Spot On Thrifty Mac Pharmacy
With Dick Hodgetts
The University of Georgia graduated two young people and turned them out into the economy in 1975. George Launius had a degree in Pharmacy, and Nancy was trained to be an elementary school teacher. They have come a long way transforming themselves and their business over the past 30 years. Their vision has changed and shaped the business that we know in Madison as Thrifty Mac Drugs. George began his pharmaceutical career in Commerce working for a Thrifty Mac store. The owners expanded into Madison and sent their eager young employee to manage the new business. The potential of the operation convinced George Launius that he wanted to own his own business and he bought out the owners. Thrifty Mac Drug was located where Laughing Moon is now operating.
George had a vision for his business. He wanted clients to enjoy coming into his store. He was convinced that if he offered quick personal service he could grow his business. He and Nancy shared a belief that if they carefully selected employees and had well motivated staff it would translate into satisfied customers. In addition, the business of filling prescriptions is a serious one, so the objective of having an enjoyable business for customers; and the obligation to fill the prescribed medication correctly is a very serious endeavor.
Meanwhile, the business environment was changing. America was moving into the era of big-box retailers. Many independent pharmacies were closing in the face of well-financed and well-promoted chains. So George attempted a variety of new initiatives to bring clients into his downtown Madison pharmacy. He had a Radio Shack retail operation, he rented videos, and he had a one-hour photo processing service, and he delivered to the homes of clients. What he discovered was the added importance of networking with other independent drug stores who tried a variety of approaches and were willing to share their experiences. None of the unique approaches he attempted were ever part of the pharmacy curricula nor did the education department at UGA attempt to indoctrinate Nancy in entrepreneurship.
Early on George was approached by the owner of a local Queen Anne style home who asked them to purchase his stately old home. What was readily apparent was that a drug store operation would not work in a structure that had serious foundation issues. He found a buyer for the home, who dismantled it and moved it to Athens. George and Nancy built on the existing location and the new site allowed them to offer something few competitors had: home medical equipment. His constant networking with other independent owners taught him that if he invested in telephone technology that permitted clients to phone in their orders when the store was closed, he could have a third of his day’s volume on his phone system before he opened. Many older independent drug stores advised against this, arguing that the client needed to talk to the pharmacists in order to maintain their client relationship. It was a leap of faith to invest in technology that was so controversial. He did and it has paid huge dividends.
In 2005, George completely changed the front of his store to keep it consistent with the style of downtown Madison firms. This allowed him to offer drive-through service. He created two windows so that customers would not be slowed by someone who had not phoned in a prescription. No one knocks on your door to tell you these types of investments are needed, you have to understand your clients and your community. This is “risk taking” and it is an art more than a science. All the changes he has made have a consistent theme: they made it more convenient to do business with Thrifty Mac Drug and its staff.
George also found that most of the drug store prices were very close to being the same. He salutes Wal-Mart for its marketing genius in making $4 prescriptions identified with their stores, but notes that he meets all those price points at his Thrifty Mac.
Today most of us would be surprised to learn that independent drug stores are making a come-back. Usually they have joined a buying group and get massive discounts just as the big box retailers earn.
George and Nancy are prospering in their downtown location. But, some of it is more than meeting price points. It is clear that clients like to work with George and his staff. They have identified clients who appear to be unhappy and the entire team comes up with an approach to bring a smile to the face of the customer.
In addition, Thrifty Mac’s owners make substantial contributions to the local community. Note the new sign at the Madison- Morgan Cultural Center was a donation from George and Nancy.
What will be the future of Thrifty Mac? One thing is certain: it will change. It may require risk and it might involve listening to other operators who have developed new approaches to the drug business. But the business will be different, count on it.
What strikes me is that the Thrifty Mac Pharmacy owner is far more than a dispenser of medicines. George is part chemist and part Sir Laurence Olivier. He is on stage and his audience comes to him for a prescription to be filled, yes, and part of the healing process is the realization that a smile can be part of improving health.
I don’t think the successes George and Nancy Launius have every day are necessarily the principles taught in school. Yes, he does things by the book, and still he adheres to the concept that people are going to deal with people they like and respect. You can find all that in his store, and in all the changes he introduces.
If you wander around Thrifty Mac Drug you might just fall in love with a Big Green Egg. Let George tell you all about the wonders of grilling and the Big Green Egg, it’s one of his best performances. And just like his prescriptions, it’s sure to make you feel better.