When the founder of this 59-year-old pharmacy passed away, his family wanted to use old traditions to build a plan for the future. When Jack Fruth went to get his West Virginia pharmacy license in 1952, he took his pregnant wife with him on the five-hour long car ride. On the way home, they were both hungry and wanted to stop at a restaurant to get something to eat. With only a quarter to spend, the two had enough money to split an ice cream cone. Six months later, the couple opened Fruth Pharmacy, which 59 years later has grown to 25 stores and $135 million in annual revenue.
“I find that pretty humbling,” said Lynne Fruth, one of the five Fruth children.
Even as Fruth Pharmacy continued to grow, Jack never forgot that true success would only come from helping the community. Being wealthy was not enough for Jack; he wanted to use his wealth to help others, especially children. Jack established a scholarship foundation, and now 20 kids a year are given assistance through a Fruth scholarship.
“I think it is amazing that a small business that started out with nothing has helped hundreds of kids go to college. My dad said if you want to make a change in the community, you have to educate young children and give them a hand up,” said Fruth. “Six of those scholarships are awarded to children of Fruth employees; some are cashiers and entry-level workers that never got a chance to go to college themselves.”
Giving back to the community is not something that happens only at the corporate level. Each Fruth Pharmacy store is encouraged to hold two community fundraising events a year. They are called parking lot events because the store will host activities for community members in the parking lot, and all money and items collected are donated to a local charity.
Fruth Pharmacy is also partnering with the soon-to-be local Children’s Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital. For every gallon of milk purchased at Fruth Pharmacy, $.05 is donated to the cost of building that hospital. “It will be the first Children’s Hospital in the state, so our customers are very excited. A lot of them are of modest means, but they feel like they can help by buying a gallon of milk. It has created some buy-in on the part of the community,” said Fruth.
Jack Fruth wanted his pharmacies to be the type of place where employees knew their customers by name. When his daughter took over as chairman two years ago, she noticed that the company had slipped away from this and become slightly complacent. Fruth Pharmacy had a core customer base, but it was not doing much to procure new customers or merchandise. Along with this, the company was in a leadership crisis from the unexpected passing of Jack in 2005.
“It was a life shift for me. However, the work I had been doing as a consultant—helping poor performing school districts develop a plan for improvement—I applied here. I did an analysis of what needed to be addressed and drafted a recovery plan to get the business back on track,” Fruth explained.
The company embarked on a yearlong marketing plan focused around Fruth Pharmacy being the hometown pharmacy. Fruth was featured in the television commercials, using her family’s name to guarantee great customer service. The personal ads made customers feel as though they had a connection to the company.
“People started calling the corporate office asking to speak with me. They would say, ‘I want to talk to Lynne Fruth about an issue, I saw her on TV,’” said Fruth.
The company also wanted to expand on some of its traditional offerings. One thing that had always set it apart was its delivery service. It was not available at every store though, so in 2010, Fruth Pharmacy made a commitment to offer deliveries in all of its service areas.
Fruth said this was a return to the company’s roots. Before the age of 24-hour pharmacies, Jack kept a sign on the store door that read, “In case of an emergency, call Jack Fruth at his home.” If a customer called and needed something in the middle of the night, Jack would open the store.
Along with returning to the core practices that gave Fruth Pharmacy that small-town feel, Fruth wanted to make sure it was providing a high level of technical service. Customers do not have to go to the big pharmacies for a flu shot or for diabetes management. Fruth Pharmacy is also upgrading its technology by adding the capability to send emails or text messages to customers when a prescription needs to be refilled or is ready for pick up.
The company is collaborating with West Virginia University to provide counseling for customers with chronic conditions. Fruth said studies have proven that patients with a chronic disease state who meet with a community-based pharmacist on a regular basis have fewer hospital stays and a better quality of life. “We are looking at things from a wellness perspective for our consumers,” she said.
Effort has also been put into updating the look of older stores. Last year, six stores were revitalized with drive-thrus, canopies, and overall face lifts. Two of the stores received pharmacy remodels, and more are scheduled for this year. Fruth said the goal is to give all of the stores a look that stands up next to the competitors.
A new director of operations was hired to re-merchandise and reset all 25 Fruth Pharmacies in the next 12 months. “There is a thought in retail that if you move merchandise around, people will notice items that they never noticed before,” said Fruth.
In one of the company’s urban locations, coffee and sandwiches were added. According to Fruth, there was a void in the area for quick lunch options; customers were coming into Fruth Pharmacy on a daily basis buying a bag of chips and soda for lunch. She thought the store could provide a better alternative for its customers.
“A lot of what we offer is based on what the customer wants. Success is about paying attention to what the customer is looking for and asking for,” she said.
“It is very vital to small-town America and the general quality of life that local independent businesses continue so that people have choice,” Fruth continued. “At a store like Fruth Pharmacy, we recognize that everyone does not want the same thing. It is a little harder to manage more choices, but it gives power to the customer.”
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