New Pharmacy Owner’s Advice: Have Advisers on Speed Dial
Best practices and lessons learned by new pharmacy owners.
Develop relationships to help you navigate starting your own pharmacy
When Purva Patel, PharmD, was working at chain pharmacies, she felt like a robot or a highly paid technician, and she worried about the lack of time she had to consult with patients. One of her mentors challenged her by saying, “You’re a pharmacist. Don’t you want to be a pharmacist and help people like you intended to do?”
Although she had never thought about owning a business while she earned her doctorate in pharmacy, she finally decided that doing so would allow her to practice the way she wanted to. So, Purva opened her own pharmacy, Doctor’s Choice, in Upland, California, in June 2013. “It’s stressful,” she admitted, “but when you are working for yourself, the stress is satisfying.”
9 Actions to Reduce Stress When Opening a Pharmacy
“Startups are hard, but you can do it,” said Purva, who decided starting her own pharmacy would be less expensive than buying one. Her advice for successfully starting a pharmacy includes:
- Understand the business. One of Purva’s cousins owns two pharmacies, and she worked there as well as at other independent pharmacies on a floating basis for six months. While that allowed her to see the different ways independent pharmacies operated, it didn’t teach her everything she needed to know. For example, she wasn’t fully prepared for the financials of running a pharmacy.
- Build a network of support. Purva made many contacts through her involvement with the Indian Pharmacists Association of California. An advisory board member and past president of the Indian Pharmacists Association, became one of the “two pillars” that supported her, along with her cousin, who provided marketing advice. A friend of her cousin was a great source of advice about pharmacy rules and regulations. Whenever she has a question, Purva said, “I have people on speed dial” who can help find the answer.
- Plan a financial cushion. Purva estimated that she would need only $250,000 to start a pharmacy, but her loan was approved for $450,000. The loan officer told her, “When you are in a bind, it will be very difficult to get additional money.” He suggested using a six-month line of credit. She opened the pharmacy in June and the loan was scheduled to close in November. In October, when drug prices rose, she didn’t have to panic.
- Check out association benefits. Through the California Pharmacists Association, Purva found good rates for property and liability insurance. At one of the Indian Pharmacists Association meetings she met a real estate agent who specializes in pharmacy locations. Through these associations, she made valuable contacts that helped her tremendously with her business.
- Research locations. Purva chose a former dermatologist’s office for her pharmacy. Using the McKesson Physician Outreach Program, she could see that a cluster of physicians were nearby and what their prescription volume was.
- Reach out to doctors early. Purva began meeting with physicians in the area before she even applied for a loan, asking them what their frustrations were with the current pharmacies in the area and what they would like in a pharmacy. Because she began her physician outreach six months before opening her pharmacy, Purva believes prescriptions started coming to her pharmacy sooner than if she had waited to contact the doctors’ offices.
- Invite doctors’ office staff into your pharmacy. Purva hosted a grand opening event just for physicians and their staff members, after 5 p.m. one day. About 80 people attended, including eight or nine doctors. She asked doctors about the prescriptions they usually write and promised to keep those medications in stock.
- Hire people with the same work ethic. Purva hired a technician whom she had worked with at another pharmacy. The pharmacist had seen firsthand that the technician worked hard whether the pharmacy owner was around or not, and she liked the way the technician treated patients. After just one or two meetings, the technician greeted customers by name, understood what they needed, and knew whom to talk with in a patient’s household.
- Be open to opportunities. Purva planned to add compounding to her pharmacy’s services and had begun taking classes to enable her pharmacy to do so. When a pain management facility opened around the corner she saw an opportunity to collaborate with this facility to increase her business. But the opportunity came with a challenge: Because Purva often worked alone with only a female technician, she didn’t want to take the risk of filling pain medications for anyone walking in off the street. She was able to work directly with the pain management facility to set up a process to serve their patients and still feel safe in her pharmacy, providing access to a new group of patients in the process.
“Proper planning and enough financing will get you going,” Purva said. “You have to do your homework and talk to the right people.”
What advice would you give a pharmacist buying or building a store? Share your experience in the Comments section below.
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