Dr. Margaret Sutton, co-owner of McMinnville Drug Center, joined the show to discuss how technology has helped the pharmacy better serve its community. Technology brings faster service, helpful programs, and better care to customers.
Transcripts are lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Karen Wilson: Welcome to the BLC Connection podcast. I’m Karen Wilson and your host for today. These small episodes will focus on local businesses that excel at particular parts of customer care. Today’s guest is Dr. Margaret Sutton from McMinnville Drug. Welcome to The BLC Connection, Dr. Sutton
Margaret Sutton: Thank you so much for having me.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, I’ll call you Margaret from here on out.
Margaret Sutton: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Karen Wilson: That’s how I know you more. But you are a pharmacist. And so I want to give that you are a doctor of pharmacist, correct?
Margaret Sutton: I am doctor of pharmacy.
Karen Wilson: Okay. So McMinnville Drug has been part of the community for a long time. I remember that building there as long as I can remember. Please tell us, I guess, about yourself and the story of the pharmacy’s beginnings.
Margaret Sutton: It is a really interesting story, I think. My dad is Charles Marsh and Whit Taylor, who’s my partner’s father. So we’re a second generation pharmacy. I believe, I don’t know the timeline exactly, but I think they met at Crouch’s Pharmacy downtown probably in the mid seventies. And then from there, I think Whit parted and started McMinnville Drug Center in 1977. My father went on to start working at City Drugstore, and I remember being there. So I was born in 1980, tells you my age that I was young enough in diapers in that store. And then in 1984, my father was asked by Whit to be a partner, and they became partners. So I just I grew up in the pharmacy. As any good mom, my mother would always send me out there if I was a bad girl. So I remember cleaning a lot of floors, washing a lot of windows. From there, my story. I didn’t want to become a pharmacist, even though I helped my father from day to day. In 1995, I started working officially for the pharmacy. I wanted to go to med school. And then when I met my husband, things changed, and I decided I should probably go into pharmacy.
Karen Wilson: That happens sometimes when you meet the love of your life, and you think…
Margaret Sutton: That’s exactly right.
Karen Wilson: Let’s go back and rethink how life looks.
Margaret Sutton: Yeah. So I moved back in 2009. I’ve been here for 15 years.
Karen Wilson: All right. Well, so glad you did come back. McMinnville Pharmacy is such a great resource for the community. Did you kind of like you said, you didn’t always plan on coming back to McMinnville and being part of the pharmacy with your father and all of that. But that just kind of happened, I guess. You start reevaluating things.
Margaret Sutton: I think so. I think I needed time away from McMinnville. So I lived in Richmond for seven years, and I worked there as a hospital pharmacist as well as a hospice pharmacist. And I worked in the retail pharmacy setting. And my dad would call me almost every other month and ask me, Margaret, it’s time. Would you like to come back? Would you like to visit or work? And it took me a couple of years. I had my first child, and I realized the importance of my family. And Zach, my husband, and I came back when 4th of July, and it just kind of clicked. We he was like, we should really be here. This is where your heart is. And so that’s when I came back, and I called my dad and said, “Is that invitation still open?”
Karen Wilson: Oh, I’m sure he was ecstatic.
Margaret Sutton: Yep. They were ready. Yeah, the door’s open, so that was really sweet.
Karen Wilson: Something about having children sometimes makes you realize your hometown and your parents are so important in their well-being. And growing up here and all of those things. Tell us, I guess, how McMinnville Drug processed the pandemic as a business, and what you did to provide new services to your patients, such as vaccinations?
Margaret Sutton: Well, we’ve been vaccinating for years, so that really didn’t change a whole lot. I think if anything, reflecting it would be improved customer service. We really had to reach out and help people. People couldn’t get out of their house because of the quarantining rules. There was extended drive thru curb services that we didn’t usually do. We’d have to initially lock the doors to keep people out because of the fear and afraid of spreading germs. Vaccinations, we’ve been in that service industry for quite a bit. The difference is the state was controlling a lot of the vaccine programs, so we initially decided to become a COVID vaccine provider, which you had to do in order to give out the vaccine. There’s just lots of rules and regulations, things that you would not even believe that we have to do on a day to day basis. Even today, just to keep the vaccines in our pharmacy.
