, but not my 1-year-plan. But I started working at this pharmacy and after only a few months, the owner told me he wanted to retire and wanted me to buy the business. This opportunity was too good to pass up and I figured I had nothing to lose. All I owned was a Honda Accord with 200k miles on it and $240k in student loan debt from graduate school. I’m nervous thinking about it in retrospect. But I had been putting in the sweat equity in the months I’d been there and was willing to work harder to make it a success. It’s hard to find a bank willing to work with someone to buy a pharmacy. No one wanted to talk to me. First Financial Bank was recommended to me. Drew (Hegi of First Financial Bank) wanted to sit down and look at the numbers. I was upfront and explained I literally had nothing but he said “well, let’s look and give it a chance.” I started talking to FFB in July and was the owner in January. We’ve tripled the business and I paid off the loan in 5 ½ years. First Financial Bank put their faith in me and I’m forever grateful for it.

How did you manage to accomplish all that?

Courtney: Blood, sweat and tears! I worked more than I probably should have – and during the pandemic it was worse. But I was concerned about having debt, so I put in the extra time and sweat equity to make it work. I also did it by not doing anything mind-blowing or risky, and knowing that “slow and steady wins the race”. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for last seven years, but it was worth it.

“I started talking to FFB in July and was the owner in January. We’ve tripled the business and I paid off the loan in 5 ½ years. First Financial Bank put their faith in me and I’m forever grateful for it.”

Young woman in a hockey uniform.What were your biggest challenges?

Courtney: Learning patience. I didn’t know what was ahead and it would freak me out. My accountant told me I had to slow down and not try to pay every bill off at once. She recommended that I plan for normal things, like taxes, or have cash for a sudden need that you can’t anticipate – for example a pandemic. She taught me not to get ahead of myself.

What advice might you give another new business owner?

Courtney: Don’t get ahead of yourself. As you start to see that extra money grow in your bank account, don’t think “I’ll spend it on something I want”. Pay yourself, of course, but then only do something nice for yourself within reason – once in a while. Live within your original budget and pay off debt. I lived in a 400 sq ft rental so that I could pay off debt. I just recently bought my first house. I will admit that a few years ago, I bought a camper van to be able to travel to hockey matches. But I bought it before the pandemic and the value has almost doubled, so it actually was a good investment – and it has been a good way to get to my hockey matches.

So what’s next for you?

Courtney: For the business, I’ve just recently started working only four days a week and have another pharmacist working for me on the other day. I’m working towards a goal of hiring another full-time pharmacist. I’m also playing in a variety of hockey matches. I’ve been a goalie for 27 years. And I’m getting married in the fall. He even plays hockey now – and we are both competing in the same tournament this weekend. Life is good – and I’m grateful for it.

Young woman expressing joy in front of new home.
Courtney mowing the lawn at her new home.

Still deciding on your career path? Learn more about being an independent pharmacy owner in this article. Ready to buy a pharmacy and looking for more insights or guidance? Let’s talk.

What Do You Need to Know to Buy a Pharmacy?

Learn more details about how to buy a pharmacy and calculate your monthly mortgage.

Pharmacies For Sale: What You Need to Know

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Planning to Sell a Pharmacy Business?

Ready to hang that “Pharmacy Business for Sale” sign in the window?

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