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When Keith and Deborah Hersey opened Hersey Pharmacy in Durham, N.C., in January 2020 they planned a pharmacy that revolved around relationships with customers, unique product lines, and wellness programs.
Like so many others this year, they have had to pivot.
“The COVID pandemic was not part of the business plan,” says Keith Hersey, who has seen slow, but steady, prescription growth this year. Like a true independent, though, Hersey has been creative and adapted his ideas. For example, he quickly began offering delivery. With flu season, he plans to go to patients’ homes and offices. “We want to provide an alternative to people who are leery about going out or to go into a doctor’s office right now,” he says. “We’ve gotten good feedback on this.”
It’s no secret that community pharmacy is a competitive business, with shrinking reimbursements and competition from chains. The NCPA (National Community Pharmacists Association) reports in its annual digest that while independent pharmacy’s numbers are on the decline, there are still entrepreneurs who have the desire to start a pharmacy from scratch.
The Herseys are in that group. With an interest in healthcare for more than 20 years, including jobs in a lab, as a medical technologist, and as a pharmacy technician, Hersey says what inspired him to finally pursue pharmacy and receive his degree, is the relationship pharmacists have with their patients, something he remembers clearly from visiting the pharmacy in the small town in North Carolina where he grew up.
“The pharmacist knew everyone and their medications. He was part pharmacist, part doctor, part confidant,” says Hersey. “I’ve always had a good opinion about pharmacy, and I thought that was something I wanted to do.”
After working in chain pharmacy for 16 years, his location was closed following a buyout. Hersey took it as a sign to follow through on his desire to open his own store.
“I just decided to take a leap of faith and start my own pharmacy with my wife,” he says. “It’s been a big venture, not knowing all the requirements of independent pharmacy. When you work for a chain the corporate structure handles details like building codes, human resources, state laws, and filing paperwork. When you’re on your own, you have to do it yourself, so there was a big learning curve.”
Despite regulatory delays and a major renovation of the space, Hersey persevered, and after a year and a half opened in January.
Starting from Scratch
The initial intent was to open as an independent franchise. This helped as there were resources around regulatory requirements and the franchise also recommended pharmacy systems. Hersey looked at the two systems recommended by the franchise, and decided he preferred the Rx30 Pharmacy Management system. When things didn’t work out with the franchise, he decided to install the Rx30 system in his own store. He’s been pleased with the system’s features, including the outbound text refill reminders as well as the interface with ReFillRx, a digital content supplier, and with his wholesaler for inventory management. He uses the Rx30 POS (point of sale) system and Heartland for the credit-card processing and health savings accounts.
When Hersey Pharmacy opened it had a base of customers who knew Hersey from his previous pharmacy. Hersey chose a location in a suburban shopping center, close to a popular mall and a large grocery store that doesn’t have its own pharmacy. Hersey’s thought was that the location would lead to good foot traffic. The store has a small front end with basic over-the-counter items such as analgesics, cough and cold, ear and eye medications, and digestive aids. He plans to develop a vitamin department as his customer base increases.
Branching out to offer services that present value is one piece of advice from the NCPA Digest, and Hersey has done this. His goal is to make his store unique, through attentive customer service, unique product offerings, and clinical programs. Keith and Deborah’s love of animals was the impetus to have a pet section. They plan to carry pet treats, flea and tick medications, grooming items, stain and pet odor removers, toys, and training pads in the front end of the store, as well as prescriptions as an alternative to the vet’s office. “We’re looking for niches, but this is something we care about as well,” says Hersey.
“Based on my experience, if you get patients’ medications lined up at the same time, they are more likely to be adherent,” he points out.
Like many of his peers, Hersey sees the value in a med sync program and would like to enroll more patients with the goal to have all his patients on multiple medications in the program. “Based on my experience, if you get patients’ medications lined up at the same time, they are more likely to be adherent,” he points out.
The medication synchronization system has been a good resource to move older patients into the program and have their refills on a 30-day or 90-day schedule rather than scattered across the month. Hersey says the Rx30 system makes it easy to contact doctors and confirm a refill request has been received, an important step in the med sync process.
“With previous systems I’ve used it takes multiple steps to contact the doctor, and then you weren’t sure if they got the request,” he says. “The Rx30 system makes it easy to make the request, and if there are any problems you know right away.”
In keeping with his aspiration for his pharmacy to provide personalized healthcare experience for his patients, Hersey is beta testing a lifestyle modification program. For a monthly fee, patients can enroll in the program and Hersey will help manage, in collaboration with a patients’ physician, maintenance diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
“I would like it to be our core program to differentiate us from other pharmacies,” he says. “I think it’s forward looking. I’ve been learning about the ways to change your lifestyle to improve these conditions.” And while it may be counterintuitive that ultimately patients would need fewer prescriptions if they follow a healthier lifestyle, Hersey sees this as a fundamental role he can play as a pharmacist in improving patients’ lives. “To me, that’s what I would like our pharmacy to do. I would like it to be the place that you can get the things you need now, and if you want to get off the medications, we can help you with that.”
The prescription level is growing slowly. His biggest fear going into the fall is that COVID-19 case loads will increase and there will be another lockdown. To encourage new customers to give him a try, he’s developing marketing initiatives that highlight how Hersey Pharmacy is different, and offers personal service. His plan includes digital marketing through emails and social media. People can like and follow Hersey Pharmacy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
“That’s probably the number-one challenge, getting people to give us a chance. And with the pandemic, it just makes it a little more challenging for people to step out and make a change,” he says. “But like I said, we hope to get our pet medications implemented and then really start the marketing. That will be the final thing to get everything in place.”
Maggie Lockwood is VP, director of production at ComputerTalk. Do you have a comment or story idea? Contact us!