By LISA MONTI
Independent pharmacist Rudy Letellier seems to have found the right customer service formula to expand business: earn the customer’s trust, provide attentive service and offer facials, massages and ice cream.
He’s gone from one busy pharmacy in Waveland to adding a second and third location in Hancock County just this year.
After graduating from Ole Miss, Letellier worked at chain stores but found they didn’t give him the flexibility and resources he wanted to care for his customers.
“There was a limit to the help that you have, so I decided to open up my own and work the way I wanted it to be. I got the help I need,” he said.
Waveland Pharmacy opened in 2002 and three years later the store took on seven feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. Letellier reopened a year later and continued to build the business by emphasizing customer care and providing extras like free delivery and hand-scooped ice cream served from an old time soda fountain.
“We have a lot of loyal customers that have confidence in me filling their prescriptions,” he said.
His employees remain loyal as well, keeping turnover low. “With the chains, employees come and go. Here, people see the same faces when they come in and we know their names and greet them. That means a lot to customers. We try to provide a good environment to work in. It is very hectic but we treat everybody like family.”
Letellier refuses to use an answering machine during store hours because he doesn’t want customers to hear recorded messages. “I want a person to answer the phones. We’re trying to stay the old-fashioned way,” he said. “That’s why I have a soda fountain. It sets us apart.”
Letellier researched old soda fountains and replicated one he saw in a photo from the 1890s. Customers can order malts, and sundaes and sit at small cafe tables to enjoy their treats. The soda fountain is an attraction unto itself. “I wanted to do something different in Waveland,” he said.
Dawn Letellier, Rudy’s wife and a pharmacy technician, said customers also can count on the complimentary Norman Rockwell calendars available each new year.
He’s also innovative. Letellier invested in a machine used to custom package medicine for people who tend not to take their medication as directed. The equipment is usually found in nursing homes and other institutions with a large patient population.
“We took it a step further and began packaging for retail patients. It’s excellent for people with congestive heart failure, psychiatric patients and those with Alzheimer’s. If they take their medicine correctly, they stay out of the hospital,” he said.
The medication is packaged in 28-day strips. “They pull out one day’s worth of medicine and they can easily tell if they missed a dose.” More than 200 patients use the trademarked PackMed service, he said.
In March, Pharmacy in the Bay opened three miles away in Bay St. Louis, which hasn’t had a pharmacy in several years.
Dawn Letellier said, “We have had huge support from the city of Bay St. Louis and the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. We feel there was a huge need and we are part of the regrowth and rebuilding.”
Letellier’s goal is to make the Bay St. Louis location a wellness center. It is affiliated with Memorial Hospital in Gulfport and a nurse practitioner is on duty three days a week. Depending on the demand, more days will be added.
Letellier wasn’t planning to open a third location so quickly after the Bay St. Louis store but when the independent pharmacy in Diamondhead was acquired by a chain, he said a good number of customers moved their business to his Waveland Pharmacy. “There was an opportunity and we went for it,” he said.
The Pharmacy in Diamondhead opened in September and also has an aesthetician and massage therapist available.
Waveland Pharmacy started out with eight employees and now the three stores employ 28, including four full-time and three part-time pharmacists. So far five students in Hancock High School’s Allied Health Program have worked behind the counter to learn the ins and outs of a medical profession. One former student is enrolled in pharmacy school and another is studying pre-pharmacy.
Letellier said he is open to the idea of having a fourth location at some point. “If the opportunity is there, yes.”