Conventional medicine and natural remedies are often relegated to separate sections of a pharmacy or even separate retail businesses. But just as natural and organic foods have now become a fixture in conventional supermarkets, Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy is filling this niche by combining traditional prescription filling with natural and complementary health solutions.

Now operating 24 pharmacies in five western states – California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington – the chain distinguishes itself from vitamin and nutrition retail competitors by staffing its stores with practitioners who have training in a variety of disciplines. Their fields include nutrition, skin care, homeopathy, naturopathy, Ayurveda – a traditional form of medicine from India – acupuncture, massage, chiropractic and herbal studies.

Mark Panzer, president and CEO, stresses that these practitioners provide customers with valuable and reliable information that is superior to that available from competitors, whose employees may have received store-level training but are not necessarily licensed in their field. “We want to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the chains and mass market stores by offering practitioners on staff with the highest level of training and expertise,” Panzer emphasizes.

As such, Pharmaca encourages its practitioners to seek certification programs that demonstrate their qualifications. Panzer adds that the company does not take sides in the debate about conventional vs. natural remedies. It simply offers high-quality, well-researched products that are packaged – it sells no bulk items – alongside advice from its qualified practitioners.

Products carried in Pharmaca pharmacies and on its e-commerce-enabled website include organic and sustainably harvested products, natural beauty products, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements, herbs and homeopathic remedies, and personal, child care and sports nutrition products.

Internet and Format

Customers can purchase from a broad range of inventory at Pharmaca’s, but Internet purchases account for only 5 to 10 percent of the company’s sales. That could change, however, because Panzer anticipates being able to offer in-store pickup of products purchased on the Internet in the next year.

The Internet site’s inventory is located at the company’s single distribution center near its headquarters in Boulder, Colo. Stores receive most of their merchandise from manufacturers, but some products are shipped direct from the distribution center.

Pharmaca seeks out a highly educated, high-end customer by following demographics, psychographics and statistical data when selecting store locations. Seventy-five to 80 percent of its customers are female, in the age range of 30 to 55. Panzer is tight-lipped about the specific locations of the company’s future expansion, but he says it is considering states in which it currently has stores, as well as in new states with sites that match Pharmaca’s target demographics. Pharmaca has tentative plans to open three stores in 2013 and three more in 2014, then five in 2015 and eight in 2016. The more recent stores to open were its Carlsbad, Calif., location in 2011 and the Menlo Park, Calif., store in 2010. Panzer hopes to be able to expand to a total of 50 stores with his current headquarters’ capabilities.

The average size of the current Pharmaca pharmacy ranges from 4,200 to 4,500 square feet. Pharmaca – which owns all of its stores and does not franchise its concept – leases the stores’ buildings and builds them out according to its specialized format. That means that Pharmaca uses sustainable building materials such as bamboo flooring and recycled carpet tiles for its store interiors. The Pearl Street location in Boulder also utilizes a collection of solar panels on its awning, Panzer says.

Panzer points out that the chain’s look and feel stands apart from the sterile, clinical white of conventional pharmacies and instead emphasizes light wood tones to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The stores use efficient LED lighting and paint that is low in volatile organic compounds, and they recycle as much as possible. Each Pharmaca store is also equipped with a tea room, offering comfortable chairs and complementary cups of herbal tea.

Also among the company’s environmental initiatives are ensuring that signs and marketing materials are printed on recycled paper with soy inks and providing biodegradable, reusable shopping bags.

Born in Boulder

Pharmaca’s first store was established in Boulder in 2000. “This concept has shown up elsewhere in the world,” Panzer maintains. “So Pharmaca emulated stores that are already in existence in Canada, Europe and South America. It’s more of an apothecary-type environment.” He cites the Finlandia Pharmacy in Canada and Boots Pharmacy in the United Kingdom as an inspiration to Pharmaca’s founders, none of whom are still involved in the operation of the company.

Marketing efforts include weekly WellM@il™ electronic newsletters – which align with the company’s environmental goals of saving paper – and sales flyers that let customers know about monthly sales. Pharmaca’s Feel Better Rewards loyalty program sends the majority of its customers their rewards electronically. The company has elected not to advertise in broadcast media such as television and radio, but does use digital and social media.

All Pharmaca stores hold monthly in-store events that are detailed on its website, such as programs promoting heart health, healthy moms and babies, and women’s vitality and menopause presentations, along with spring and winter spa days. These events can include health screenings and tests, discussion groups, massages and free product samples and consultations.

Another key community involvement is Pharmaca’s Holiday Charity Gift Bag program. During the last five Christmas seasons, employees of each store have identified a local charity that can benefit from gift bags filled with personal care items and Christmas gifts handpicked for the charity, which range from a women’s shelter to the YMCA.

The bags are offered for sale to customers in denominations of $10, $15 or $25 during November and December. Customers buy the bags and Pharmaca then delivers them to the designated charity. In 2012, Pharmaca facilitated the donation of $89,000 worth of wellness goods to charities across its 24 stores.

Ultimately, Panzer credits Pharmaca’s strong 550-person staff with carrying out the unique mission of the store. “We have a great staff here at the home office, and we’ve got tremendous teams in the stores,” he says. “The teams understand the space we’re in and execute against that. They all do an outstanding job in the field so that we stay true to our mission of being the trusted source for health and wellness solutions. The team works well in maintaining that model as we continue to grow.”