Karen Wilson: Yes. Talk to us about that, because I saw a lot of new technology, I guess, in the pharmacy once you all began the vaccination process.
Margaret Sutton: So initially the vaccine was an issue because you had to have storage issues. The vaccine wasn’t stable at a certain temperature. So it would expire within 30 days, and it was just a lot of waste. So I think the state has finally figured that out. It’s a lot easier now. You can just order a minimum amount, and now they’ve got pharmacies, you can trade out vaccines through the state. So there’s not the wastage that we feared. Because you have to document all the doses. You have to document the doses that you waste. And we didn’t want to, no one wants to waste a dose when there are so many people out there that wanted it. So it was just this fear of losing and trying to get people in. And, you know, but now it’s calmed down, and we can order what we want when we need it. So it’s a good program now.
Karen Wilson: Now, tell us about the team. And I guess that you have at the pharmacy. There’s faces that I’ve seen there for years that are probably pharmacy techs and things like that. And then this second generation of pharmacists, they’re out there. What is your team look like?
Margaret Sutton: So initially, I’ll just to give you a picture, my dad and Whit, I don’t know how they did it. It was just the two of them. And they worked 12 hours a day, every day, Sundays off. And we used to keep two technicians on staff, two maybe three. And they would rotate every single Saturday. And then after their business hours from eight until eight, they would work at the nursing home for another 2 to 3 hours. And they did that for years. I feel like I’ve got the golden ticket now. I’ve got my partner, Lea Street. She works. We split the hours in the week. She works a little bit more than I do. And then we’ve got two other pharmacists. I’ve got a compounding specialist, Kimberly King and Melissa Ming, who’s been with us for, I don’t know, another 15 years. And she helps me with bubble packing. We also keep at least seven or eight technicians staffed daily. That’s part of what we do. We want to make sure people come in and out, and they aren’t waiting on this, you know, busy day to day. Everyone’s busy. So but that’s kind of what our day to day looks like now compared to 30 or 40 years ago.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, I have noticed there’s lots of people in there. You all are staying very busy. The drive-thru is really quick though. You guys get people in and out pretty quickly.
Margaret Sutton: We try too. Especially, like you said with COVID, we’ve gotten pretty good at that. A lot of people just want to use drive-thru now, which is just safer and more efficient than coming in.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, that’s true. Because a lot of people sitting around with illness and things like that is not something you all need to be exposed to, and you don’t want your customers being exposed to that.
Margaret Sutton: Right. Well, with COVID, I think there’s a hyper awareness of that. Whereas before, we didn’t really think about the little viruses that we had and coming in and out and touching things, we didn’t really think about that. But now with COVID, I think there’s just, oh, okay, maybe this could be COVID. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not. I’ll just go through the drive-thru today.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, yeah, I know. Keypads such as ATMs and gas pumps and things like that. Take on a whole new…
Margaret Sutton: Credit cards. Yes.
Karen Wilson: That gets you thinking a lot more about that. So thank you, Margaret. We will take a short break and jump into our marketing minute, but more great conversation to come on how technology and family pharmacy go hand in hand on the BLC Connection Podcast.
Karen Wilson: Moving a multi-generational business forward can be difficult. Whether it’s a family legacy or you have purchased a longstanding business, the challenge is still there. How do you maintain the parts that customers know and love while moving it forward? First, evaluate with open eyes what the business has done well over the years. Customer relations. Solid branding. Community involvement. Make sure to keep these good parts. That’s probably what your business is known for. Second, take a realistic look at the things you need to change. Does your building need updating? Do you need to utilize more technology to give your customers a better experience? Do you need more help or extended hours? Make a plan, a timeline and a budget for implementing these changes. This includes relaying the plans to your employees and getting their buy-in. As you get ready to implement changes, tell your customers to anticipate the upgrades. This gives them something to look forward to and keeps you accountable. Finally, once the improvements have been made, market them, put the upgrades in your ads and on social media. Make a big deal out of them. Don’t let them go unnoticed. Running a multi-generational or longstanding business is an honor and a legacy to your community. Keeping it healthy is a must, which includes maintaining the good parts while moving forward. I’m Karen Wilson, and this is your BLC Marketing Minute.
