Independent Pharmacy: Making a Difference
Bea Riemschneider, Editorial Director
For many pharmacists, owning your own business is the American dream come true. The pharmacists who make up the independent pharmacy community are health care professionals in search of that dream.
As Bruce Semingson, RPh, chief operating officer of the newly formed American Associated Pharmacies (AAP), notes, “Independent pharmacy owners learn quickly that when you own your own business, success and failure depend on yourself, your family, and the people you surround yourself with.” It takes guts, leadership, and what he calls “fire in the belly” to do this very “American thing.”
The independent community pharmacy market includes those pharmacist-owned, privately held businesses that encompass single-store operations and other pharmacist-owned businesses, such as regional chain, franchise, compounding, long-term care, specialty, and supermarket pharmacies. They represent a significant portion of the pharmacies in the country, with 22,728 independent community pharmacies recorded by the end of 2008. In the total pharmacy industry, they also represent almost 40% of all retail pharmacy in the United States and $88.2 billion of the $206.3-billion retail market.
Pharmacy students may well have experienced an independent pharmacy—about 50% of independents utilize students in various rotations, especially in those parts of the country where they are in close proximity to a pharmacy school. During these rotations, the students have been exposed to the world of independent pharmacy, and can see for themselves if this environment and hands-on ownership is the right fit for them. The average independent community pharmacy is open 6 days a week, and the average workweek totals 55 hours. During 2008, according to the NCPA 2009 Digest, independent pharmacy owners, on average, employed 10.5 full-time employees per location.
The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) supports independent pharmacies as a career option for students through its Student Affairs Outreach Program, which works through 80 pharmacy school chapters to educate students about the goals and requirements of independent pharmacy ownership. The resources of this pharmacy association are available throughout the student’s career, and students are encouraged by Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, executive vice president and chief executive officer, to become active and stay active in the association. “Let’s build on our past successes, go forward, and make sure that community pharmacists are treated like the cornerstone of our health care system that we truly are,” he noted. “The future of independent pharmacy is in your hands.”
The face of the independent owner
As chief operating officer of the AAP—a new member-owned cooperative representing approximately 2000 independent pharmacies— Semingson knows what it takes to succeed in the independent world. He explains, “There are 2 clear things that differentiate an independent pharmacy from a large retail chain pharmacy. First, the relationship between an independent owner and their patients is unique. The whole success of their business depends on treating patients kindly and servicing their needs.”
It takes a certain breed of pharmacist to enter into an independent business. Semingson notes, “You have to want to do your own thing, and yes, you have a much greater mountain to climb because the independent owner must wear many hats.”
The AAP was formed with the express purpose of assisting independents with those many hats and providing services to strengthen their businesses. The AAP combines 2 of the nation’s largest pharmacy cooperatives—Phoenix-based United Drugs, a pharmacy cooperative that provides industry leadership, operating expertise, third-party contracting, and buying services to independently owned pharmacies throughout the country, and Alabama-based Associated Pharmacies Inc (API), a member-owned buying cooperative that provides independent pharmacy owners with the opportunity to buy products like a chain as well as other tools needed to run a successful business.
According to Semingson, there is nothing really like this cooperative, which provides access to third-party insurance contracts and reimbursement assistance on claims; a member-owned warehouse with discounts on selected brand, generic, and OTC drugs; access to technological advances, educational resources, advocacy, and important aggregate purchasing power—the strength of 2000 pharmacies collectively. United Drugs pharmacies, in operation for 32 years, offer unique specialty health services, screenings, durable medical equipment, retail items, and prescription services. The API, founded in 1987, is noted for its successful cooperativeowned warehouse operation, as well as its services. This marriage creates a strong, new voice for the independent pharmacy market and provides a valuable resource for its membership.
Patient care and customer service
The independent pharmacy offers a wide variety of services to the public, including medication therapy management services—more than half of independent community pharmacists offer this important service—as well as health screenings, nutrition, and patient charge accounts. Customer service is the mantra in these privately owned drugstores, perhaps even more so than in other settings. Independent owners take great pride in serving their patients and playing an important role in their communities. Close to 60% of them participate as speakers for local organizations, so it is not surprising that Semingson points to communication as one of the top skills necessary to succeed as an independent pharmacist. “You must be able to foster unique patient-to-pharmacist relationships,” he notes.
The other attributes for success include a strong entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to be your own boss, the ability to multitask, learning smart negotiation skills, and years of retail pharmacy experience. “To differentiate your business,” explains Semingson, “you need clinical skills and patient relationships, plus that magic word we call ‘trust.’”
For students, he strongly recommends that they gain experience as a pharmacist by first working in a large chain pharmacy, learning the ropes, observing the business practices, and gaining experience with as many clinical services as possible for a number of years. If the appeal of ownership and working in your own business setting is strong, Semingson says, pharmacists can then take the plunge to become an independent pharmacist. With the aid of technology, forward-thinking business practices, continuing education, and that “fire in the belly,” this could be just the right place for you to practice pharmacy. â—
AMERICAN ASOCIATED PHARMACIES
This new association combines 2000 pharmacies by uniting 2 distinct groups—United Drugs and Associated Pharmacies Inc. These independent pharmacies are spread across the country in all 50 states, with the exception of North Dakota. The majority of the United Drugs pharmacies are located west of the Mississippi. With the merger, AAP now has a large contingent of pharmacies in the South, Southeast, and eastern United States.
These pharmacies provide health screenings, immunizations and vaccines, “brown bag” review counseling, insurance and pharmacy benefit manager– sponsored medication therapy management, and educational seminars free to the community on topics such as diabetes management and stress reduction. For more information on owning your own pharmacy, go to the AAP services guide owner’s manual at http://188.8.131.52/AAP-Owners-Manual/index.html.
American Associated Pharmacies
7227 North 16th Street, Suite 160
Phoenix, AZ 85020