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Natural Pharmacy: How One Pharmacy Created a Niche Business in Natural Health

Natural Pharmacy: How One Pharmacy Created a Niche Business in Natural Health by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com


August 5, 2014


When O’Brien Pharmacy in Mission, Kan., started to focus on compounding and natural health, the move wasn’t to improve the bottom line. It was to help patients. The pharmacy’s success came after that.

“I believe success is built out of serving your community,” said Lisa Everett Andersen, R.Ph., CCN, co-owner of O’Brien Pharmacy. “It’s about serving the needs of your particular community and your patient base, and I believe that’s the most successful formula for a profitable business of any kind.”

Everett Andersen and her brother and co-owner, Eric Everett, R.Ph., decided to move away from traditional dispensing and stop accepting insurance about 20 years ago after listening to their patients. Many of their patients wanted to know something completely different—how to take fewer or no medications. Offering lifestyle tips through one-on-one consultations and creating specialized medications through high-quality compounding provided the answers many of their patients needed to reach their health goals.

That didn’t mean the co-owners weren’t nervous to jump off the insurance grid and stop filling traditional scripts. “We were scared,” Everett Andersen said. “We thought everybody would hightail it to the local Walmart. What we found is that many people wouldn’t go.”

Today, the pharmacy’s stock of conventional medications can fit on one shelf.

Growing from their roots

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Focusing on patients’ needs led the co-owners to create a niche business that was a perfect fit for them, and for the legacy of their pharmacy. “We were able to go back to doing the counseling and spending the time with patients that set our pharmacy apart years ago,” Everett Andersen said.

Their father, Harry Everett, and his business partner, Henry O’Brien, opened the pharmacy in 1962. Like most pharmacies back then, O’Brien Pharmacy did a lot of compounding, and continued to do so after many other pharmacies stopped. When the siblings took over, they wanted to continue that tradition of best serving patients. “We were determined to reclaim our practice as pharmacists,” Everett Andersen said.

And it has worked for them.

Today, O’Brien Pharmacy has earned a reputation as one of the top compounding pharmacies in the nation. It’s also recognized as a national leader in natural health, sterile products and natural hormone replacement.

The PCAB-accredited pharmacy features ISO 7 environments, three compounding aseptic isolators and high tech equipment such as an autoclave, a high-speed homogenizer, ointment mills, an electronic mortar and pestle, four analytical balances, four Air Clean powder containment hoods and three in-house incubators.

O’Brien Pharmacy is licensed in 36 states and has served patients in other countries with referrals from doctors’ offices, surgical centers, chiropractors, nurse practitioners and more. O’Brien pharmacy has been involved in almost 20 drug studies and is currently participating in three FDA-approved studies.

“If you want to be in a niche business, you have to evolve,” Everett Andersen said. “You have to be willing to change your ideas, change your format and change what you do.”

Specializing in natural medicine

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The co-owners opened the Kansas City Holistic Centre alongside the pharmacy about 20 years ago to provide even more natural health options for patients. The Holistic Centre treats a variety of conditions through homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, nutritional consultation, botanical and herbal medicine and therapy.

“It’s about coaching people to change lifestyles and to know how to use specific herbs, nutritional supplements and homeopathic medicine to effect a change,” Everett Andersen said. “People come in with all kinds of chronic illness and disease that are absolutely reversible.”

The building that houses O’Brien Pharmacy and the Kansas City Holistic Centre also features a front end filled with natural vitamins, supplements and products.

Everett Andersen handpicks each product in the front end for quality. “I’ve done the homework and the footwork on all of our products,” she said.

The front end is also home to a multivitamin and an antioxidant formula that Everett Andersen developed herself to help patients. “I didn’t do it to make money. It actually saves patients money. It’s the least expensive if you compare milligrams to milligrams and quality to quality and grades to grades. And it’s the most effective,” she said.

Becoming natural health experts

Patients seek out O’Brien Pharmacy (and the Kansas City Holistic Centre) because it has earned a reputation as the place to go for natural health. And because patients see results.

“We get patients through word of mouth,” Everett Andersen said. “The mother gets better, so the husband comes in and then his brother and two cousins.”

Everett Andersen also lectures regularly to health practitioners at conferences, symposiums, associations, hospitals and universities across the country. Her continuing education programs help spread the word about the pharmacy, and often increase patient referrals.

“The Holistic Centre part of the business, the compounding, and all of it grows in part because I’ve lectured for so many years,” she said.

A formula for success

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Success in business starts with a commitment to your craft, Everett Andersen said. “Make sure you own a pharmacy or are a pharmacist because it’s your passion to do that work every day,” she said. “And make sure what you’re doing serves your community.”

She also advises pharmacists to be willing to spend money to make money. “I have found in general that people will open a pharmacy and are underfunded,” she said. “One of the biggest problems I see in compounding pharmacies is that they’re one-man operations. They’re trying to fill prescriptions, compound, do the books. They’re not willing to let go of money to hire the help they need.”

“If I could suggest anything to other pharmacy owners or potential owners, it would be to hire enough staff, so you can think and move,” she said. “So you have time to think about what’s important to you and what your patients want.”

Hiring enough staff helped O’Brien Pharmacy. When the pharmacy stopped accepting insurance and filling conventional prescriptions, the co-owners were prepared to go down to two pharmacists from the four they employed at the time. Instead, they hired two more pharmacists and three technicians. “That year, did we feel like we could afford to hire more pharmacists? No. But every time we hired, those people have more than paid for themselves,” she said.

Striving to keep those employees happy has also helped the business remain strong. “Great customer service comes in part from having happy employees who also want to serve their community,” she said. “It’s not just a job for them.” O’Brien Pharmacy tries to make employees’ happiness a top priority through regular team meetings, bonuses, reasonable work hours and a pleasant work environment.

Recognizing future opportunities

Everett Andersen’s role in the pharmacy has evolved through the years to include more consulting work. Today, she provides consultations for the toughest cases that come in, such as patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. And she sees the future of the profession moving toward pharmacist consultation.

“I see it going in the direction of being paid for what’s in your head and not what you sell,” she said. “When the chain stores came out, people used to fill some prescriptions with them, some prescriptions with us, but they’d always call us with questions. They wanted to call us for the brain stuff and go there for the price. And that’s hardly fair.”

She suggests pharmacists make themselves available to patients and charge for the more in-depth consultations they provide. “I think pharmacists are potentially the last accessible health care provider for patients,” she said.

Pharmacist consultation isn’t the only health trend she sees growing. “I think people are going to move toward natural medicine. I think that’s the way of the future,” she said. “And who’s poised to advise on natural medicine better than a pharmacist?”

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