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VOL. 38 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 4, 2014

Nod to the old, in with the new: Reeves-Sain redefines model for hometown pharmacy

By Sam Stockard

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The cold, thick, handmade milkshake sold at the Reeves-Sain drugstore soda fountain comes in a stainless steel canister, too big for the serving glass.

That old-fashioned shake draws customers to the hometown store on Memorial Boulevard in Murfreesboro, especially on hot summer days. And it’s a specialty not available at the chain drug stores that seem to occupy every street corner in Middle Tennessee.

But co-owner Shane Reeves says it’s the cutting-edge pharmacy services – compounded drugs, medical equipment, packaged medications and IV products – that matters the most in the increasingly competitive pharmacy market.

“We’re excited about our IV business, and we’re excited about our compounding business,’’ Reeves says. “But you asked how we’re able to survive. It’s the fact that we are able to offer so many products and services in kind of a wraparound product and service.

“When you’ve got that child coming home from Vanderbilt hospital who’s a cystic fibrosis patient, who needs everything … those packaged meds, a special IV for home, they need a nebulizer or respirator from my oxygen company, and they need some kind of specialty compound, and we’re able to do all of those services, we’re at our best, absolutely at our best.”

When Reeves graduated from pharmacy school 24 years ago, his father Richard Reeves, a longtime Murfreesboro City Council member and mayor, and business partner Rick Powell had been operating the business in and around the present site on Memorial Boulevard for 14 years. It started in a trailer in 1980, surrounded by little but farmland before operations moved into a strip mall the elder Reeves built.

Q: When did the drugstore open here?

A: “That toy store across the parking lot went out of business, and my dad moved over there … about 1990, and put a pharmacy over there, and said let’s do something different. Let’s put a soda shop in.

“When he decided to come here and build this, people said, ‘Richard is crazy. There is no way this side of town is ever going to take off. He’s lost his mind. To say the town is gonna grow in this direction.’

“Dad had been in public office for 10 years. He got in in 1980. He said, “You know what? I think it’s gonna go that way.” He was right, a big part of it. So the right place, the right time.’’

Q: When did you get involved in ownership?

A: “Literally, when I got out of school in May of 1994, within a month of that happening, my dad and Ron Powell came to Rick (Sain) and me and said, “Guys, how’d you like to buy the business?” And we did. We didn’t know any better, and we’ve had plenty of bumps and blessings along the way. But we signed the business (deal). Twenty years ago this May, Rick and I became partners at Reeves-Sain.

Building relationships with customers is vital, Reeves says, adding pharmacists can help patients with “systems to make sure you’re being safe and smart.”

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

“We basically decided in the summer of 1994, if we’re going to make it in an independent pharmacy, there’s not many of us, but if we’re going to make it we’ve got to do two things:

“We’re going to have to fill lots of prescriptions because the marketplace was changing so much. Mail-order pharmacy was coming on the scene. Chain pharmacies were starting to come up. All the veterans were getting their meds through the mail, and the margins were shrinking.

“People’s insurance cards were really determining where people got their prescriptions filled. We said we’re going to have to fill lots of prescriptions and, No. 2, we’re going to have to get into some other niches. So that’s what we’ve done, so basically over the last two decades have just gotten into a huge variety of different products.’’

Q: One of the first things you notice when you walk into Reeves-Sain is the soda shop and the old Central High pictures on the wall. The soda shop was there when you opened and more of the memorabilia came along later.

A: “The Class of 1959 (Richard Reeves is a member), it got started with that. They put their picture up, and from there it started taking off as far as Central’s concerned. All the classes started bringing in their composites and the Central Tiger, so it kind of became a museum for Central. It’s funny because that’s never something where we sat down and said, ‘We’re going to make that part of our strategy.’ It was just a by-product of being in the community for 34 years. People just needed a place to share our history.

Q:" How important do you feel it is to have the soda shop and the memorabilia for an independently-owned drugstore to compete against the big chains?

A: “If you and I went to the The Avenue [shopping center] or any place in town right now, and we stopped a 100 people on the sidewalk, and I said, ‘Have you heard of Reeves-Sain?’ If they said yes, and I asked those 100 people, ‘What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Reeves-Sain?’ Ninety-nine would say milkshakes.

“So, take it for what it’s worth. It’s a big part of our brand, of our charm, of what has gotten us to this point.

“If we had decided to get into chain stores and started building them everywhere, I don’t know if I would’ve done soda shops, to be honest. But that has been very good for us as far as creating a warm, charming brand.

“It’s helped us to really differentiate ourselves in the marketplace from the Walgreens and Publix. They’re not going to do that.

Q: You’ve branched out into several areas since you and Rick took over. What are some of those areas and how important have they been in keeping Reeves-Sain alive?

Reeves-Sain has maintained one fixture from drugstores of old, the store’s soda fountain. The shop also has become a gallery for senior class composites from old Murfreesboro Central High, which closed in 1972.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

A: “I’ll give you a couple. In our retail drugstore, you mentioned the soda shop. One unique profit center in the retail drugstore is compounding, traditional compounding. We still make and mix a thousand prescriptions a month. If a product is no longer commercially available, we’ll get the powder and make it.

“If a child can’t swallow a capsule, fine, we’ll put it into a cream or gel or a suppository, and the child can continue to get it. We work with a number of a physicians in town … on hormone replacement therapy to do blood tests and saliva tests to make sure the woman’s getting exactly what she needs from a hormone perspective. So that’s one niche.

“We broke off into our medical equipment business, which is hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, wound care. … That was in 93.