Karen Wilson: We are back with Dr. Margaret Sutton, one of the owners and pharmacists at McMinnville Drug. Let’s pick up with how technology has changed your pharmacy, how it operates and how technology benefits your customers.
Margaret Sutton: It has changed so much over the years. The first thing I think about, most people don’t think about, is when the pharmacist perspective technology to provide drug information, calculations, drug disease, interactions, things like that, that it’s been very beneficial. In a hot minute, you can get on your phone and everything’s right there. And a different perspective with technology, you used to be able to just walk in with a prescription. That doesn’t really happen that much now. We see electronic prescriptions of everything is regulated. Everything has to be electronic now. You very rarely see any paper prescriptions come in. That’s good and bad. The good is well, there’s the access to the drug information is about the best part of it. But now I feel like we’re turning into intervention specialists because with electronic prescriptions, not everyone knows where their prescription is being sent. They’re miss sent a lot. Sometimes we leave the doctor’s office and not know we have prescriptions being sent. Sometimes the correct data is not inputted. So we have incorrect information, and people with phones and they buy by the minute, and their phone numbers change frequently. So communication is like a huge part of modern technology now. So we’re constantly trying to be the interventionist, you know, where’s your prescription? Did you know your prescriptions changed? You know, no, I did not know that. So I feel like there’s a negative side to everything. So it’s good because it’s quick and fast. I know for doctors they can work from home, which is awesome. And then people don’t have to be responsible for holding on to prescription. But there’s just something really nice about having a tangible piece of paper as well. There’s no confusion there. You got it. And you’re going to walk it to where you want to go, and then it gets filled. But now it’s like, Oh, well, I thought it was sent there. So we have to intervene and try to figure out where it is. But it’s been like that for a few years, so we’re getting better at it.
Karen Wilson: But yeah, well, I would be the customer that would lose their paper prescription. So I love the automatic. Hey, we’re sending it to your pharmacy. Most doctors will confirm where you want it to go to and that type thing. But yeah, I guess there has to be more almost communication between you and the doctor checking back and forth.
Margaret Sutton: And then it’s changed to if you were in the hospital, staying in the hospital, and then being discharged and the communication between the hospital and then your PCP and the specialist, there’s a lot of confusion there as well. So the pharmacy at least, it’s just trying to pull information from every end to keep it consistent.
Karen Wilson: But I can see how important it is, like you said, with the drug interactions and studying up on new medicines and things like that, how that wealth of information being out there instead of having to probably pull out this book, you know, that could be outdated and stuff.
Margaret Sutton: Most softwares will screen, and of course we’re screening at the same time for all those things. But you’re also, we’re doing more of the outside screening where, you know, some people go to multiple pharmacies. It’s just convenient that way. We’re having to try to find the information we want to make sure that they’re getting the right thing and it’s safe for them.
Karen Wilson: Right. Well, and as we age, you get on more and more prescriptions, things interact and stuff like that. So I will say it’s probably best to stick with one pharmacy, and if you’ve possible to get it filled at that one.
Margaret Sutton: Consistency is very helpful and nice for, most pharmacists would appreciate that.
Karen Wilson: Yes. And it’s probably healthier for us, too.
Margaret Sutton: It is.
Karen Wilson: Because if there is a possibility of interaction, you guys are going to catch it.
