Maryland - Pharmacy Owner
For husband-and-wife team Ray and Arti Patel, Coastal Drug Institutional Pharmacy is not only their slice of the America dream, it’s a chance to operate a store that’s different from the big-box retailers where they worked years earlier.
When the couple earlier this year took over the pharmacy, which also includes a Coffee Beanery with a seating area and several racks of books for sale, Ray was working at a Wal-Mart and Arti was a pharmacist at a Rite Aid near Hanover, Md.
In Ray’s case, he was the assistant manager at the fourth-busiest Wal-Mart in the world, ringing in more than $180 million each year.
“We like helping people, and having a change in scenery coming to the Eastern Shore to the ‘coolest small town in America’ – a place with a lot of Blue-Ribbon schools – it gave us the opportunity to work for ourselves,” Ray said.
One noticeable change at the shop is the increase in staffing at the coffee beanery, where at least two employees are now present at all times.
“The concept relates to, when a customer drops off their script, we want them to be able to sit down, read a book and have a great cup of coffee without having to stand in line,” Ray said. “Having that extra staff also lets us interact with our customers in a unique way. I love the retail work, and I love talking to people about what they’re looking for.
“The beautiful part about having an independent pharmacy is you can relate to your customer,” Ray added. “They know you by name.”
That hands-on approach spills over to the stock at Coastal Drug, where the staff is trained in the specifics of each item and can advise someone purchasing a walker for the first time to make sure, for example, the brakes are on when they try to sit down.
Recently, Ray said a 14-year-old girl came in with her parents to buy a wheelchair. The staff worked with the family, and within 48-hours they had a custom pink wheelchair shipped to the store, ready to be picked up.
“You should have seen the look on her face,” Ray said. “We love being able to do that kind of thing for our customers.”
Citing another example, Ray said an elderly woman living in Ocean Pines called after she accidentally spilled some of her medication into a ventilation shaft. Coastal Drug called the insurance company and asked for an override to cover the medication, but was declined.
“Arti and I are looking at each other and we said, ‘You know what, she’s a good customer of ours,’ and we gave her the wholesale price,” he said. “We helped that customer knowing her situation, and that’s another great thing about being an independent pharmacy. We’re willing to work with a customer to help their needs and give them a product at a price that makes sense.”
Arti said she spends most of her time up front at the pharmacy counter, looking for customers with question marks in their eyes.
“If we see that person and we sense that they have a question, I’ll approach them,” she said. “If they’re getting a medication from us, we always want to make sure to give them as much information as we can. I feel like, at retail chains, you don’t get that service because the pharmacists don’t have time.
“We’re properly staffed to the point where we have time to spend with our customers,” Arti continued. “That’s what we’re striving for.”
The pharmacy also offers free delivery in the area, and often goes as far as Salisbury to suit its customers.
“I don’t think customer service should have boundaries,” Ray said. “You should go wherever a customer needs you.”
“You also can’t put a price on time,” Ray continued. “We want them to be in and out as quickly as possible, and if they don’t have time, we’re willing to provide them the free delivery. We’re a small business, but we’re willing to provide the car, the driver and the gas to deliver a high-end product with a great service to our client who’s choosing us. That’s the word we want to put out there.”
That approach also includes the occasional after-hours visits, such as when the couple hand-delivered medication after closing the store for the evening.
“That’s the kind of thing we’ll do for an individual person, even though it’s 8:30 at night and I had to go 20 minutes out of my way,” Ray said. “That kind of thing matters, and that’s the kind of thing we want people to know about us. The company will succeed if we give great guest service and people know they’re getting a premium product, whether it’s in the store or it’s free delivery.”
Coastal Drug Institutional Pharmacy is offering free flu shots, with a complimentary coffee or tea, through the rest of the season. For more information, visit the store at 10231 Old Ocean City Boulevard in Berlin, or call 410-629-0089.