Customer-service focused, Forward Pharmacy owners enjoy independence.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Matt and Kristen Mabie, owners and pharmacists at Forward Pharmacy, subscribe to an old-world business philosophy that is quickly succumbing to budgets and bottom lines in a technologically evolving world — customer service.
Both from small Wisconsin towns — she from Combined Locks and her husband from Cottage Grove — the couple met while in pharmacy school at UW–Madison. He is a second-generation pharmacist who always admired watching his father, a Rennebohm’s pharmacist, care for and interact with customers.
Currently, Matt serves as the president of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, but after college he worked for Walgreens before joining Hometown Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy group with 40-plus locations around the state. Kristen worked at Walgreens, as well, and joined her husband at Hometown in 2003.
When they parted ways with Hometown, they took ownership of three former Hometown pharmacies in Cottage Grove, Deerfield, and McFarland. This past June they purchased their fourth store, a former Shopko pharmacy in Columbus.
The couple remains passionate about the independent pharmacy model, saying it provides more opportunities for staff to interact with customers. “If I had an endless amount of money, I’d put an independent pharmacy in every town out there,” Matt states, though he has no plans to expand. “Expanding is expensive, but I’m also not going to say no, either.”
The business employs 12 full-time and 20 part-time workers across the four locations, and outsources accounting services to keep track of financials. “With the market we’re in now, it’s becoming harder to operate a pharmacy without a financial background,” Matt states, saying the bare-bones business environment prevalent today has hurt pharmacy and health care in general because it allows less and less time for human touch, feel, and a simple hello or how are you? “The problem with that is that health care doesn’t have a clock. You can’t standardize when people get sick.”
Instead, Forward Pharmacy focuses on things that national chains may not have the time or staffing for — like providing free home deliveries (within reason) of medications; preparing medication boxes; checking for drug allergies, immunization history, or doing pediatric dose checks for kids under 12. The couple believes it all helps create a continuity of care.
Inside, Forward Pharmacy offers a full selection of over-the-counter medications and medicated shampoos, and it can administer almost all immunizations on a walk-in basis. Staff also can measure patients for compression stockings.
“We don’t have a 12-foot-long candy aisle,” Matt says, but they’ve opted to sell locally made colognes, jewelry, and women’s clothing. The latter, ranging from casual to wedding attire, feeds Kristen’s passion for fashion.
“At the end of the day though, if we don’t have prescriptions, we don’t have a business,” Matt reminds, adding that the company is profitable.
One interesting trend in pharmacy management, he says, is “syncing medications,” whereby customers can receive all of their prescriptions once a month instead of making repeated trips. It also helps pharmacists convert from counter time to consult time.
That’s important, Matt explains, because the primary driver of increased health-care costs in the pharmacy industry is the failure of patients to adhere to a prescribed medication or dietary regimen, which can lead to worsening conditions, future trips to urgent care, or worse, the hospital.
He’s concerned that the pharmacy industry is becoming disjointed as people fight for their piece of the pie. “As money gets squeezed, a lot of pharmacies have sold out to large chains because they can’t cover their own costs. Chains do not provide this level of primary or personal care, especially in the rural parts of our state.”
They remain committed. “No matter what it takes to take care of our customers, we have to keep our lights on,” Matt says. “I’ve never believed we should be profiting from health care to that extent.”
Four locations: Cottage Grove, Deerfield, McFarland, Columbus
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