Prescription for Success

by Alison Stanton

John-MusilAs John Musil, Pharm.D., founder, president and chief executive officer of The Apothecary Shops, has learned first-hand, the key to creating a successful company is positioning it in a unique niche in a crowded market.

With that in mind, when Musil opened his company on May 1, 1996, he focused on one main goal: to provide his customers with knowledgeable and approachable pharmacists who are specialists in their field or fields of medicine. This, he thought, would set them apart from most other pharmacies in Arizona. Almost 15 years later, this is still the mission of The Apothecary Shops, an independent chain that has grown to comprise 18 free-standing pharmacies throughout Arizona as well as in several other states, including Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Ohio.

The company specializes in distinct service areas: compounding, oncology, ophthalmology, fertility, women’s health, infectious disease, animal health, pain management and transplants. Each location is staffed by pharmacists who are trained in one or another of those particular areas.

For Musil, watching his company flourish is the culmination of a dream that began when he was in fourth grade. “My soccer coach was a pharmacist, and I eventually went to work for him when I was in high school,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to be a pharmacist.”

Musil graduated from the University of Arizona with a Doctor of Pharmacy in 1994. After graduation, Musil hired on as a clinical pharmacist at Georgetown University Medical Center in the Washington, D.C., area. Although he loved his work, Musil says the politics that came along with it were not to his liking. About a year later, Musil came back to Arizona and worked as the managing director of a pharmacy in Scottsdale. “I figured that in about five years or so I would buy the company, but 14 months later, the owner offered to sell his company to me,” he says. “So at the ripe old age of 25, I bought it.”

It was important to him from the start to set his company apart from other pharmacies by staffing it with pharmacists who are experts in their field, so that patients will reach out to them, have confidence in their work and knowledge, and think “my pharmacist is a specialist.” Explains Musil, “In medicine, you have physicians who go in for specialty training, but pharmacists have been seen as generalists, not specialists, who you can ask about diabetes or HIV or oncology or anything else. You are supposed to know all of it, and it’s not really fair or a good use of pharmacists.”

Musil also knows that for many people, pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals. All the more reason, he says, for his staff to become knowledgeable in certain areas. “As generalists, many pharmacists like to sit behind the counter and not come out and talk to people. Or maybe they want to, but they just don’t have the time. For us, it’s getting away from the counter, getting in the lobby and talking to people.” It has taken 10 years to build confidence among both physicians and the public, Musil says, but now patients seek out the pharmacy and doctors recommend it to their patients who are dealing with one of the areas in which his staff specializes.

In addition to working with traditional physicians, The Apothecary Shops also works with naturopaths and veterinarians. “Animal health is a unique element; very, very few pharmacies in the United States have a pharmacist on staff who knows about this topic,” Musil says. “We can consult with veterinarians and create solutions. We want to be the center of knowledge for them.”

Compounding, which involves taking existing medications and creating a mix of ingredients that is just right for a particular patient, is an important part of Musil’s business. “It allows us to treat individual patients for individual needs,” he says. “Like, if a child has to take tablets [but] can’t swallow them, we can make it liquid. Or if someone has to take 23 milligrams of a medication and it’s only available in 100 milligrams, we can make it be that dose.”

Acknowledging the troubled economic times our country is experiencing, Musil says, “Knock on wood, we have had the complete opposite experience. We are in our largest time of growth right now.”

Snapshot Perspective

  • Founder John Musil, Pharm.D., is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy and an adjunct faculty member at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy.
  • The Apothecary Shops opened for business on May 1, 1996.
  • The Apothecary Shops employs 250 people. In addition to residency-trained clinical pharmacists, certified menopausal educators, a government affairs liaison, compounding experts and reimbursement support staff, the business also employs information technology staff, call center specialists and delivery and shipping professionals and maintains a quality assurance department, a managed care department and a sales and marketing department.
  • In 2009, The Apothecary Shops completed construction of a 5,000-square-foot clean room and expanded its state-of-the-art mail-order fulfillment center in Phoenix to 19,000 square feet to generate sales in all 50 states.
  • There are currently 18 locations.
  • In 2010, The Apothecary Shops opened retail locations in Sacramento, Calif.; St. Louis; Albuquerque, N.M.; and a second pharmacy in Las Vegas.
  • In January 2011, Bayer Onyx named The Apothecary Shops a Tier 1 Specialty Provider for retail sales of the cancer drug Nexavar; the pharmacy is one of a handful selected to help the pharmaceutical company collect data on patient use.

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