After 10 years working as a retail pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Emporia, Kansas – the oldest working business in the small town – Amber Haag, RPh., bought the pharmacy from owner and pharmacist Don Hill. Haag, also a wife and mother of two, talks frankly about the pros and cons of pharmacy ownership and explains why she sees owning a pharmacy not just as a job, but as a way of life.
Amber, you actually purchased the independent pharmacy that you worked at correct?
Yes, I started with the previous owner right out of pharmacy school with the intention to eventually buy the business. I was a pharmacy manager for him for 10 years.
Explain your thought process in making the decision to become an independent owner? What was the driving factor in that decision?
I was very active in NCPA during pharmacy school and always had an interest in independent pharmacy and ownership. I worked for one of the chains for a couple of summers and while I enjoyed that experience, ... I certainly knew that I preferred independent pharmacy and that was where my heart was. I very much enjoy seeing something that needs done or a service we could provide to meet the needs of the community and being able to do something about it right away … versus going through the corporate ladder chain.
Did you consider the pros and cons of pharmacy ownership, and if so, what were they?
There are certainly pros and cons both ways and when analyzing everything…the benefits of ownership and being in control of my own destiny far outweigh the cons. Of course business ownership brings on a large number of issues that continually need addressed … the financial aspects, human resources, etc., but in the end, you just have to analyze everything and look at the whole picture. For me, it’s worth it.
What kind of challenges did you face in the purchase and the transition from staff pharmacist to pharmacy owner?
The ownership transition went really pretty smooth, but we had been planning for this for 10 years. We ended up consolidating two stores into one, moving to a brand new location, and then of course the actual ownership transition all at the same time. So that was a lot to take on all at once. But considering everything, it went pretty well, all things considered – thanks to a lot of planning.
The biggest challenge from a business standpoint was just getting all third party payers and Medicare on the same page. The Managed Care Department at Medicine Shoppe’s headquarters was very helpful and in the end, you just have to keep at it until it all gets taken care of. Another challenge is being seen as the owner of the business by the staff versus a fellow staff member and colleague. I started as a pharmacy intern with this store, went to pharmacist and then to manager. Now I’m owner, with a lot of the same people on the team, and that’s an adjustment for everyone. It’s gone very well, but my priority is taking care of the business as a whole and making decisions from that standpoint. It has been a transition for all of us.
What kind of support have you received before and after the purchase of your pharmacy, and from who?
I worked a lot with the Small Business Development Center of Kansas, of course the bank, and worked a great deal with Cardinal Health’s Transition Services Team. Everyone was great to work with and added a little different perspective to the process and all were extremely helpful. I don’t know what I would have done without any of these pieces, they all specialize in specific areas of business or pharmacy acquisition or ownership and were wonderful to work with.
Can you share a little insight into your decision to remain a Medicine Shoppe pharmacy, after you acquired the pharmacy, and what value does being part of a franchise system provide?
I really like the name recognition that Medicine Shoppe provides. We have been a Medicine Shoppe for 20 years and people in our community recognize that. I also find great benefit in the managed care portion of the franchise system. It’s great to have that kind of expertise on your side when dealing with all of the third party payers. And of course, it’s just a great network of great pharmacists and people that become good friends, partners and consultants. You can never have too many of those.
How has owning your own pharmacy changed your life, both at work and at home?
From a work standpoint, owning a pharmacy certainly requires more time spent working on the business versus working in the business. My priorities are different now at work in certain ways. But I still spend most of my time doing the same thing as I always have: being a pharmacist and working with our patients. From a personal standpoint, the last two years have been very intense as far as building the pharmacy, preparing for the transition, actually transitioning and then dealing with everything afterward. So it’s been a bit crazy, but everyday gets easier and we get closer and closer to a “balanced lifestyle,” whatever that is. It’s different for everyone.
What recommendations would you give to others who are thinking of owning a pharmacy and what do you consider the “must haves and must dos to make it through the first year as a new owner?
The best advice I have for anyone wanting to own their own business is just to “keep going.” There are days that are tough and you question yourself and everything you are doing but at the end of every day you look back and look at all you have accomplished and all the patients and people you have positively impacted and it’s all worth it. I think your mindset and attitude going into everything is the most important aspect. Business/pharmacy ownership is not just a job, it’s a way of life and a way of life that will reward you far beyond what you could ever imagine, in so many different ways. If you look at it that way, you will make it through even the hardest days. When those hard days come and you feel completely overwhelmed, just remember to take it one step at a time. Even if the next step is to take a break from it all and “keep going.”
How has your business been doing thus far?
The business is going really well, and we are very blessed. You always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and we have been truly blessed. We are extremely thankful for the continued support our patients, staff and community continue to show us.