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IT IS QUITE COMMON FOR ME WHEN TRAVELING to drop in unannounced on an independent pharmacy or two. Over the past few months these unplanned drop-ins have resulted in my meeting the owners of several brand-new, start-from-scratch pharmacies.

So I started to wonder, with all the problems facing community pharmacy, why would anyone start a brand-new pharmacy, and what advice could he or she share with others contemplating doing the same? So I interviewed four pharmacists who have recently done just that. Here’s some of what I learned.

Ann Deaton Redding, Pharm.D. Crossroads Pharmacy Coffee and Gifts Smiths Station, Ala.
Ann Deaton Redding, Pharm.D.
Crossroads Pharmacy Coffee and Gifts, Smiths Station, Ala.

Jason Dykstra, Pharm.D., opened Chino Valley Pharmacy, in Chino Valley, Ariz., in the fall of 2016. He says having someone who can help you create and stick to a plan is the most important advice he could offer. Since he was coming out of a grocery store pharmacy chain, he says one critical thing his mentor did was to help him choose a buying group. Together they chose American Associated Pharmacies (AAP). And, he says, once he joined AAP other things fell into place, such as which wholesaler to use and which PSAO (pharmacy services administrative organization) to join.

Ann Deaton Redding, Pharm.D., opened Crossroads Pharmacy Coffee and Gifts in Smiths Station, Ala., in March of this year. Redding had worked for years as a pharmacy and district manager for a big-box chain. So she decided to get the help she needed at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) Pharmacy Ownership Workshop. The team there helped her create a plan that has seen her pharmacy take off faster than she had originally anticipated.

Selma Alami, Pharm.D., is co-owner in Mustang Drug, in Mustang, Okla. The pharmacy opened in the spring of 2017. Alami got the help she needed from her two business partners, who also own three other pharmacies in Oklahoma.

Amy Farlinger, R.Ph., had been working for an independent for 18 years. When the owner sold to a regional chain, the small county-owned hospital approached her with an offer to open an outpatient pharmacy. She opened Cresco Family Pharmacy in Cresco, Iowa, early in 2015.

Cresco Family Pharmacy

Amy Farlinger, R.Ph. Cresco Family Pharmacy
Amy Farlinger, R.Ph.
Cresco Family Pharmacy, Cresco, Iowa

Farlinger says that because of her relationship with the hospital, some of the decisions a new owner needs to make were easy for her. The pharmacy was to be located in a remodeled section of the hospital. Cardinal Health was chosen as her wholesaler, as that is the company the hospital pharmacy used. And, she says, the hospital’s procurement team had already contracted with QS/1 for her pharmacy management system. She says that all worked out great, as each of these vendors bent over backward to help make her pharmacy a success.

But Farlinger says she still had plenty of hurdles to overcome. Even though her pharmacy was owned by the well-established county hospital, it still took months to get all the licenses and permits necessary. And she advises new owners to be prepared for the frustration of not being able to get one license until you have another, which you can’t get without the first. “Creativity and persistence is a critical success factor,” according to Farlinger.

Chino Valley Pharmacy

Jason Dykstra, Pharm.D.
Chino Valley Pharmacy, Chino Valley, Ariz.

Dykstra says one thing his community needed was a pharmacy with a professional touch. To that end, he stocks a nice assortment of home medical equipment. To further differentiate his pharmacy from his chain competition, he does medication synchronization, adherence packaging, and home delivery.

Because she was new to the area, Redding spent a lot of time talking to the “locals,” trying to understand what would appeal to the community. Her solution: putting in a first-class coffee bar and gift shop. The coffee bar features a variety of coffee blends, as well as fresh, locally produced pastries. She says the coffee bar provides her with a chance to chat with people coming in just for coffee. And Redding says doing that results in a lot of transferred prescriptions.

Crossroads Pharmacy Coffee and Gifts

Since Redding came from a chain background, she had to do some serious research when it came to selecting a pharmacy system. This included visiting other pharmacies in the area. After seeing some of them in action and talking with several vendors, she selected Liberty Software. She says she really appreciates its customer service, training on the system, and the fact that she can get to any other function the system provides from the primary filling screen.

Mustang Drug

Alami says that as a newly graduated pharmacist and a newcomer to the area, she knew she also needed to network in the community. One avenue she chose was joining the Mustang Chamber of Commerce. And much to her delight, the chamber had started a wellness program in 2015 to help improve the overall health of the community.

Selma Alami, Pharm.D. Mustang Drug Mustang, Okla.
Selma Alami, Pharm.D. Mustang Drug, Mustang, Okla.

Alami supports the wellness program with comprehensive medication reviews that include counseling on drug nutrient depletion. She says some of the enhanced care features in her Computer-Rx pharmacy system make providing this kind of service possible. When asked why she chose Computer-Rx, she says her partners also use the system, and having all four stores on the same platform helps with reports and other management services. And, she says, its customer service, training, and support in helping her get the store open was exceptional.

She also reports good success with the Ortho Molecular drug-induced nutrient depletions program and says the consumer information leaflets and educational support it provides help build front-end sales while also providing patients with reasons to recommend Mustang Drug to their friends.

Farlinger says that from the beginning her practice was going to center on helping people understand and appropriately take their medications. So she provided comprehensive medication reviews and makes the extra effort necessary to communicate with prescribers on ways to improve each patient’s medication regimen. The results, according to her, have been improved adherence and better outcomes.

I did not ask these pharmacy owners for any details on how much it costs to open a pharmacy. But most of those interviewed said getting adequate funding was essential. As Farlinger says, not only do things take longer than you planned, but they also cost more than you expected.

Dykstra advises that you not scrimp on technology. He says he shopped around and found pharmacy systems that cost less, but that after carefully contemplating initial and long-term costs he selected PioneerRx as his pharmacy system. He says it came with a built-in point-of-sale system, which has proven valuable in managing his front end. And he is glad he also has its web page facilitating internet refills.

When it comes to understanding the funding process for a new pharmacy, Alami comes with a unique perspective. As part of her residency, she did a one-month internship at Live Oak Bank. And, she says, she was also helped by being part of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Pharmacy team participating in the NCPA Pruitt-Schutte Student Business Plan Competition. So she chimes in with Dykstra in saying that you need do everything you can to secure adequate funding before you get too far into the process.

From talking with these successful startups, a few key points emerge: Have a solid plan; find and use a mentor; get to know your community; and provide that community with some unique service. Finally, realize that everything will take longer and cost more than you planned, so secure adequate funding.

Then, based on the success of these four brand-new pharmacies, it would appear that going independent could be a wise personal and professional choice. CT

Bruce Kneeland is a semi-retired pharmacy industry consultant living in Prescott, Ariz. He visits dozens of community pharmacies each year and delivers CE programs intended to help  pharmacy owners be more successful. He can be reached at bfkneeland@gmail.com.