If you like your antibiotics flavored with tuna, chicken or beef, John Dobbs is your pharmacist.
Specially prepared prescriptions for pets is big business for Pharmicare in Fort Myers. “We filled 60 prescriptions yesterday and 20 of them were for pets,” says Dobbs, the pharmacy's owner, at a recent interview.
Dobbs and his business partners opened Pharmicare one year ago and they've carved out some niches, such as specialty pet medications, which is now 20% of total sales. It's a lucrative business: Pet owners pay cash for pet prescriptions that can run from $30 to $100 each.
But pet medicine is just one area of growth for entrepreneurial pharmacists like Dobbs. For example, he's working on a plan to create vitamin supplements tailored to your genetic makeup.
When he opened Pharmicare a year ago on busy Daniels Parkway near Gulf Coast Medical Center hospital, Dobbs anticipated more business than he initially got. “Build it and they will come is definitely
not true,” he chuckles.
Dobbs billed Pharmicare as an alternative to the big drugstore chains, but most people today don't remember the personal service that locally owned neighborhood pharmacies delivered, and it's proved difficult to change consumer habits. “Trying to brand was a challenge,” he says.
One way the pharmacy promotes itself is by advertising in a local monthly publication called The Corridor. Each month, Dobbs says he spends $800 to buy an ad in the publication that serves 21,000 homes and businesses on the Daniels Parkway corridor.
When sales of durable medical equipment weren't as strong as he expected, Dobbs shifted to selling natural vitamins and homeopathic treatments. In particular, Dobbs says most of that business comes from women looking for natural alternatives to hormone-replacement medications. “No one's doing that,” Dobbs says. “It's the new niche. We retooled everything to be natural medicine.”
Pharmicare has partnered with Metagenics, a manufacturer of high-grade nutritional supplements, to sell supplements inside its store and online with the help of Internet marketing firm iPartner Media in Bonita Springs. “The revenues could be huge,” Dobbs says.
Stan Headley, a board-certified naturopathic physician, joined Pharmicare last year to help expand that business. “We're taking over the space next door for a lab,” Dobbs says.
One of the most promising ventures is a line of vitamins tailored to your genetic makeup. That's important for medical conditions such as macular degeneration, for which three different vitamins are recommended depending on your DNA.
The additional space will allow Pharmicare to increase its mail-order compounding business, create a larger area for consultations and seminars for corporations on natural and preventative medicine. Dobbs says the expansion could help it more than double annual sales to $3 million this year.
Canadian physician and angel investor John Stickney helped Dobbs start the business a year ago, and Dobbs says Pharmicare will begin paying him back his $300,000 investment in March and then a percentage of the profits for the next five years.
For now, Dobbs says Pharmicare doesn't plan to seek more investors. “We're trying to do it ourselves and keep debt down,” he says.
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss