After spending years working for a national chain as a pharmacist, Dennis Crawford had a burning desire to do something more. He enjoyed working with customers but didn’t feel he was actually making a difference in their lives.

“I would come to work not feeling well, but my customers would make me feel better,” he said. “Working as an individual pharmacist for a chain was not what I wanted to do; I wanted much more. So, in 1992, I started my own pharmacy.”

Seventeen years and six locations later, Crawford Pharmacies has developed a reputation as a pharmacy of choice because of Crawford’s desire to make a difference in the lives of his patients and his attention to detail. He’s also turned his passion into the family business, with daughter Kimberly, a former television news anchor and morning show host, handling the company’s PR and marketing and son Luke taking the role as CFO and right-hand man to his father.

“With Mr. Crawford, no detail is too small,” said Luke. “Of course, there are larger, primary focuses like taking care of customers, but if he notices a piece of gum on the sidewalk, he’ll walk up to the manager and show him. He’s detailed oriented, and it helps our business.”

To keep a handle on his customers’ needs and how his locations are running, the elder Crawford continues to work at each of his South Central Texas locations. He works between 12 and 15 hours a week in different stores, covering for pharmacists who can’t make it to work or simply stopping in to handle some of the responsibilities.

“Today, my staff schedules me at each location so I can see what’s going on and still have a relationship with customers,” he said. “It allows me to keep our high standards and ensure each detail, all the operations and the customer service, is being handled to ensure customer satisfaction.”

Head-to-head

Crawford Pharmacies began in 1992 when Crawford acquired the Care Pharmacy in Mathis, Texas. Today, Crawford Pharmacies comprises six locations, with two more set to open in 2009, and employs more than 100 staff members, including pharmacists, pharmacy techs, clerks, managers, and delivery drivers.

From the beginning, Crawford’s growth strategy has been to look for locations with a lot of foot traffic regardless of whether or not a large chain store is nearby. “It doesn’t matter how close the competition is because we’ve been able to compete with them in every store we’ve opened,” he said.

This is where Crawford’s personal touch philosophy turns into solid business practice. Since opening his first location, Crawford has found one of the most important elements of a successful store opening is getting involved with local schools, volunteering to support local sports, and supporting local churches.

“By supporting churches and schools in the community, we’re reaching out and touching a lot of people,” he said. “We go into a community and into those areas to say ‘Okay, we’re here to support you.’”

In addition to having developed a reputation based on a personal touch, Crawford Pharmacies is known for providing its customers the lowest possible costs while offering the benefits of many of the larger pharmacy chains. This strategy has paid off from customer service and business perspectives as larger pharmacy chains have started to cut staff due to increasing volumes and decreasing margins.

“Cutting staff decreases your customer service abilities,” Crawford said. “My vision has always been to offer the best amenities of the larger chains but still maintain the customer relationships independent pharmacies are known for.”

One of the company’s strategies is to maintain a small corporate staff, which cuts down on the overhead and gives it the ability to put more money back into the stores. The pharmacies offer extended hours—four of the stores are open until 8:00 p.m.—and all are open on Sundays. The independent business has also developed a low-cost generic drug program that Crawford said matches that of Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS.

“We maintain about a 13% to 16% margin on over-the-counter prescriptions, and we do that to compete with all the big chains,” he said. “We also accept almost every insurance plan that is out there, regardless of reimbursement, so we can keep our customers in the store.”

Additionally, Crawford limits the size of his locations (most are roughly 3,000 square feet, with the largest measuring 8,000 square feet), and he uses retail services provider Hamacher for his planograms and to keep product selection fresh. “Sometimes independents aren’t as good as the chains in keeping over-the-counter and non-Rx merchandise fresh, new, and well priced,” he said. “I believe the way we display over-the-counter merchandise drives prescription sales.”

Generating Volume

Another way Crawford Pharmacies can offer competitive prices is by staying current with IT programs such as Data RX, which helps the company run efficiently and alerts management to any errors. The company also stays up to date with all of its competitors’ list prices, which are available online, and will match them.

“We can keep our costs down because we generate volume,” Crawford said. “There is no doubt keeping low costs impacts your margin, but we increase our volume to offset that.”

Another way the company finds operational efficiencies is by working with wholesaler HD Smith. Through that relationship, Crawford Pharmacies keeps its non-pharmaceutical items in stock without breaking the bank.

“We buy in bulk, and we buy a lot, so the purchasing power we have helps us out a lot,” said Luke. “HD Smith provides us with rebates and the best possible pricing, which in turn makes us a profit.”

And the habit of working in the stores that the father and son team employs lends itself to script audits and chances to look for profit opportunities, whether changing pricing formulas or finding a way to lower acquisition costs to its wholesaler. “It helps to be efficient on the business side,” said Crawford. “We keep our prices low, and we still look for profits, but we always take care of our customers.”

Crawford Pharmacies outlines its customer service expectations in its employee policies and procedures manual, as well as during regular store meetings. The company guarantees that despite having the latest technology, customers will always speak to a live person, not a recording, when they call their local branch. Crawford said sometimes the simplest efforts are the ones that leave the greatest impact on his customers.

“Our employees know that if the cashiers are busy and someone is waiting to check out, the pharmacy technicians are expected to stop what they’re doing and help those customers,” he said.

On the pharmacy side, if a customer’s prescription requires prior authorization and is an antibiotic, for example, rather than sending the customer home with nothing, Crawford Pharmacies will give the customer a one-day supply, even if it means the company doesn’t get paid. The company will also deliver medication to customers if there is a delay in filling a prescription.

This kind of customer dedication is only possible with a staff of happy employees, and both the elder and younger Crawford recognize the need to keep their employees as satisfied as their customers. Crawford Pharmacies puts potential new hires through an intensive hiring process, but, from pharmacists to cashiers, it pays its employees at higher rates than larger chains.

“It’s important to treat your employees well,” Luke said. “When we keep our employees happy, it shows in how they treat our customers.”

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