Benzer Pharmacy helps pharmacists become independent franchisees.
By Mark Lawton, Knighthouse Media
Benzer Pharmacy helps ambitious pharmacists start their own businesses and take on the giants of the industry.
A pharmacist named Alpesh Patel started Benzer Pharmacy in Flint, Mich., in 2009 and later moved the company to Tampa, Fla. Patel originally worked at a chain pharmacy but didn’t care for it.
Vinesh Darji, president of franchise, explains that was because “the constant drive for shareholder performance over patient needs doesn’t benefit customers nor does it give pharmacists the discretion and independence they deserve to service their communities. We still believe in the mom-and-pop style of independent pharmacy.”
By mom-and-pop, Darji means more of a one-on-one relationship between patient and pharmacist and taking the necessary time with patients. Pharmacists employed at chains, Darji says, can be “robotic in their prescription-dispensing role, filling as many as 600 to 800 prescriptions a day and even doing flu shots at the same time. Those pharmacists don’t have any time to left to spend with their patients.”
Benzer takes a different approach. “When we are counseling the patient on side effects or understanding a medication, we will spend the time necessary to understand what the patient issues are,” Darji says. “It could be drug therapy, psychosomatic or maybe they just want to have a chat with someone.”
That’s especially good for patients with complex drug regimens due to chronic disease. “They need additional time, care and understanding,” he says.
“We can usually beat the customer service and sometimes the price of the big-box chains,” Darji adds. “We have pharmacies that are dedicated and patient-centric with the same pharmacist day in and day out.”
Holding Franchisees’ Hands
Franchisees gain several advantages when signing up with Benzer. First, there is the growing benefit of the brand. Second is being part of a buying group. Chain pharmacies can have immense buying power, gaining better prices by buying in bulk. Independent pharmacies do not normally have the leverage of buying strength to get discounted buying prices.
As Benzer has grown, the company has started its own buying group. “Benzer now has the ability to share the cost of goods, helping independent pharmacies get the best pricing” Darji says. “That’s a big deal for up-and-coming franchise owners.”
Lastly, Benzer provides strong support. “We have marketing, HR, clinical services and an IT department,” Darji says. “All our franchise owners are only a phone call away from people to help them in any shape or form.”
That’s important. “They are focused on patient care and improving patient outcomes,” Gina Voneye, vice president of marketing, says of Benzer franchisees. “With a lot of the day-to-day business tasks, Benzer comes in as a solid partner that helps you manage the business side of pharmacy.”
“This is a very low-risk opportunity,” Darji adds. “I think that is appealing to young pharmacists coming out of school.”
For the new franchisee, Benzer strives for a turnkey process. “We hold their hand all the way through the process, whether it’s for an experienced pharmacist who has worked for a big-box chain or a new pharmacist just out of pharmacy school,” Darji says.
The company assists with finding a location, conducting real estate studies about the location and community and aiding in negotiations and contracting processes.
The Benzer franchise team will assist in the application process when submitting to the board of pharmacy and DEA. They can also assist with setting up insurance accounts. The company assists with the pharmacy opening and bringing in programs that will provide extra revenue. Those include counseling for smoking cessation, diabetes management and opiate reduction; immunizations; and a program to supply prescriptions to patients being discharged from a hospital before they leave the premises.
For the last 18 months, the company has worked with a pharmacy management system from Micro Merchants. “PrimeRx has an excellent reporting capability,” Darji says. “A pharmacist can get any sort of reporting they need. It is a good, robust system.”
In 2018, Benzer made it onto Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the United States, with three-year growth of 160 percent. The company also made the Inc. list in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Benzer continues to grow rapidly. On the corporate side, it has 85 locations and aims to have close to 150 stores by summer 2020. “We have seen accelerated growth,” Darji says.
The company has 40 franchise locations and Darji anticipates that number will increase to 60 to 65 franchise stores by the end of summer and close to 100 by the end of 2019. Pretty good for a company that began offering franchises in late 2015. “The pace is speeding up as more people who know about the franchises,” Darji says. “There are pharmacists who are hungry for their own independent business. They work for chains and maybe are disgruntled. They can do something with their career that they went to school for: impart knowledge of pharmacy to help patients.”
The company is planning a new and larger corporate headquarters (Where?) – its fourth – although a timeline has not yet been determined.