Expert Discusses Unique Employee-Owned Pharmacy Model

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Pharmacist discusses the success of a unique employee-owned pharmacy model.

Discount Drug Mart is a unique pharmacy environment, as an employee-owned company with an emphasis on community involvement. We spoke with Chris Peshek, PharmD, director of pharmacy operations, to learn more about Discount Drug Mart's history, community work, and how it is preparing its pharmacists for the future.

Pharmacy Times

Can you review the history of Discount Drug Mart?

Pharmacy Drugstore Checkout Cashier Counter: Beautiful Female Pharmacist Scans Barcode and Handsome Young Man Talks to a Cashier and Pays for the Health Care Products at the Checkout Counter - Image credit: Gorodenkoff | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Gorodenkoff | stock.adobe.com

Chris Peshek

Our company was originally founded back in 1969. Our founder Parviz Boodjeh, was an immigrant to the United States and started up a single location pharmacy in Elyria, Ohio. Fast forward 54 years and here we are today. We have 77 different brick and mortar pharmacies throughout Ohio, we have a contact center or call center, we have a central fill facility, we have a clinical operations facility in Avon, Lake, Ohio, among many other things — we've really grown in those four years. We're all about sustainable, and reliable growth, so no boom and bust, we're not going to open 10 stores in one year, and then close 5 the next year. We're going to dedicate resources to every new store to make sure that they're successful, we rarely closed locations. We kind of really focus on a good location, spend the time and energy to open that store successfully, and then watch it grow from there, so that's in a nutshell. And as far as the numbers of our history, from a company culture standpoint, we've always kind of had that hometown pharmacy feel even as we've grown, we've always kind of had that independent pharmacy mindset and culture. Recently, in the past few years, we've become employee owned, so that's really a neat thing. I've never been, prior to that had never been part of an employee owned company before, so it's been interesting to see how that has helped solidify many of our company values now that we're owned by the employees of the company. So I am excited to see where the next 10 years takes us.

Pharmacy Times

You've described the size of the company as a "goldilocks size" — what did you mean by that and what are the benefits?

Chris Peshek

Goldilocks sized company, that's obviously an opinion —that's my opinion, trademark pending on that on that nickname for us as a company. But having worked for large national companies and small mom and pops, I kind of have some perspective of the spectrum of pharmacy companies that exist in the marketplace today. And for me, you know, going back to the term Goldilocks company, it's has to do with the fact that we are small enough to maintain that independent pharmacy feel. And I mean that both for our employees —feeling like they're an important part of the organization, and also for our customers to deliver that kind and level of service. We're small enough to continue to have that culture in that field. But we're large enough to have the resources and the security that comes from a larger company. I mentioned contact center, central fill, we have government affairs liaison, who help us with new legislation and things like that we have a billing help desk, we have corporate structure and support pharmacy supervisors, things that you wouldn't have for maybe a small mom and pop facility. We're just kind of sitting right in this happy place where we have a lot of the assets and the resources of a large company, but the feel of a small independent company.

Pharmacy Times

What unique services or offerings do your pharmacies provide?

Chris Peshek

A few unique things for us, for a company our size, internally would be things like our contact center call center that alleviates inbound phone volume for our folks in the stores. Having worked in a pharmacy for many, many years, one of the number one distractions in your workflow that can kind of get you out of rhythm is the phone. You can't predict when it's gonna ring when it rings, you try to address it as quick as possible, so it kind of takes you out of your groove. We began this contact center to try to decrease the inbound call volume to our store so that they can stay focused on you know, the patient in front of them on workflow on clinical services and not so much on inbound phone calls. Central fill is another thing that isn't 100% unique to us as a company but it's fairly unique for a company of our size. So the ability to fill chronic maintenance medications outside of the pharmacy taking away some of that work, so once again, we can offload that and have the folks in the stores focus more on the patients in front of them. From a customer standpoint, something that is unique other than just the kind of the culture and the service level, is we do quite a bit with medical equipment, which is not only unique for a company our size, but just unique for community pharmacy completely. It's a space that we really found a niche in, and we don't have many competitors doing that. So for example, if you or a loved one were to have a total hip replacement or something like that,right? You come out of that operation with prescriptions for medication, of course, pain medication, maybe an anti coagulant, maybe stool softener, things like that. But you also are going to have medical orders or prescriptions for a raised toilet seat, because you're gonna have a hard time getting on and off the toilet for a period of time after your operation, maybe some grab bars for your shower for bath safety, possibly a walker or some crutches. And so the ability to just handle all of that in one place, kind of fits with our company mantra of saving our customers to run around. That's been really rewarding to be able to do that and not have to send our patients to some medical supply shop, and be able to kind of take care of them all in one place.

