For more than 85 years, Hi-School Pharmacy has found success in rural communities that are typically underserved by big-box retailers and larger national chains.

“In most of our markets, we’re the only pharmacy in town,” says Jack Holt, COO of the Vancouver, Wash.-based independently owned chain. “We’ve found a niche we’re able to fill in our communities.”

While the chain of 29 pharmacies in Oregon and Washington serves similarly sized communities, its retail offerings are hardly uniform. “We can adapt our merchandise mix based on what the community needs,” Holt explains, citing fabric, craft or hardware products as examples. It understands these needs in part through its emphasis on local control.

“We try not to be top-heavy as a corporation,” Holt says. “When we go into a new market we try to hire good managers and retain many of the employees that are already there. Our employees and managers are forthright with us because they live in the community, understand the needs and respond to them.

“We empower our stores to make changes to their location and understand that not everything we do fits every market we’re in,” he adds. Hi-School sites also vary in size, from 1,000 to 40,000 square feet.

Much of the chain’s expansion since its 1925 founding has come through acquisition of small pharmacies and drugstores. Hi-School Pharmacy owns many of its locations and oversees locations owned by a local partner. “I believe in a store-centered model of management – we’re there to support our stores, make them profitable and offer guidelines, but ultimately decision-making comes down to the store. Everything we do should be toward the goal of making stores profitable,” Holt says.

Strong Involvement

One way Hi-School’s upper management supports its stores is through its involvement in industry organizations, as well as lobbying. “Our biggest challenge is on the [insurance] reimbursement side, which makes up about 80 percent of our business,” Holt says. “The legislation that effects reimbursement is what effects us the most, so we actively work for legislative change on the state and national level.”

Holt regularly works with state and U.S. legislators on laws that would increase the reimbursement rates paid by private and government third-party insurance. “We’ve worked hard on getting our pharmacists and technicians to become involved on the grassroots level to influence change,” he adds.

Hi-School Pharmacy is a member of the newly formed organization RxAlly, an alliance of thousands of independent pharmacies, regional chains and Walgreens. RxAlly seeks to increase the role of the pharmacist as a health care provider and prevent the misuse of prescriptions. Two of Hi-School’s customer service goals – medication adherence and medication therapy management – tie in closely with RxAlly’s mission.

For medication adherence, Hi-School’s pharmacists use an automated, telephone-driven system to both fill prescriptions and inform customers when prescriptions are ready to be picked up or if prescriptions are late in being picked up.  Pharmacists seek to meet the goal of med­i­cation therapy management by taking a look at patients as a whole.

“Medication adherence is certainly a part of medication therapy management, but there’s more to it,” Holt says. “We counsel all patients on all new prescriptions, but if you’re hypertensive or have diabetes, you might benefit from having a more intensive intake where we would look at you as a whole and the various medications you’re taking.”

Hi-School Pharmacy’s involvement in RxAlly comes as a result of its membership in the Chain Drug Consortium, a union of regional pharmacy chains across the United States.

Automation Tools

Hi-School Pharmacy uses a number of technology tools to help streamline its offerings and pharmacy processing systems. These include electronic point-of-sale systems to help the company monitor sales and assist in ordering, as well as Kirby Lester brand automated pharmacy pill counting and verification machines.

Six of the pharmacy’s locations use pharmacy automation technology manufactured by ScriptPro. The SP 200 robotic prescription dispensing system allows Hi-School to quickly fill prescriptions, giving pharmacists more time to directly help customers.

Working Smarter

Holt believes in empowering employees to do their jobs to the best of their ability. “Retaining a core group of employees at each location is essential to our success,” he adds. “We recognize there will be some turnover, but you need to have a core group in each store, so we provide tools for our employees to use.”

One such tool is Pharmacist’s Letter, an online resource library. “This gives pharmacists and technicians access to continuing education as well as medication resources,” Holt says.

Store managers are able to access product training provided by vendors during monthly meetings. “My personal philosophy is that you have to work not just harder, but smarter – it’s not just about putting in hours,” Holt adds. “I believe we have to have the best store managers in place and empower them to succeed.”