Pharmacy finds niche to compete with national chains

By Mark Fisher,

Staff Writer

Updated 1:04 PM Saturday, February 25, 2012

Less than six months after selling a large chunk of his family’s company to a national competitor, third-generation pharmacist Tim Clark is rebuilding the Dayton-based Clark’s Pharmacy by opening new stores and finding niches within the market that will help him compete with national chains.

Two weeks ago, Clark opened a new Clark’s retail pharmacy at 7415 Old Troy Pike in Huber Heights, just a few months after expanding its Beavercreek location at 3197 Rodenbeck Drive, called Tim’s Rx, to add a medical showroom.

The company is close to opening another new pharmacy in Montgomery, Ohio, and this spring, will open a location in Middletown, Clark said.

The company’s expansion reflects Clark’s intent to rebuild the family-owned company and position it to survive and flourish in a fast-changing health care industry that has already driven some family-owned pharmacies out of business.

According to the National Community Pharmacists Association, 550 of Ohio’s 2,150 pharmacies — about one in four —are independently owned, while the rest are operated by drug store chains, grocery store chains and mass merchandisers.

For Clark, that means adopting a business model that differs from drug store chains such as CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreen. For starters, Clark’s retail pharmacies do not have aisles and aisles of food, candy, toys, seasonal merchandise and other items.

“We’re a health care store that doesn’t sell cigarettes and alcohol,” Clark said.

“We’re never going to open a 15,000-square-foot store that sells everything. We’re focusing on things that the chains don’t want to focus on.”

That includes:

• Compounding services, in which Clark’s pharmacists can custom-make medications using powders and liquids from drug companies. Doses and drug combinations can be individualized for patients based on their needs and limitations: those who have trouble swallowing pills, for example, can get the same dose in a cream or ointment that can be absorbed into the skin. Veterinarian-prescribed medications also can be made for cats, dogs and other animals, so that a cat that balks at taking pills can get the same medication in a liquid suspension that tastes like tuna. And patients with allergies can get custom medicines that are dye-free or gluten-free, said Robyn Crow, registered pharmacist who oversees compounding at Clark’s new Huber Heights store.

• Long-term care pharmacy services for residents and patients of nursing homes, long-term care facilities and group homes. Clark’s has developed innovative packaging that helps patients remember which pills to take, and when.

• Home medical products, such as hospital beds, oxygen, respiratory equipment, lift chairs, and mobility-related devices.

Finding such niches is becoming increasingly important for independently owned pharmacies such as Clark’s, which must compete not only against national drug store chains, but also grocery store and big retail chains such as Kroger, Meijer and Wal-Mart, and against mail-order pharmacies operated by insurers. At the same time, pharmacies are getting squeezed by drug companies and insurance companies, which set reimbursement levels for drugs and therefore “have the power to control how much we earn on each prescription,” Clark said.

“And that cut has gone down by about 10 percent a year” in recent years, he said.

CVS Pharmacies approached him in 2011 about buying the prescription records and inventory of seven of his 10 stores, Clark said.

Although he initially resisted, Clark ultimately decided that the sale would be the best thing for the company’s long-term success.

When the sale was completed last fall, four Clark’s locations in Franklin, Kettering, Troy and West Carrollton closed entirely, and three in Washington Twp., Tipp City and Dayton ceased retail pharmacy operations to focus on home-medical supplies or long-term care patients. Patients’ prescriptions were transferred to nearby CVS stores, which hired some of the affected Clark’s employees.

Clark’s retained its Brookville, Beavercreek and New Lebanon retail pharmacies.

“It was a chance to prepare for the coming health care storm,” Clark said of the decision to sell the stores. “It prepared our company for the next three generations.”

Details of the sale were not disclosed. Clark said the sales agreement included non-compete clauses in the communities affected by the retail store closings, but said he could not reveal the duration of those non-compete clauses.

The newest Clark’s retail pharmacy that opened Feb. 14 in Huber Heights is in a community Clark’s hasn’t served before. The store is 3,200 square feet and employs 10.

The sale of the majority of his company forced Clark to reevaluate his namesake firm and how to help it rebuild.

“I tried to break it down from the complex to the simple. What does Clark’s do?” he said of the company that his grandfather founded in Belmont in 1939, and that his father took over in 1965.

“Some of the things my grandfather and father did well are the key to building a new business. We’re here to serve, and our focus is on price and service.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2258 or [email protected]

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