“In ’94, we got into IV therapy, which has been a really great niche for us. IV antibiotics, IV chemotherapy, IV pain management, that side of the business we’ve been doing that for 20 years now, is a really, really unique niche that nobody knows we do and honestly you wouldn’t have a reason to know we did unless you needed it.

“We have a side of our business that is our long-term care business where we package medications (showing it) for assisted living, for nursing homes, group homes, jails and people in their home.

“So if you’re dad is taking 10 medications, we just ship it to the house and make sure they’re taking the right meds.

“There’s a new business called our specialty pharmacy business, which is in Spring Hill, that has seen explosive growth right now. It’s kind of new and up and coming.

“I think the things we’re real excited about right now at Reeves-Sain is this unique packaging system called MediPACK. We kind of have a saying around here, “Pharmacies that lose their way many times it’s because they’ve lost their why.” And our why is people. It’s patients.

You spoke two years ago at the Exchange Club prayer breakfast. How important is it to you to share your faith.

“They’ve asked me to give that speech at the National Exchange Club prayer breakfast in July. The entire premise of that talk was, based on the trajectory of this nation and the role that faith is playing in so many of our lives, specifically in young people, can America survive without God? Because that’s the path we’re on.

“So how important is my faith to me? It’s my compass and how I make decisions, the role I play as a husband and father and businessman and servant, and friend and an enemy to whomever. It’s just how I’m wired. I’ve got plenty of problems, but I tell you, I’m a blessed man.

Q: You’ve spoken to groups regarding care for seniors. What did that focus on?

A: “The talk would be around this concept: As a nation, we’re spending $290 billion every single year on people taking their medications wrong. That’s the money we’re spending in nursing homes, assisted living homes, hospitals. … We’re actually spending more money on people taking them wrong than we are on getting them filled in the first place in America’s pharmacies.

“And my point was, no matter where we go, everyone has a first- and last-name relationship with their doctor or their dentist, their vet, their hairdresser, child soccer coach, their pastor. But nobody knows their pharmacist’s first and last name, and they’re genuinely missing out.

“One of the greatest hidden secrets in American health care today is not enough people know their pharmacist. If you have a pharmacist in your professional life, it can add a lot of value.

“So what I try to share with these groups are pharmacists can save you money. Pharmacists can provide you with peace of mind to make sure you’re taking the right meds on the right day at the right time. And pharmacists can provide you with systems to make sure you’re being safe and smart.

Q: You’ve become more active in politics in the last few years, and right now you’re fundraising treasurer for Jim Tracy (4th District congressional candidate). Why are you in Tracy’s corner?

A: “When I turned 13 years old in 1980, my mom and dad went to Reagan’s inauguration, and I remember being upset with my dad at the time because he missed my 13th birthday to go to this guy’s inauguration. Dad said, ‘One of these days, son, when you get older, you’ll understand there are some bigger things that happen.’

“So right after that, my dad got involved and ran for City Council. The truth is I have been around politics and exposed to it and have been intrigued with the public service sector for 30 years. I really have.

When I got out of pharmacy school in 1994, for the last 20 years, I’ve been actively involved in a lot of campaigns. I’ve done a whole lot more work with candidates than I have with any of the parties, just try to find good people and try to support them.

Most recently, with Jim, I was Jim’s treasurer when he ran for Senate in 2004, and he got elected then, and he’s been elected two more times since then.

“I’ve been friends and a supporter of Jim Tracy for a long time. He and I are cut a lot out of the same cloth. The guy’s committed to faith, family and community, so we don’t have to work real hard to get on the same page with things that are important to us. You won’t find anybody who works any harder than him or is any more accessible than he’s been I think in this district.

“The things he has done for our district as far as hard-working, accessible, a common-sense approach, he’ll take to Washington. I think it’ll be refreshing to have that kind of congressman.’’

Q: Why Tracy over Scott DesJarlais?

A: “You take Congressman DesJarlais, the thing that has really hurt him with most anybody I’m talking to in Republican circles is he’s just lost his effectiveness. We all make bad choices, and he made some bad choices a few years ago, and it’s hurt his effectiveness.

“And what that means in politics, whether you like it or not, it’s the truth, it hurts your ability to raise money. It hurts your ability to recruit talented staff. It hurts your ability to get other congressmen and congresswomen to come along beside you and want to yoke up with you as far as sponsoring bills. It hurts your credibility and your effectiveness, and we can’t have that.

“Middle Tennessee is booming here, and we need to have a congressman that’s able to get things done and keep us on offense.

Q: When are you going to make some sort of political run?

A: “I’m running as hard as I can right now after a big business and three children. However, if Jim Tracy is elected to Congress, I may seriously consider taking a look at his Senate seat. A lot of things need to line up in my life.

“But I’m 46. I’ve been in the private sector for a long time. … Some of the best advice my dad ever gave me was, ‘Son, make your way in the private sector. Raise your family, get educated, serve in the community that you have, in the Chamber (of Commerce), Leadership Rutherford, NFIB, lots of not-for-profits. … Then you will be so much better equipped to make a difference in the public sector.

“I really do buy into the concept of the citizen legislator that originally when our country was founded they wanted men and women to go serve and then go back and work. I’ve been in the private sector for 20 years and I have a very good sense of what it feels like to work aside from underneath the umbrella of the government.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: “I love Rutherford County. I’m a seventh-generation Rutherford Countian. My family has been here since before Tennessee became a state. Interestingly enough, if you came out to my house in Lascassas, my many-great-grandfather is buried about a mile from my house, and I didn’t know that. The Reeves Cemetery is out there near me. But my family has been here for seven generations, and I have a deep, deep love for the people here. It’s a good place to raise a family and a really good place to run a business.

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