How to Bring a Pharmacy Business to the Next Level: Culture and Infrastructure

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By Rudy Dajie, PharmD

I am often asked how I took a single-location pharmacy in a cramped building located in a depressed Massachusetts community and sold a majority stake in it just six years later to two private equity firms.  I can summarize the answer in two words: culture and infrastructure.

When I bought Apothecare, a closed-door institutional pharmacy specializing in behavioral health and residential care, in 2012, the fundamentals were good but there was no trajectory for growth.  I had to create a pathway for growth, and I decided to do that by building the best team that I could and to give them the systems, facilities and equipment they would need to do their jobs most efficiently.

I was able to make critical hires that would give us the capacity to serve a growing array of residential programs operated by human services agencies, hospice agencies, assisted-living facilities, and senior citizens living independently at home.  Hiring pharmacists and technicians in a white-hot job market is hard to do anywhere; it is particularly hard to do in a community with a short supply of skilled workers in an outdated facility several miles from a highway and with limited public transit options.

My team and I were able to attract quality people by offsetting the drawbacks of the job. We offered better compensation and created a culture of innovation and quality.  We set high standards from the beginning, but we also made it clear that we wanted our people to be meaningful contributors.

We were not just looking for someone on a bench to prep medications, we were looking for people who could add value to our pharmacy by helping us to develop better methods for meeting the needs of our institutional customers, who in turn wanted a provider that would be responsive to their needs.

If, for example, a residential program has a question about a medication before dispensing it at midnight, we would need to be available to help resolve their questions.  That “24/7/365” need is coupled with the logistical hurdles of putting 40 vehicles on the road daily to deliver medications across most of Massachusetts.

Through the culture of innovation and quality, we became an employer of choice, and that enabled us to eventually attract 166 employees to our team during one of the tightest labor markets in memory.  Beyond pharmacists and technicians, I needed executive-level infrastructure to support business growth, so I hired a vice president for pharmacy and a chief financial officer.  These two hires freed me up to think more creatively about growing the business and creating a vision for the company.

That vision and the team behind it, in turn, gave us the confidence to expand our customer base, and that created the value we needed to get the private equity financing to enable continued growth.  The outside investment positioned us to address facilities and equipment – the two critical components of our business.

Apothecare has launched the construction of a $5 million pharmacy facility just up the road from our current location.  As a gut rehab project, we are able to design the facility in a way that will support our growth.  We are putting in place the advanced systems and automation technology to strengthen our enterprise.  The layout of the pharmacy is tailor made to meet our needs, and will support our growth into a multistate territory.

Our new lab facilities will not only meet but exceed the newest and most rigorous standards, such as USP 800, which governs hazardous drug handling and workplace safety.

The success we have had does not mean there will be no obstacles in our way.  A bigger business can mean bigger problems.  That’s where the management team comes in.  It is the talent around the table that enables us to clear hurdles and end up in a better place.  We work as a team and talk through conflict.

In a way, growing a pharmacy is not a complicated matter.  It comes down to attracting the right people to the business and putting them in a position – through culture and infrastructure – to succeed.

Rudy Dajie, PharmD, is president and CEO of Apothecare in Brockton, Mass.

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