February 2007

RX For a Successful Business

Author: Paul deVere

At Stephens Pharmacy, you won’t see motor oil, birthday cards, Easter baskets or light bulbs lining the aisles. There are no aisles. What you will see is owner and pharmacist, Jerry Stephens, ready to fill your prescription. “This is what a pharmacy was meant to be. It’s not a department in a store,” Stephens said. There are a few shelves of over-the-counter remedies, but filling prescriptions constitutes virtually all of the pharmacy’s business.

What you also won’t see is a sign hanging off the side of the building at 2 Marshland Road. It is a medical building and the Town of Hilton Head Island defines the pharmacy as a “health care provider,” ergo, no signs. “But our customers do find us,” Stephens said.

As a practicing pharmacist for 27 years, Stephens has developed his own way of doing business. He has only two rules, he explained. “First, there is the ‘grandmother’ rule. You ask yourself, ‘Is this the way you would do it for your grandmother?’ And the second is the ‘60 Minutes’ rule. You ask yourself, ‘Would I want it to be seen on 60 Minutes?’”

Stephens and wife Sheila have started something of a “pharmacist dynasty.” Both are graduates of the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), School of Pharmacy. She teaches at South University School of Pharmacy in Savannah. Their son Spencer is a graduate of Samford University-McWhorter School of Pharmacy, just outside Birmingham, Alabama and works for Walgreens. Spencer’s new bride, Jennifer, will graduate this semester from Samford, with a degree in pharmacy. The Stephens’ daughter (Spencer’s sister), is expecting to start at Samford in the fall. “She promised us she wouldn’t marry a pharmacist,” Stephens joked.

According to Stephens, pharmacists are in demand, but getting into a school like South University is very competitive. “There were 2,000 applicants for just 80 class positions at the school last year,” he said. “At the very minimum, pharmacy is a six-year degree. Most incoming professional year-one pharmacy students already have four years of college under their belt.”

The demand for pharmacists is definitely high. According to the American Hospital Association, the current pharmacy vacancy rate is 7.4 percent. With a growing aging population and the introduction of the Medicare prescription program, that shortage is bound to increase. According to the Pharmacy Manpower Project, the number of prescriptions being filled has increased from 2 billion to 3.2 billion in the last 10 years.

While the need—and pay—will increase, Stephens cautions that to receive a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree takes some serious thought and hard work. “The requirements are significant. You pretty much have to know, before you start college, that’s what you’re going to do. Prerequisites are very stiff: two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry, calculus, statistics—all that along with your general education classes. Now physics is required in most colleges, too.”

Though Stephens stresses the depth of knowledge required, it is the personal part of the business he enjoys most. Before the deadline for the 2007 Medicare prescription plan, he was able to help an older customer understand her options and sign her up, which will save her hundreds of dollars in 2007. In 2006, he was able to show a customer, whose prescription bills were $18,000 a year, how the Medicare plan would decrease those bills by over $10,000. “It was like he got a $10,000 raise in his retirement plan,” Stephens said.

But the two most telling signs of how Stephens views his business are his logo and the way the phone is answered at the pharmacy. The Latin phrase, “Soli Deo Gloria” (“All the glory to God”) appears in his logo to remind him of what is really important. And when you call, the first thing you hear is, “It’s a great day at Stephens Pharmacy!” These signatures show what he believes and how he feels. For Stephens, his business is personal. Just ask his family.

Stephens Pharmacy
2 Marshland Road
Located in the Health & Wellness Building
(843) 686.3735

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