Pharmacy Times

You've also mentioned the importance of community involvement—what sorts of community involvement have you seen with Discount Drug Mart locations?

Chris Peshek

I mean, we could spend a lot of time talking about because there's so many different ones. Some of the big ones are vaccination clinics, and we do that with employers. We go on site to an employer and we also do it with community organizations. During the COVID pandemic, we would partner with churches or nonprofit organizations where we would arrange for this, like collaborative clinic experience at a church or community center, where we would come and we would provide vaccine services, maybe medication counseling, and then the church would provide a hot meal. And so we were able to kind of wrap our arms around that community, not just hey, here's your vaccine, but kind of treating them as a whole person in a patient. We also do health screenings, which once again, sometimes are employer base so we'll go to an employer do that for their employees, or we'll do it in a community setting where once again, maybe some community leaders will reach out to us because we're kind of a known name in the in the Ohio communities that we serve. They'll say, hey, would you be willing to come in and provide blood glucose screenings and blood pressure screenings and vaccines services or maybe even cholesterol checks or things like that, so we'll send some clinical representatives to be part of that. Obviously, like a community center is not necessarily going to have the healthcare professionals on staff to offer those kinds of things. That's where we kind of partner with them and come in and do that. Those are some of the bigger ones, but then there's also these little like, micro events that are one offs. What's great about these is that their pharmacists are the ones who bring them to our attention. So instead of the corporate office trying to find these, like just a couple of weeks ago, we had a pharmacist who reached out there was a nonprofit conducting a summer, summer camp for like kids in her community. They had reached out to her to say, would you be willing to come and talk about poison prevention with these kids and the importance of not taking something that you just find because sometimes medication looks like candy. We were able to provide the resources like poison control center numbers and some posters that say candy versus medicine and she could talk to the kids about that and take with her. Any kind of thing like that we're really usually try to be pretty engaged in to continue to help the community in any way we can.

Pharmacy Times

Discount Drug Mart is also an employee-owned company. How does that work and what does that look like for employees?

Chris Peshek

Unlike a stock purchase option, which is something a lot of companies do —stock purchase means that every year you're given an opportunity, if you so choose, to buy stock in the company you work—for that's not what this is. Employee ownership is at least the way we do it, every year that you're with the company, you are given a certain number of shares in the company for every year of service that you work for the company. At no expense to you as the employee every year you get a statement and that statement says that this year X number of shares have been added to your employee ownership account.The longer you stay with the company, the more shares you accumulate, the better the company does, the more those shares are worth. As far as what impact is that have, we were already independently owned even before this, so there was always kind of that, that feel of ownership. But now even more so literally, an employee with us owns part of the company. There's even more of a sense of ownership, because you literally do, and for me anyway, it kind of changed my mindset on a few things. This is a silly example, but it's one that I give a lot. I'll go to stores, and I'll visit the pharmacy, right. Sometimes I'll kind of put my blinders on and I'll walk straight to the pharmacy. I'm now thinking like an owner, because I am —maybe if I see a cart in the parking lot, I'm gonna grab that cart because I know that if the wind catches that and and hit somebody's car and dents it, we're gonna pay for that. That's going to affect our stock price. I'm thinking more that way than I than I used to maybe before we were an employee on company. I think, maybe not in that exact way, but I think a lot of our employees kind of have that different mindset now as well, now that they're part owner of the company.

