By Bear State Bank

So You Want to Start a Small-Town Pharmacy

At Sam Alexander Pharmacy in Harrison, you can still say “charge it,” which is one of many personal services owners Tara and Matt Willmott employ to compete with the big box stores.

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Harrison native Tara Willmott grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same church as Sam Alexander, and she interned at the store following her third year of pharmacy school. When Sam was ready to sell-out and retire, she and her husband Matt saw the opportunity and took over the business in 2010. Tara and Matt share with us why they love owning a small-town pharmacy.

Q. Pharmacies today seem to offer services that were once the domain of clinics and doctors’ offices. Is that the case at your pharmacy?

Tara: Definitely. We offer a diverse group of services. Today’s pharmacies go beyond just dropping off a prescription at the window and then picking it up later. We offer compounding for BIRT (bio identical hormone replacement therapy) and also do compounding for pain, hospice and animals. If a customer is allergic to a dye or filler in a medicine, we can tailor the meds to their specific needs. We do flu shots, immunization for shingles and pneumonia, and do travel vaccines for people who go on mission trips in the summertime. We offer diabetic supplies, shoes and special needs such as incontinence products.

“We really take care of the customer. We know them by name.”

Q. How do you compete against the big box pharmacies?

Matt: We really take care of the customer. We know them by name. I have a few employees who are so tuned-in to the customers that they recognize them by the cars they drive. We offer free home delivery within Harrison and curbside delivery at the store. You tell us you’re coming in, we bring your prescriptions to the car, get your signature on an iPad, and you’re on your way.

Tara: We still have charge accounts for customers. It’s a service for those that just want that one pharmacy bill a month so they can write one check and be done with it. Our customer service sets us apart from the big box store. It’s just a lot more personal for us.

Q. What’s unique about your pharmacy?

Matt: In addition what I already mentioned, I think it’s the level of personal service. For the most part, we can get a customer in and out in 10 minutes or less. We have a red basket system where if someone with a sick child walks in, we move them to the front of the line as their needs are more urgent.

Q. Tell me about this location on the square in Harrison. Is that important for your business?

Matt: There’s been a pharmacy here for a long time and I think that’s been helpful. Parking around the square is not that great, but when Sam purchased the building he made a parking lot out back. This square is one of the more active around the state so parking can be a challenge sometimes.

Tara: We’re seeing multi-generations of customers from the same families. Their grandparents started coming here when Sam owned it and now they’re back for their needs and those of their children. We appreciate that loyalty, and we’ve really worked to expand our reach to this generation by using the technology they use.

Q. From a technological standpoint, what have you changed since taking over this business?

Tara: Some people want to communicate by text, others by email and others want to leave a message on the phone or talk to a person. Others want to fill a prescription using our smartphone app or through our website. Our phone system is automated so they can punch the refill number in when they call. The system will call or email them when a prescription is ready to be picked up. You just have to keep up with the technology because your competition has it.

Q. Every job has a downside. What’s this one?

Matt: It’s a great problem to have, but sometimes early in the month it can get busy and chaotic. Sometimes we get slammed and the employees get stressed.

Q. What’s the upside?

Matt. Being able to give back to the community that supports us. You’ll see our logo out there with a lot of community events throughout the year, such as the balloon festival and chamber events.

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