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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 5 years ago

Hiring Dad

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Hiring his father to deliver prescription drugs for Cypress Pharmacy was one of TJ DePaola's best business decisions.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Business: Cypress Pharmacy

Generations: Tom DePaola and his son, TJ DePaola

Family Ties: Hiring relatives for hard-to-fill and trustworthy positions can be a good business decision.

Tom DePaola was used to being the Big Boss.

After all, the Cape Coral man and his wife, Debi DePaola, built a successful residential construction company and ran it for 30 years before selling it in 2009.

“I was hard-nosed,” says DePaola, a gruff New Englander with a lingering Massachusetts accent. Fact is, you've got to have thick skin when you deal with the tough characters working in construction.

But today, Tom DePaola, 57, is the super-friendly deliveryman for his son's business, Cypress Pharmacy in Fort Myers. “I just want you to tell me what to do,” he told his son TJ DePaola, 36.

Turns out, hiring dad was one of the best decisions TJ DePaola made. After graduating from pharmacy school, the younger DePaola started working at Cypress Pharmacy in 2002 under an apprenticeship program that earned him the opportunity to buy the business from previous owner Bo Shipley in 2008.

TJ DePaola started his dad at about $20 an hour for five to six hours a day to deliver medications and collect money from customers and help around the store. Now, dad works 10- to 12-hour days and he even got a raise. “Everybody calls me dad,” Tom DePaola laughs. “I do sales. I do deliveries. I go to Costco. I take customers out to the car and hold the door.”

The biggest adjustment for the elder DePaola was dressing each day with the Cypress Pharmacy polo shirt and logo cap. “I never liked to dress up,” he grumbled.

But a heart attack in 2009 made Tom DePaola re-evaluate things, agreeing to work for his son and take a small stake as an investor in the business. “This is the nicest thing that's happened to me,” he says, smiling broadly.

For TJ DePaola, having his dad deliver prescription drugs and handle money is a relief because finding trustworthy drivers has been one of the most difficult positions to fill. There have been about 15 different drivers at Cypress Pharmacy since TJ started because previous drivers pilfered drugs and weren't effective at collecting payment from customers. “Some people think he's my brother,” TJ DePaola says of his dad.

Tom DePaola has been a wonder for Cypress Pharmacy's customer relations, too. While TJ DePaola is busy filling prescriptions and overseeing the eight-person staff, his gregarious dad has time to chat with customers.

When he's making deliveries Tom DePaola takes the time to visit with elderly customers at retirement homes, hamming it up with residents who often get lonely. Frequently, they'll invite him for food, drinks and the occasional ice cream social. “They all have TVs and sports bars,” he laughs.

Tom DePaola hands customers his business card and brings cookie baskets for the retirement-home staff or a rose for a resident's birthday. “They know they can call me,” he says in a reassuring tone.
He visits retirement homes so frequently that people recognize him immediately. “A lot of them think I'm the maintenance guy,” he chuckles. “You have to build their trust.”

Dad isn't the only one helping out at Cypress Pharmacy, either. TJ's two younger brothers Chris, 25, and Matt, 33, work in the business, too. Chris handles the information technology and Matt is the chief financial officer.

The DePaolas say the reason they work well together is each family member has a specific job to do and they never talk about business at home. “I can trust them, and I know they'll do a good job,” says TJ DePaola, who has the final say on everything in the business. “I'm the licensed manager of the store,” he says.

“Right or wrong, we back him,” Tom DePaola says. “If you can't trust your kids and family to back you, you can't trust anybody.”

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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