Margaret Sutton: Well, which I think is nice about local stores, too. It’s just it’s nice to be able to speak with someone. And we got the mail order industries. We’ve got Doctor Google and Google packaging and things like that, which is great and convenient. But there’s something about having that conversation that just prompts people to think, Oh, yes. You know, like, I need to be accountable for the things that my doctor told me. And I need to go and check my medicine cabinet because I feel like I’ve got something in there that I shouldn’t be taking. So it’s just a nice little extra step to have your local pharmacist to talk to.
Karen Wilson: Yes, I agree. You guys are so helpful and so available to talk to customers and do a fabulous job at kind of going above and beyond. I’ve had several, you know, that, hey, you’re sick if you need us to get your prescription to you or something like that, you guys really go above and beyond in that measure.
Margaret Sutton: Well, I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. If I walk in, I just need education and that helps everyone.
Karen Wilson: So another factor, I guess, that has changed the face of pharmacy is the opioid epidemic. How do you all work with patients, doctors and even law enforcement to kind of mitigate this problem and keeping it from spreading in our community?
Margaret Sutton: Yeah. Our hands are so tied with the opioid epidemic. We are required to fill all prescriptions that are given to us. So the way we help is to police these situations. If we feel that there is a suspicious doctor, which really doesn’t happen that much anymore, then we can navigate that and to the Board of Pharmacy and the board of Pharmacy or the medical board as well. If we see a suspicious prescription, because that still happens now. We have fake call ins quite often and because you can still legally call in prescriptions on certain things. So if I were to see something suspicious, and we do work with the local police enforcement and see what strategies they have. And it’s just it’s different. You have to step on a lot of I feel like eggshells is your, you know, you’ve got to protect health information, and you don’t want to accuse someone of doing something they shouldn’t be doing. And but for the most part, patient education for the opioid epidemic, because there’s certainly a lot of medications designed to help people function now, and that is good. But there’s still a lot of education and abuse that occurs even with these medications.
Karen Wilson: So, well, that’s been a sad thing. People that you, older adults and everybody, if a doctor prescribed you something, you took it. Usually you didn’t question and that I think society has learned a lot from that time frame and probably a lot of rules have been set that used to not be there.
Margaret Sutton: Yes. I can’t remember how many years ago, I feel like four or five before they required, the state required, a diagnosis code. Before that on a prescription if I saw a prescription, I would have to call in and police. And that’s just embarrassing. Because you don’t want to second guess the doctor. That’s their job. But I would have to call, do you think 90 tablets is appropriate for a broken ankle? You know, and you don’t know the full story. So it’s just it was a horrible relationship and a broken relationship. But now there are rules and regulations having to put a diagnosis code like that, having electronic prescriptions like that. We know they’re safe and guarded, and it’s hard to break that.
Karen Wilson: I will say, you know, in thinking through that, that type of thing, I think about, you know, used to, you had to have a lot of security and things like that at like, say, a jewelry store or something. But pharmacies, you’ve all have had to step into a higher level of security because you’re dealing with a lot of medications that are very valuable. And people tend to want to to have those to sell or whatever they want to do with them. But I guess you all have had to really step up your security.
Margaret Sutton: Yes. It’s always a you know, it’s always in the back of your mind, safe keeping and making sure everything’s not, you know, unlocked. Everything’s safe. So it’s definitely scary. It’s a part of our day to day life. It’s not going to change. I don’t ever foresee that going away.
Karen Wilson: No, no, I agree with that. And I tend to think that you all have done a great job with that. That’s just part of the culture that we’re in right now.
Margaret Sutton: Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but.
Karen Wilson: So as a final question, we’ll go back to some of the uplifting things about pharmacy. It’s all good, but you all have had a serious job to take care of us with COVID and the opioid crisis. So I did want to touch on that. But what are some of the things you are most proud of as the owner of a second generation, locally owned pharmacy?
