Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Pharmacy Years: Mom and Pop Retail, Part 5

After it was announced that our old store was about to be sold off to Big Retail, my co-workers and I were offered positions with them. I knew a few of the pharmacists, toured the store. Everything was immaculate and high tech. But we all refused the gig. Pay was just one reason. I'd done corporate retail and was not eager to return.

Maybe two days before our beloved pharmacy shuttered forever, a bespectacled young man wearing a yarmulke hurried in and immediately offered to buy the square footage and its fixtures. The staff too. He was very enthusiastic, and apparently had done his homework on the location, seeing the possibilities. A potential gold mine.  Striking while the iron was hot, etc.  A chance to capture all the disenfranchised patients.

We went along, within a month working for a new M & P headed by *Jake, who already had a successful home store in the heart of a large Jewish community south of us. We assumed a smaller, different space in the shopping center, at the East end where the last tenant had been a vacuum repair shop. Envelopes with our pictures gracing the upper left hand corner containing "Welcome Back" letters were sent out in bulk to our old patients. The familiar smiling staff was back to fill your scripts! How could it miss?

Rough start. Within a week of our opening we were hit with not one but two hurricanes a week apart. When the dust settled, the expected crowd never showed. I made daily calls to many of those folks I had waited on for nearly eight years. Many were bitter, some downright furious about how the old pharmacy took its bow.  I could not blame them. I can't remember what crisis control type speeches I gave, but for the most part, they did not work. When some of them did come back, they were appalled by the new outfit's prices. We tried to explain to our new boss that this was a much different, often less affluent clientele than to which he was familiar. Pricing structures and strategies had to be adjusted. Our words went largely unheeded.

There was also the problem of the store being closed on Saturday. Our owners were Orthodox and would not budge.  I respected this, but also correctly predicted a backlash from the neighborhood.  Sadly, a few of the old customers who did stop in whispered in our ears that they would "not give money to Jews" as well. I know bigotry is alive and well, but it always stings that much worse to have it in your face.

The store limped along for 3 years. While there was steady business at times, overall it was a failure. The reasons are numerous. A big one: the new proprietors gave off a harsh, aggressive vibe more suited to New York (their origin). It put me off and I'm  from there! It was classic misjudging, a missapplied "it works there so it's gotta work here" blueprint that was met with indifference and occasional hostility.

How was it to work there? Stressful for the above reasons, but also due to any clear cut management or managerial consistency. And how would you feel trying to explain to a patient why the med you told them would be there that day is not because the boss hadn't paid the vendor's bill?? I could go on...

Eventually, I was rotated among the outfit's 3 locations: the original, ours, and a new spot opened west of town. In fact, that was to be "my store".  I was actually a little excited about it. A new pharmacist was hired (a friend to this day) who was great, and the store was brand spanking new. It proved to be an even bigger failure, with only a trickle of business, despite its visibility along a major north/south thoroughfare.  I even went out and marketed to local doctors' offices (as I had done in the old pharmacy), but there was little immediate return.

Things became so slow that I ended up spending all of my time in the home store, the "busy" one. I never liked the atmosphere there. Wasn't at all crazy about the clientele, either, but I won't elaborate on that. In addition to standard retail operations and durable medical goods, the store had a compounding laboratory and even service for nursing homes. It was often a very chaotic place.  Yes, I was used to that, but I was, at this late date, VERY over it all.

At this point, I was also in over my head in grad school so I was getting it all from all sides. I was commuting something like 500-600 miles per week. Misery. I wanted to quit and focus solely on my studies, but it wasn't possible. I had to work.

One bright day, I had an idea that would eventually deliver me from the retail morass for good. My final pharmacy job.....


*Not the real name

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