“Where is the man pharmacist?”
Adrienne Cervone was asked that question too often to count after she moved to Beaver, Pa., a town of about 5,000 people located 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It was February 2007 when Cervone relocated to Beaver from Whitaker to become part-owner of a pharmacy in the heart of its downtown area.
In the nine years since, that question is now a rare inquiry. Residents have embraced Cervone as their pharmacist and as a credible local pharmacy owner. In fact, earlier this year, Cervone bought out her male partner, who owns another pharmacy in a nearby town, and became full owner of Beaver Health Mart Pharmacy.
“Now, when someone walks into the store, whether they're an old customer or a new customer, it means so much to them and to me to be able to shake their hand and say, ‘I'm the pharmacist and the pharmacy owner. I can help you with anything,’” Cervone says.
Cervone's journey to independent retail pharmacy owner began in high school, when she worked part-time as a clerk at her local independent pharmacy. It continued in college, when she worked part-time as an intern at a retail pharmacy chain. It was during those years in pharmacy school that she says she decided that she ultimately wanted to own her own pharmacy business.
“I wanted to be able to act on my own ideas without having to jump through a number of corporate hoops or restrictions to get answers,” Cervone says. “I much prefer being in a community pharmacy where I can develop programs and services tailored to the changing needs of my customers.”
Along the way, Cervone encountered anticipated and unanticipated barriers – big and small – that had to be overcome. She deftly jumped over those barriers by tapping into her early experiences working at pharmacies during high school and college and into the experiences of others who offered Cervone the expertise she had yet to develop.
Building an Effective Staff is Crucial
At the top of Cervone's list of challenges as an independent retail pharmacy owner is building an effective staff. As she describes it, the staff, particularly in a small business, must be capable of taking care of customers, taking care of the business and taking care of the owner.
“That last piece is something I didn't anticipate. My staff screens my calls, knows how and when to handle certain situations on their own, and knows where that line is and when they need to involve me,” she says. “You lean on your staff as an owner much more than if you were just the manager.”
Beaver Health Mart employs three full-time employees – a second pharmacist, a technician and a front-end manager – and two part-time employees – a delivery driver and a clerk.
In a small operation like Beaver Health Mart, each person, whether full- or part-time, takes on a much wider scope of responsibilities than is written in their job descriptions, and independent retail pharmacy owners must have a knack for hiring people willing to wear a variety of hats.
“My part-time clerk does more than just ringing,” Cervone says. “She does a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff focused on maintaining and growing the business.”
Related to that challenge is the ability to problem solve—a talent that Cervone prides herself in and looks for in her staff. She attributes her ability to problem solve to her mentors at the pharmacies where she worked in school. Pharmacists there encouraged her to handle difficult situations with co-workers and customers on her own. She says that experience prepared her well for the multiple problems that come up each day owning and running a pharmacy.
Cervone encourages any pharmacy student or young pharmacist considering a future in pharmacy ownership to put in as many part-time hours as possible at their local pharmacy to get a sense of the daily clinical and financial challenges facing the staff and how best to deal with them.
Anticipate Need for Sufficient Working Capital
Another big item on Cervone's list of challenges is securing working capital for the pharmacy as it grows. Having three months of cash on hand is sufficient to maintain the status quo, she says. But to expand, an independent retail pharmacy needs money both to keep running and to invest. To help expand her line of credit with local banks, Cervone retained a financial consultant to assist with loan applications and face-to-face meetings with lenders.
“I needed the expertise. I needed someone who could answer the banks' questions versus going in there alone,” Cervone says.
And then there are the little things that you don't think about when you become a pharmacy owner that can quickly turn into big things if you don't know about them or deal with them. Among them are:
- Changing the pharmacy's license over to the new pharmacy owner
- Changing the pharmacy's license with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency over to the new pharmacy owner
- Changing third-party payer contracts over to the new pharmacy owner
- Changing all bank counts over to the new pharmacy owner
- Creating new logins and passwords for drug ordering platforms
Great Service Overcomes Customer Bias
An unspoken challenge is the fact that Cervone is a woman in a business typically associated with men and that she took over ownership of Beaver Health Mart from a man. Cervone says those dynamics made her a little bit hesitant to announce that she was the new pharmacy owner.
“I just didn't know what they would say. I didn't know how they would take it,” she says. “But they're thrilled to pieces—both men and women.”
Cervone says the men shake her hand and congratulate her. And the women, she says, are proud to have a prominent local business owner be a female. To win over any doubters, it's important for female pharmacy owners as well as any female small business owners to be confident without being arrogant and be approachable, according to Cervone.
Above all, it's the dedication to customer service that will determine whether an independent retail pharmacy succeeds or fails, regardless of gender, Cervone says.
“The secret to our success absolutely is service,” Cervone says. “We are just so personalized with everything that we do. We give each person who walks through our door our full attention.”
To learn more about how pharmacists can start their own independent retail pharmacy, see Starting a Pharmacy.
Related: Learn more about McKesson's Pharmacy Ownership Services.
Four Insights for Pharmacists Who Aspire to be Pharmacy Owners
- Prepare by working part-time as a manager in a local pharmacy
- Assemble an effective staff that puts customer service first
- Obtain the expertise needed to access working capital
- Know the licensing intricacies of pharmacy ownership