Pharmacy Times

How has that model changed the trajectory and/or success of Discount Drug Mart?

Chris Peshek

I would say I don't know that it's changed it significantly, but I would say it's strengthened what was already there. We've always really had a dedicated and invested employee base. I think the fact that those employees now are legitimate part owners of the company just strengthens that. I think that it encourages longevity and tenure, which we had before, but this is just one more thing. We have more pharmacists working for us that had been with us over 10 years and under 10 years, so that's a great statistic. This employee ownership just helps fuel that. I think one other thing that maybe as far as trajectory goes that you mentioned, is being independently owned, being employee owned, we are able to prioritize additional things other than just the bottom line. In my experience, if you're a publicly traded company, it's very important that you are you are owned by your stockholders, and you have a responsibility to them to meet your quarterly earnings marks and things like that. If you're employee owned, you still care about profits, you still care about being a profitable company being a successful company, but you also have a responsibility to your stockholders, who are your employees. Therefore, your decision making processes may be just a little bit differently. Sometimes there might be opportunities where you treat those opportunities differently because you're employee owned, versus if you were publicly traded. It's kind of a elusive concept, but that's been my experience.

Pharmacy Times

Changing gears a little bit, Ohio is looking toward implementing test-to-treat services in pharmacies. How would that change patient access and pharmacists' abilities?

Chris Peshek

That's something that we're keeping a really close eye on. Some states, as I'm sure you're aware, have already implemented legislation that enacts tests to treat services or gives pharmacists provider status or things along those lines. Ohio's not quite there yet, although they're working on it. Through our involvement with state and local government, we'rehelping that conversation along as well. I think it's, again, you probably are familiar with this from the work that you all do, but there is kind of a shortage of access to general practitioners. That is expected to grow, and I think pharmacists have the most accessible health care provider in the country. I think there's a role for us to play to be able to provide certain services to our patient base— encouraging Ohio, continuing to have those conversations to work in that direction. Hopefully the next time that we speak, we have a different news to share that we're good to go now, but we're trying to prep for that and get ready for that and continue to have those conversations so that when the time comes, we can provide those services to our customers.

Pharmacy Times

How are you preparing your pharmacists for that potential change?

Chris Peshek

This is always one of those things like any other business venture where you you want to be prepared, but you don't want to overextend resources for something that's not in existence yet today. What we're doing is starting to build the infrastructure to prepare to remove some things from our pharmacies to allow more time and space to take advantage of whatever comes to pass as far as test and treat is in Ohio. Through things like our contact center, through things like our central fill facility, through things like our clinical hub, who can provide certain clinical services, over the phone or remotely through there, putting those things in place now and getting those things ready and building that infrastructure. When the time comes where all of a sudden there's a new thing that we can do as pharmacists in Ohio, we can be in a place where we can reasonably do those things because we can shift some of the other work that our pharmacies are doing today, to other sites or to other employees.

Pharmacy Times

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Chris Peshek

I think it's just an exciting time right now to be a pharmacist and to be involved in pharmacy. For the past 15 years, the profession has been slowly shifting. Where it started off, it was a product based profession, a pharmacy was a place you went to get a thing —typically a medication, or sometimes a piece of equipment in our case. We're seeing this transition from a product based profession to a service based profession. It's not to say that medications are ever going to go away, that's our bread and butter in some ways, but I think you're going to see a continued shift. MTM was part of that,immunizations has been part of that. The COVID pandemic as trying as that experience was for everybody, it opened up the eyes of legislators and regulators and in some cases, even our own eyes to show us like oh, look at what we can do when we have to do it. I hope that all of that will then lead to continued conversations about what pharmacists can do. Test to treat might be the next thing, then who knows after that. We are continuing to further that transition to a more service based profession.

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