Not only do they play an important role in our nation's health care delivery system, they're also the most accessible healthcare resources for millions of patients across the country - especially those living in rural and very urban communities. And according to Gallup's annual poll , they also rank as the most trusted of all professionals in all industries - second only to nurses.
Here, we share advice from six of the nation's leading community pharmacy owners - from Texas to Nebraska – to fellow pharmacists and pharmacy students who are considering pharmacy ownership.
"Buy an existing pharmacy, don't start from scratch trying to build one from the ground up," recommends Balch, who has built a network of five retail pharmacies in Maryland, and has been an independent pharmacist for nearly 40 years.
Most pharmacy owners will at some point need to look at options for selling their pharmacies, and Balch believes most would prefer to sell to another pharmacist who's committed to keeping the business independent.
The upside for the buyer is the chance to own a pharmacy that already has strong local name recognition and an existing base of patients. Many retiring pharmacists even welcome the opportunity to transition the business over time - giving the new owner the chance to take more time to learn the business. But Balch cautions, "You've also got to commit to working hard, and you've got to be willing to listen and accept advice from others," noting that being both a pharmacist and a business owner requires the ability to 'know what you don't know,' and to actively solicit advice from other business professionals who can fill in your gaps of knowledge.
Andy Kornuves, an owner of Doughterty's Pharmacy, which has been a Dallas, Texas institution since 1929, echoes Balch's sentiment, "Only own a pharmacy if you truly want to help people."
Komuves believes that the most successful (and happy) pharmacy owners are the ones who truly enjoy getting 'out behind the counter' to interact with patients, one on one. He believes it's that personal patient interaction - and the ability to help patients improve outcomes - that really sets independent pharmacies apart.
"Dougherty's Pharmacy is our area's oldest, largest, and most-recognized full-service pharmacy, and we serve customers across Southwest Texas. This pharmacy was founded at the start of the Great Depression, and our original owner set the bar as a customer-oriented pharmacy dedicated to its patients' well-being. It's that patient-focused dedication that has led to 85 years of success."
"It's really important to understand that you can't just open the doors and expect your business to grow - you must work at it every single day," says Tom Pucci, owner of Pucci's Leader Pharmacy in Sacramento. He also highlights how important it is to hire the right people - employees who share your commitment to customer service and your passion for caring for patients - and the importance of creating a positive work environment to attract and retain the best talent. "Take care of your employees. They are the face of your business," said Pucci.
Pucci also underscores the importance of forging relationships with other community health professionals. "Get out of your store and call on doctors' offices to see how you can help them improve patient care. We are a face with a name in an increasingly electronic, all-too-often faceless healthcare system. Other healthcare professionals, and patients, know we care, because we own our businesses. They know we make great partners because our pharmacy's success is our success."
Theresa Tolle highlights the important role that peer mentoring plays for community pharmacists. She notes that while you may be the only pharmacy owner in your specific community, it's important to connect with pharmacy owners in neighboring communities - and even across the country - to get ideas and to learn what's working for them.
"Do your research. Find mentors, visit other pharmacies to learn how they run their businesses. Join professional organizations like NCPA - take their community pharmacy ownership training class. If you're a female pharmacist, get involved with groups like the Women in Pharmacy initiative," says Tolle. She also urges new pharmacy owners to attend industry trade shows and events where they can meet and network with hundreds of peers at one time.
The ability to impact patient health may be a particularly rewarding aspect of pharmacy ownership, but Gerry O'Hare, owner of Jeffrey's Drug Store in Canonsburg, Penn., cautions that launching a brand new pharmacy can be challenging. And O'Hare should know. He was a pharmacist at Jeffrey's Drug store for five years before buying the pharmacy in 2003.
"Know that opening a new community pharmacy from scratch can be very difficult. Look at the market, or work with a partner like Cardinal Health who can help you find a store with a pharmacist looking to retire," says O'Hare. While finding the right pharmacy to buy may take time and effort, O'Hare says the work is worth it.
"Most pharmacy owners are the kind of people who are active in their local schools, churches and civic associations. We get the most gratification from having the chance to serve our family, friends and neighbors, and by having the freedom and flexibility to adapt our businesses to meet the unique needs of our customers. Pharmacy is a great business as long as you are not greedy and willing to work hard - you can make a great living and help a lot of people."