This year, Barry Bryant, RPh, celebrated 30 years of owning Barney’s Pharmacy, a family of independent pharmacies that have been serving the South Augusta and Central Savannah River areas of Georgia for more than 50 years. Bryant’s three daughters all followed in his footsteps: They all attended pharmacy school and now work as pharmacists at his seven (soon to be eight!) full-service stores. Here, Bryant and his three daughters – Vanessa Hoffman, Stephanie Tankersley and Brittany Smith (all PharmD graduates from the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy) – talk about their business and the future of the independent pharmacy profession.
Q: Barry, tell us about how you first became interested in pharmacy, and how you decided to become an independent pharmacist. Did you have business training?
Barry: I didn’t even go to college with desire for pharmacy school. I went to the University of Georgia to study math and science. My roommate was a pharmacy student, and I that’s how I got interested. I didn’t have any business training. My first job out of school was working at a Kroger pharmacy. That’s where I learned things like ordering, inventory management, logistics and how to run the pharmacy.
Q: When did you start working in your dad’s pharmacy? When did you know this was what you wanted to do?
Vanessa: When I was about 5 years old, I started coming in on Saturdays and hanging out. Then in high school and college, I worked on the weekends. I worked the register for a while; and we used to have an old soda fountain, so I’d run that. I also worked as a pharmacy technician when I was in pharmacy school. I think I’ve been on the store’s payroll for 20 years now! I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do.
Stephanie: I knew I wanted to do something that made people feel better about themselves. I've always had an interest in health, beauty and fitness. I did a lot of praying in my undergrad years, asking God for his direction. I realized that I could help people as a pharmacist, teaching patients about medicine and a healthy diet and also teaching a chair aerobics class at the pharmacy.
Brittany: I was the baby, and wanted to be like my big sisters. Pharmacy is all I’ve ever known; and I’ve always had the sense I should be in pharmacy – it’s a career that’s always felt right.
Q: Barry, how do you balance your role as both father and boss/colleague to your girls?
Barry: Having my daughters at work with me has always given me more time to spend with them. In the early days the business didn’t tie me up as much as it does today, given today’s growth and the fact that we have multiple stores. We went to church as a family and they played ball and I was their softball coach. I always tried to teach them life lessons along the way, teaching them how to treat patients, teaching them about customer service, teaching them about responsibility.
Now that we work together, I also understand that the girls also have a life outside of work. I love what I do, and they do too. I’d love for my daughters to step into my shoes, and they’re already doing it. Vanessa is managing a store and so is Stephanie. Brittany is at the busiest store with me, managing it with me. I’m turning over more and more of the stores’ operations to my daughters.
Q:How do you balance your roles as both daughters and co-workers/employees with your dad?
Stephanie: Like Dad said, we love pharmacy like he does. But we also have other priorities. We have families and husbands and other commitments. I feel strongly that you can be a pharmacist and run your own business and you can do these other things.
We’re more than sisters and co-workers. We’re also best friends and we’re very supportive of each other. We tag team it, and we try to keep up with Dad. If Dad had his way, he’d work 24 hours a day. We do it differently, though. For us, it’s important to do things outside of work, not everything is about pharmacy. And that’s OK.
Vanessa: We help our dad learn the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. We have input on who we hire as staff and we get to determine what parts of the business we want to be involved in. You can’t do it all. A really important part of being a pharmacy owner is learning how to pick good people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about.
Q: What do you like best about working in the family business?
Brittany: My favorite thing is working with my family. If I had taken any other job I wouldn’t see them nearly as much. It’s a value we have and I love being with my dad and my sisters.
Stephanie: My favorite thing about our family business is really being able to help people. We get to make the decisions, we can decide to offer services and deliver something to someone’s house, or pay for someone’s medicine, or take 20 minutes to go talk with a customer who’s confused about their medications. We run the business, so we have liberties and opportunities we would never have in another pharmacy career.
Vanessa: I love that I’m able to work with my dad on my schedule. I have two kids and a life outside of work. I can go home and be with my kids. I work 9 to 3 and I’m there for homework and to get them to school. I wouldn’t have that kind of flexibility in a lot of other roles.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of working in a family owned business?
Stephanie: I think one of the biggest challenges is hiring the right people. We’ve all learned that once you’ve hired someone and they are not a fit, or don’t share the vision, it’s hard to transition them out. It can be tough to find team members who want to come to work with the same principles and passion that we have – but it’s important, because having the right people is what makes our business thrive.
Q: What’s the transition plan for your pharmacy?
Barry: Stephanie just had a chain pharmacy open around the corner and not a single prescription transferred out. I get all the chains talking about wanting to acquire us. But my girls are my exit strategy. Barney’s is here. We aren’t going anywhere. We’re opening our eighth store in March. We’re here to take care of the community.
Q: Is independent pharmacy ownership a career you would want your children to consider pursuing?
Stephanie: I’d be thrilled if my children wanted to go into independent pharmacy. If they have another passion, that’s fine, but I couldn’t be happier if they chose pharmacy.
Vanessa: It’s a fantastic job for a female. You get family time. You get to take care of your kids. You get to be self-sustaining, to be in control. I won’t push it on my kids but I’d hope and pray for them to consider it.
Q: What advice do you have for those considering a career in independent pharmacy?
Barry: Unless you have really worked in and grown up in an independent pharmacy, it’s a good experience to work for a chain pharmacy for a couple years. Get that experience under your belt, see how the chains do things. Then find a successful independent pharmacist who’s doing innovative things, whose business is growing, and ask them to be a mentor. Get a job with them. Learn from them. Be a dry sponge. Soak it up. And then start looking for a junior partnership. Coming straight out of school to borrow money and open would be a mistake – gaining some practical experience is really important.
We started a residency site a couple years ago, one of the few community residency sites in the country. We had applications from all over the country, and now I’ve got residents from Pennsylvania and Louisiana. It’s intense training. They leave here after a year, and they could open a pharmacy if they wanted to. But that’s what students need to do. Seek out a residency or find an independent who’d work with them to be a mentor.
Stephanie: We opened my store 2 years ago. It was my first experience with a start-up store. My advice to anyone is don’t think that owning a store is, or should be, an overnight success. To do it right, you need to put in the time, work, gain the experience, learn from a mentor, and understand it will take time. There’s no way around the hard work, but it pays off.
Q: Do you have any specific advice for female pharmacy students?
Barry: Back when I was in school, 85% of my class was male and it’s reverse today. So if we want to keep community pharm growing and strong, we need to reach out to more female students and start conversations with them about store ownership.
We need to get the word out to female pharmacy students who don’t want to work until 10 pm and Saturdays and Sundays. They need to know there are opportunities to be successful and have their own stores, without filling 1,000 prescriptions a day. With independent pharmacy, you have the flexibility to run and manage your business and offer patient care services you want. And, you get to be your own boss.
There have always been issues independent pharmacies have to deal with, but it’s all in how you look at those challenges that determines if you’re successful. I think my girls see it that way too.