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'Feet on the Street'

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Dulcy Kushmore decorated commercial space and offices in Philadelphia, and, along with her husband, ran a bed and breakfast and a steakhouse on St. Croix for a decade.

One job, interior design, grew boring. The other, cottages in the Caribbean, grew stressful. Somewhere in the middle lies Kushmore's latest gig: She runs Sarasota-based Canada Med Services/Discount Prescription Services, which offers access to prescription medications from Canada at discount prices.

The company is essentially a middleman in the complex and convoluted drug industry. It connects customers who can't afford a medication, from any nationality, with a pharmacy in Canada, where many drug prices are drastically cheaper than the United States. “We take the stress out,” says Samantha Hobbs, Kushmore's daughter, who helps run the business.
“We help you navigate the process.”

Kushmore, 71, founded the company, which earns a referral fee from the pharmacy on every prescription it provides, in 2003. It has since had a topsy-turvy decade of fast growth followed by major contraction — the result of several shifts in regulations and policies in the pharmaceutical and health care industries. The federal health care law, for one, was a boost because it brought in a new wave of customers. But a 2006 law that added prescription benefits to Medicare nearly crushed the company. “We lost 70% of our business overnight with that change,” Kushmore says.

Revenues at the six-employee firm have mostly been in the high-six figures the last few years; company officials decline to release specific sales data. Kushmore projects 2016 will be a big growth year for the business, particularly given the recent rapid rise of drug prices. Says Kushmore: “It's just unbelievable how much prices have gone up.”

There are a few other companies in Florida, and on the Gulf Coast, which provide this kind of prescription sourcing. Hobbs says Canada Med Services has been able to survive and outdo competitors because it approaches the industry from a service side, not a commodity. “We are a niche,” says Hobbs, 48. “We want people to use all their resources before they come here.”

A typical customer is someone unable to obtain medications from a doctor or insurer, for a variety of reasons, from costs to logistics. The customer, with a valid prescription, orders the drugs through Canada Med Services but the credit card or check goes straight to the pharmacy. The firm works with nine pharmacies across Canada.

Medications are then shipped directly to the customer. Canada Med Services does not work with medicines that require injections or controlled meds, such as methadone or oxycodone.

The obstacles the firm faces to grow have little to do with pharmaceutical companies or intricate government regulations. The crux of the challenge, instead, at Canada Med Services is the everyman task for small business owners: branding and marketing.

A big issue is Canada Med Services, due to agreements with the pharmacies it works with in Canada, can't utilize social media or even have its own website. That's because the pharmacies don't want to be connected to the Internet side of the industry, where some players allegedly skirt regulations to get even cheaper meds, faster.

With that marketing avenue taken away, Hobbs and Kushmore have to get creative. The firm sponsors events, hosts seminars and works regularly with area charities. The mother-daughter duo are also busy networkers, involved with area chambers and other groups. And they cold call doctors around town to let them know about the company's services. “We are about as grassroots as you can get,” Hobbs says. “It's a lot of feet on the street.”

Kushmore, after her diverse entrepreneurial career, says it's easy to get passionate about Canada Med Services. “It's a really neat business,” says Kushmore. “You can't not be happy when you help people, and that's what we do.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon



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