Bill Ladwig, senior vice president of professional services at Lewis Drug, discussed the pharmacy's 80-year history.
Aislinn Antrim: Hi, I'm Aislinn Antrim with Pharmacy Times, and I'm here with Bill Ladwig, senior vice president of professional services at Lewis Drug in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to discuss the pharmacy’s 80th anniversary. So, 8 years, that's obviously a long time. Can you just give me an overview of the pharmacy, your services, your community? What do you do?
Bill Ladwig: I started in Lewis 1978, a couple years ago now. So that's been my 44th year coming this way. So I’ve been blessed to work in an organization that truly is family focused, family oriented, in a community that really understands the value of relationships. So, Mark Griffin is the owner of Lewis Drug, and his father started the organization in 1942. And in 1942, was about 3 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And it's a different time, and they opened their first self-service [pharmacy]. At that point, you walked into the store, and then the person that you asked would retrieve whatever, in whatever product you're looking for. You pay for it, you walk out the door. Lewis in 1942 started the self-service, where we’d actually walk the aisles. Very unique timeframe, long time ago. And since then, I started in 1970 with 5 stores. Now we're at 58. We've got 7 more in the works. We're growing. So, it's been a great run. That's a great organization.
Aislinn Antrim: Yeah, that's incredible. And you touched on this, but can you talk about the founding of the pharmacy and how it's really evolved over 80 years?
Bill Ladwig: Well, I started in 1979. As a pharmacist, that was a different time period with the Supreme Court dismissal, ruling that pharmacists were basically clerks, so it's kind of a tough one to take on the chin. But, you know, initially, the thought was that, you know, this is a patient-centric profession. And we've been evolving and focusing on patients and offering services and being unique. And being a small regional player. Now, we've kind of grown dramatically in the last 10, 20 years. So, you know, it's about finding out what your opportunities are in your community. And then figuring out what success is and making sure you don't step on landmines, that's the biggest problem when you're running a business. It's great to learn from people's successes. It's much more empowering to learn from the mistakes. And that's what we've been pretty effective at. Sioux Falls is the headquarters of Lewis Drug. We cover three states—Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota, and we have probably a third of South Dakota covered in the east side, Southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa.
Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful. And Sioux Falls is a unique town, and that region of the country is very unique. Can you talk about Lewis Drugs’ role in the community and the wider region that you're focused in?
Bill Ladwig: Well, we've been involved with the community since day one. So, our owner is very, very family focused, as I mentioned before, so we've been involved in all kinds of different programs from coat collections to starting a syringe program. Back when Al Gore was vice president, we started a syringe program where we were collecting them, because what happened was the sanitation workers were complaining about the fact that people were throwing needles in the garbage and they're getting stuck because they sorted the collection process. So, we're very innovative, but who wants to program where we were, we talked the city into funding the BD disposal, and counting goes up to patients for free, and then collecting them and then working with the VA hospital to actually autoclave them.
So, one of the physicians is a dermatologist on our committee, sits next to me in conversation and we just kicked around some ideas. And he said, Well, you know, that's something that we would like to participate with. So, we started hosting melanoma Monday. So, we have the three dermatological clinics all coming in and hosting a free event for screenings at one of our Lewis stores. And so, it’s the only one I know in the nation, and it's been quite successful, and it's a free service. So, the derms are doing it as a public service piece. We host it because it's hard to see a dermatologist and it's a way that you can get some diagnosis of some things that people wouldn't have done normally.
Other than that, it's just knowing about the community. We've gotten Meals on Wheels, other programs, but on the pharmacy side, we've been very, very innovative. As far as when we've been able to embed pharmacists, we've got five embedded in the clinics that we work with. They're everywhere from the local clinic to the community health center. So rural health care clinics, a lot of things along that line. But it's real skills where if you hire the right people, and you empower them, then it just all falls into place.
Aislinn Antrim: That's wonderful. And how did Lewis Drug handle the COVID-19 pandemic, and all of the upheaval that has come over the last couple of years?
Bill Ladwig: Well, that's been quite common. It's one of those deals where people realize that challenge that exists. And if you're doing the right thing, and you support people, it's like there's a, a bend but do not break philosophy. So, we've given almost 100,000 vaccinations for COVID. We did it with our pharmacists, they volunteered, we've done the schools, we've done community centers, health centers, everything else. And so, you know, the initial part was we were flexible, we try to make a safe environment. And then you roll out to getting people comfortable. And then offering vaccinations, we converted our call center into instead of working a website, we're hosting it with our technicians taking the calls, personalizing it. And at that time period, there's so much insecurity, it was the unknown. And it was just nice to have a voice to calm people down. And it's been incredibly well responded to, so our sales have been tremendous. Our growth has been tremendous. And I think it's the fact that we're offering a comfortable, protective, caring environment. And we're seeing the growth because of that.
Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. Well, finally, in your kind of crystal ball, what do you see for the future of Lewis Drug?
Bill Ladwig: We’ll continue to grow. I think our growth pattern is to find communities where there's been a void, or we're offering a new service. We've been very innovative as far as what we've been offering from our smart sync, our smart pack, which is the medical and home component. Again, having pharmacists vertically integrated into the community clinics has been an incredible differentiator. So, it's one of those situations where it's Lewis pharmacists, we have to sell or they spend their time in the clinic triaging patients, they're not just those patients that have any other pharmacies, Walmart, Walgreens. And again, what that does is create an incredible awareness of what pharmacy has to offer.
What I've seen frequently is that people might know their pharmacist, but they really don't know their pharmacy, either. There's their parents, someone, a sibling. And we're trying to get that awareness out a little bit earlier, to show the value of what we have. It's not the product, it's actually that we're here to help and keep people. So, this has really enabled us. But I was kind of surprised at the number of physicians and nurses who were unaware of what we do. And having that embedded pharmacist has really increased and made aware of the services that we have that can make people aware and keep people healthier longer.
Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for talking to me about this. That's so exciting to hear such a great success story.
Bill Ladwig: It's a great community and, again, if you have the right people and keep motivated, tremendous things are going to happen.
Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. Thank you so much.