People have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a pharmacy. But not every pharmacy returns that favor. Fruth Pharmacy is one organization that sees providing consumers with more choices and personal service as integral pieces of its mission.
“The big boxes limit their selection, and we are competitive because we don’t tell the customers what they have to buy,” President Lynne Fruth says. “The big-box mentality is to pick a few vendors and have a limited amount of SKUs. At Fruth, you have more choices. Our customers know we will go out of our way to bring in a product for them.”
Fruth Pharmacy operates 25 stores – 16 in West Virginia and nine in Ohio. It employs around 700 people, including 70 pharmacists. The essence of the company culture boils down to its ability to get to know the customers and bring in hard-to-find products that no other stores carry.
Fruth says its pharmacists’ long tenures help maintain relationships with customers, as well. Many people see their pharmacist as a big part of their healthcare team, and they want someone who will explain medications and make recommendations about what over-the-counter (OTC) products are safe.
“Customers want someone who knows their medical history and can provide good advice,” Fruth says. “We engage the customer and that means something. We started a promotion highlighting a customer testimonial each month, and that is great marketing for us that captures the nature of the importance of the pharmacist-patient relationship.”
Building loyalty goes a long way for Fruth Pharmacy. The company rolled out a loyalty card in October 2011 that features everyday discounts on private-label OTC products. It also runs promotions each month that provide savings on sale items.
“Part of the reason we are successful is we understand who our customers are,” Fruth says. “We are in fairly rural, low socioeconomic communities, and we know people want value and like to be able to find the items they want. Our customers are price sensitive, and we consistently beat the big boxes on pricing.”
Looking to Grow
Fruth Pharmacy recently has been in a remodeling and expansion mode. The company is in the midst of the bidding phase on a new store, and it hired a director of operations about a year ago who is pushing ahead with a marketing blitz.
The company did some prototyping and came up with a look and theme using its colors and logo in about five stores to update the way the pharmacy looks. It also took stock of all 25 locations to determine which needed to be reset, and Fruth Pharmacy has completed remerchandising in about half of the stores.
“We have a team of internal managers that are doing resets in all the stores,” Fruth says. “Also, we’ve done a lot of painting to improve exteriors, and we’ve added some drive-thru windows. We’ve remodeled several pharmacy areas and have several others planned for this year.”
Other significant investments have gone to automate all of the company’s pharmacies. It brought in four robots to replace aging equipment. The company invested in Parata Max robots for its highest-volume stores, which improves output, wait time and accuracy. Other investments were made in Kirby Lester automation solutions, bringing in counting technology and bar coding ability that allows for the viewing of a drug on a computer screen as a secondary check.
Fruth Pharmacy sees many opportunities for growth because its culture is well known in its service area. Often, when local independents within its footprint determine it is time to step back, the company gets the first shot at an acquisition. That has proven to be a successful growth method for Fruth Pharmacy.
“We generally maintain the employees and have a good relationship with the previous owner because we welcome them into our family and under our banner,” Fruth says. “There are a few of those operations that we may pick up in the coming years.”
The company also believes there will be a fair number of new build opportunities ahead. And the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which provides access to reduced-price prescription drugs, could lead to partnerships with numerous external healthcare providers.
“That is a situation that could impact us positively as we move toward accountable care,” Director of Pharmacy Craig Kimble says. “Any 340B relationships we enter into will have more than one purpose. It is an outreach program and can reduce the cost of medication for people without insurance, and as we expand relationships with primary care physicians, hospitals and clinics, we will be well-positioned as the healthcare market shifts toward the home, accountable-care organizations and insurance exchanges.”
Other plans for the company include getting into the e-marketplace. It launched a new PetMeds program and is ramping up text alert activity. Fruth Pharmacy also is expanding its website, as well as its Facebook and Twitter presence.
But the most important aspect of the company’s long-term plans is that it sees pharmacists as the most accessible healthcare provider and a kind of first-responder.
“It is important that we see pharmacy as much more than a commodity,” Fruth explains. “Our focus is on quality care and good provider-patient relationships. All customers who want a pharmacist that will get to know them and be concerned about them will want to come here. That is a key part of our recipe for success.”