I spent 8 years in chain pharmacies as a clerk, technician, intern, pharmacist, and pharmacy manager. I made the switch to independently owned and operated Blue Ridge Pharmacy (now called Sona) in 2012.
The difference was striking from day one. I went from filling prescriptions at the back of a big box, to interacting with patients as they walked in the door. Our independent pharmacy was “cozy” in real-estate terms, but we still managed to have a comfortable waiting area and free coffee for our customers. The owners encouraged employees to spend time counseling and developing relationships with patients at my new pharmacy. Employees were challenged to literally think outside the box, be innovative, and were empowered to take action to take care of patients as they saw fit. Our pharmacy was appropriately staffed and we tried to hire and retain the best employees we could find.
This was in stark contrast to my previous corporate pharmacy experience. Chains were primarily concerned with profits, shareholders, and flavor-of-the-month metrics in the face of ever more challenging work environments that often left patients behind.
Our independent pharmacy delivers prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, FOR FREE, to patients’ homes across most of Western North Carolina. The Starbursts in the jar at the register were complementary, not for impulse purchase. I learned independent pharmacies had a more patient-centered focus, more empowered and engaged employees, and were nimble enough to adapt to the dynamic healthcare landscape without getting bogged down in bureaucracy. It honestly took me a year to adjust to my new job and approach each day with a different mindset.
Take care of our patients and everything else will fall into place.
Our community pharmacy business has been fortunate enough to experience some growth over the past few years. We began to grow out of our old pharmacy building and started brainstorming plans for a future location. What does our community need? What are our customers asking for that we don’t currently provide? How do our employees want to interact with patients?
We took these things into consideration every day while planning to build a new pharmacy from the ground up where a Burger King once stood. Our goal was to create a different pharmacy concept. One that maximized the customer service experience, not sales per square foot. The process has been fun, challenging, and exciting. The result is our new Sona Pharmacy + Clinic brand.
We now have all the conveniences of a chain pharmacy, with the personal touch and service of a local, independent pharmacy. We changed our name and address. We added square footage, a drive-thru, public restrooms, a dispensing robot, and a walk-in urgent care clinic. Our hours and front-end selections have expanded. We upgraded our Keurig and our pharmacy operating software.
Most importantly, though, we are the same company, the same people, with the same values. We kept our pharmacist up front to guide and counsel patients as they walk in the door. We still offer free home delivery across WNC. We still synchronize our patients’ medications to one monthly fill date. We even brought our free Starburst jar with us to our new location. I encourage you to stop in and experience the difference for yourself. I am thankful for making the change from chain pharmacy to independent pharmacy. I truly believe you will be as well.