OWNING YOUR OWN PHARMACY: A PLAN AND PARTNERSHIP COME TOGETHER
Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.
Rob and Stacie Wenzl had aplan. For 5 years, Rob was a respiratorytherapist, but he knew that wasnot meant to be his lifetime career.He enrolled at the University ofKansas where he made the decisionwith his wife Stacie, a certified publicaccountant, that he would get hispharmacy degree, and together theywould purchase and operate theirown independent pharmacy. Rob isthe first to admit that he is not a businessmanager, so Stacie?s accountingbackground became a key piece ofthe puzzle.
The Wenzls knew they were lookingat either a buyout or getting asmall business loan to start their ownpharmacy. Knowing before enteringpharmacy school that he wouldeventually own an independentpharmacy, however, made the necessaryplanning and preparation thatmuch easier.STEP ONEWith the goal of owning their ownpharmacy within 3 to 5 years afterRob?s graduation from pharmacyschool, the Wenzl?s plan was set inmotion. Their first decision: location.They wanted to live and workin a small town, since both grew upin small rural communities and werelooking to get back to that kind oflifestyle. They opened a map andchose north-central Kansas and thesmall town of Phillipsburg, population2600; only 6000 people reside inall of Phillips County. ?That is wherewe wanted to be with our lives,? theyagreed.FAST FORWARD
Perhaps feeling a bit restless, theWenzls made a significant adjustmentto their master plan when theydecided not to wait until Rob?s May2005 graduation date before purchasinga pharmacy. Between his secondand third year of pharmacyschool, the Wenzls explored theiroptions with the National CommunityPharmacists Association?s juniorpartnership program.
After deciding where they wantedto live, the Wenzls began visitingindependent pharmacies, introducingthemselves to the owners, handingout their resumes, and inquiringif they were interested in selling. Intheir search, they met some ownerswho were advancing in age and lookingto sell their businesses. Soon, theWenzls were able to narrow downtheir choices to 2 pharmacies beforemaking their final decision, and itturned out to be a good one. Robadvises, ?If you buy an existing store,make sure it is the right fit.?
In fact, Rob ended up signing acontract with one of the independentpharmacy owners almost 2 yearsbefore graduation. While still inschool, he started working for theprevious owner, which allowed for avital transition period?not only forthe 2 pharmacists, but for the patientsas well.REWARDS
The Wenzls set out to become theirown bosses, and they made it happen.?We love the autonomy of it.? Theirdecision to relocate to a small townturned out to be the right fit as well.?It is easy to get to know the customers.There are no chains in thearea; the closest one is 60 miles away.There are other independents intown, though,? explained Rob. Infact, even in 1907, there were 3 drugstores in the small Kansas town.
Rob says that the primary benefitof owning an independent pharmacyis the sheer autonomy of it, and anyother benefits are simply an extensionof that. ?You make your ownhours, you do not have to practicepharmacy someone else?s way, andyou can develop your own style ofpractice and management.?
Was there any trepidation in takingon a new business and pharmacypractice? ?I am not bragging, but Ihad already been in the real worldand worked in health care andworked with patients, and I haddeveloped my own style of practice,?says Rob. ?So I felt pretty comfortabledealing with the patients.?PRACTICE STYLE
As for Rob?s style of pharmacypractice, he says he tends to be a littlemore laid back than most recentgraduates, a trait developed throughprevious health care experience. ?Iwant to interact with the patients,and I want to hear about what theydid Saturday night. I know their firstnames and think of them more asfriends. I spend time with them outsidethe pharmacy. My customers aremy friends.?
Beyond that friendly environment,as a pharmacy in a rural environment,Wenzl Drug ends up being acritical care access point for peoplein the community. ?That has come tobe expected,? he continues. ?That iswhat sets the small town independentsapart from the big stores.?
When asked if a particular type ofbusiness model works better for arural location, he notes, ?A successfulbusiness model does depend onwhere you are.Many successful independentsexist in urban areas, but thecompetition is pretty fierce. At mystore, we have only had a handful ofpatients inquire about the Wal-Mart$4 [generic] prescription plan. I justexplain to them that we cannot competeon that level.? In fact, an independentwould have to eliminatemany other services to offer such aprescription plan. ?Outstanding customerservice is why we will win out,?says Wenzl. ?Customers desperatelywant that one-on-one and that accessto their pharmacist.?
Like many pharmacies,Wenzl Drugalso provides clinics and screeningsfor its patients covering a wide rangeof disease states. As Rob explains,?Most pharmacies cannot be everythingto everyone, but in a small townyou kind of have to be. Being the criticalcare access point, we are all thingsto all people. We dabble in everythingbecause we need to.?RESPONSIBILITIES
With his previous experience inhealth care, Rob already felt comfortablewith his style of team leadershipand management. With Stacie managingthe business aspect, it freed himup to focus on the many otherresponsibilities that come with owninga pharmacy.He explains that witha chain or hospital pharmacy, theresponsibilities are often limited tojust the pharmacy aspect. For anindependent pharmacy, the owner/pharmacist needs a basic understandingof all aspects of the business suchas employment law, suppliers, thirdpartycontracting, interpreting financialstatements, etc.
While Rob says his pharmacyschool had a pharmacy managementclass, he reiterates that it stillrequired a lot of work and learningon his and his wife?s part to becomesuccessful. He says that about 90%to 95% of his business is prescriptions,while the other 5% is OTCmedications, and his store also featuresa gift department and photoservice. At Wenzl Drug, Rob, a pharmacytechnician, 2 full-time clerks,and 2 part-time clerks run the business,and the previous owner fills inwhen needed.
A pharmacy team this small can beas challenging as it is manageable.Rob makes sure to seek guidancewhen needed, however, making agood working relationship with theprevious owner/pharmacist thatmuch more important.
As for any pharmacist interested inbeing his or her own boss, Rob advisesthat it is extremely important tobuild a team of trusted advisors. ?Youneed a mentor. Network now andmake connections. They are valuablesources of information. An importantkey to developing a successfulindependent pharmacy is to becomeinvolved in your state pharmacy association.They provide an invaluableresource, especially for independents.You can just pick up the phone andcall them with your questions. Therehave been countless pharmacists inKansas who have been mentors tome.?