Margaret Sutton: I would think that, you know, when you go into pharmacy school, you’re wanting to to care. You’re learning about a profession that we want to do. But owning a business is a completely different cookie altogether. So I think I’m most proud. I think Lea and I both are very proud of the fact that we’ve kept it rolling in service this long. We’ve had some big shoes to fill. Our fathers laid a solid foundation, and of course, they guided us through the first part of our transition ever to owning the business. But today, I’m very proud of the fact that we’re still functioning and thriving, and we’re still making our fathers happy. There are a lot of programs that they didn’t do that we have done. We started a vaccination program. We are a specialty pharmacy, compounding pharmacy right now. We do hormone compounding and vet compounding, a lot of individualized compounding, which is neat. They just didn’t have the time or structure to do that just between the two pharmacists. And then another big program that we have that I’m passionate about is our bubble packing. And a lot of pharmacies do that, but I love it because it’s just more one on one contact with your customers.
Karen Wilson: Tell us about that. I don’t know if I’m familiar with bubble packing.
Margaret Sutton: It’s for people who just either, (a) don’t want to deal with all their medicines that they’re taking or managing, or people that are having memory issues. Some state homes that we work with, they’re required by law to have their medications packaged. It’s like a 31 day card, and we organize all the medicines to be filled on the same day. And so we don’t automatically fix these up. We call every month, check in on you. We take care of all the refills, if there’s any gaps. There’s a lot of conversation to be had. If there’s changes in medication. So we have to intervene. So we pretty much just are like your personal pharmacy managers. As a side to people that just need their prescriptions, go in and get it. But we’re literally, you know, involved deeply in your lives and how you take your medicine. We can see at the end of the month how well you’re doing if you’re missing your nighttime medicines. Should we adjust some to the morning? Are we falling asleep before we’re taking your medicine? So it really has helped people like have an awareness of, wow, well, okay, this is why I’m not getting any better, you know, so.
Karen Wilson: Well, and two, I think now there are so many people out there whose family do not live here, or live in small communities to help keep mom and dad or grandpa or grandma on their medication properly. That’s a wonderful resource.
Margaret Sutton: Yes. I’ve had, my mom will probably kill me for this, but she was one of those. No, no, Margaret, I’m like, Mom, let me help you. And now she’s just like, hold up the bubble packing sign. I had another gentleman. I love him to death. He and his wife is now passed. But for months I would ask him, please, please, just let me help you. I know you don’t want me to. It’s just a loss of control. I would love to help you. And months, he would just say no, no, no. And we would just go through this whole rigmarole. And then one day he comes in with a sack full of medicine, just slams it down and walks out of the pharmacy. I’m like, I won! I won! I was so excited, and he loved it. After that, he’s like, I can’t believe I fought you for so many months. But he’s like, I see, now that you’re trying to help me. I’m not trying to lose control because you really haven’t lost control. There’s still a whole lot of talking to be had. It’s just a structured and organizing. So we do this, we do a lot of bubble packs.
Karen Wilson: Well, and they have access to you all when they may not always have readily available appointments with their doctor. They can call you if their medicine’s making them feel strange, or if it’s counteracting with something else that they’re taking.
Margaret Sutton: Well, and it forces them to have these conversations, because a lot of times they don’t. You know, and now that they’re in this, you know, constant communication on the daily with me, it’s just nice. And so that’s my favorite part of the pharmacy right now.
Karen Wilson: That’s a big step. That’s a lot of work on your part.
Margaret Sutton: It is a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. Just to see, you know, with someone like becoming adherent and being successful. Or taking their medicine and not feeling stressed as they were before. Or feeling like they were walking out like a pill factory, which we don’t want anyone to feel like that. You know, you have to to live day by day, and some people have to take medicine, and some people come off of it even after being on it for months.
Karen Wilson: So well, as we get older, it’s one of those facts of life. Nobody likes to take a lot of medicine, but it’s just part of hopefully maintaining our health and staying out of the hospital, staying out of the nursing home, so we can live independently as long as possible.
Margaret Sutton: Yes.
Karen Wilson: Thank you, Dr. Margaret Sutton for being a guest on this special edition of the BLC Connection podcast. We invite our listeners to tune in for future episodes and share this content with other businesses. Until next time, this is your BLC Connection.