Member Monday-Marion Pharmacy
Threaded through the fabric of America’s Main Streets are the hearts and dreams of families much like the Marion Pharmacy Family.
Opened in April of 1962 by pharmacist Bill Howle, this mountain cornerstone of American tenacity and ingenuity has been caring for the health and well-being of generations of McDowell residents for 58 years.
Bill, who passed in April of 2010, set the standard of care and service that continues today. He invested as much in the relationships with customers as he did in dispensing medicine and worked in the store long after retirement. Keeping the business a family affair, his son-in-law Fred Rabon joined him in 1976 and in 1987 another son-in-law, Tom McMahan, joined the operation. Bill believed, and his sons-in-law do as well, that each customer is a neighbor and friend that deserve fair, honest, and dependable prescription services.
“He knew them by name, remembered their children’s names,” says Store Manager Samantha Allison. “He taught us by how he treated customers like friends and family.”
One can see that relationships and health receive equal attention at Marion Pharmacy and they live out what they believe by going the extra mile. Never has it been more evident than in today’s virtual and unpredictable world the importance of genuine relationships and taking care of our health. As Covid-19 rudely commandeered our year, followed closely by anxiety and apprehension, its invasion into our ordered days forced a serious recalibration of our priorities. Priorities that have been constant in this small town, Mainstreet business.
Having a trusted relationship with your pharmacist is the pathway to better health. Pharmacy Manager Kristen Kelly has been with them for 10 years. A graduate of McDowell High and Chapel Hill, she received her Doctor of Pharmacy and loves the interaction with customers and knowing she can help them. “I wanted to do something in medicine, and I had a relative that was a pharmacist,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just the small things like being able to save someone money. I remember sitting down with a lady to help her review her Medicare plan and we were able to save her $30 a month. For her that meant being able to buy groceries!”
19-year veteran store manager Samantha, adds that when you know your customers, know the medications they are taking, you are able to provide whole health services. “We are a unique pharmacy experience. We do things differently,” she says. “Building a rapport is so important because it humanizes the experience and makes you appreciate them when you know their situation.” The pharmacists take the extra care to call a customer’s doctor if they see a possible issue with medication interactions because they not only know the prescriptions-often from different doctors-but the vitamins and supplements that can have negative impacts when combined. “We want our customers to feel comfortable calling with questions knowing we have 58 years of experience,” Kristen says. “We recently had a lady come in experiencing pain. Tom called her doctor to see if there was anything we could do safely to help her and he took the time to drive her home.”
This level of professionalism and care is never easy to maintain in any business. Samantha and Kristen both admit that it is difficult when dealing with insurance filings and paperwork but the reality, they say, is that they never want to lose that empathy and desire to help, however the opportunity presents itself. They credit Bill Howle and his sons-in-law for setting the standards high and their ongoing commitment to seeing each customer as a neighbor and friend. Kristen adds that 75-80% of their customers are generational customers—whole families that they know by name. A great example of that caring spirit is Starling Hollifield who handles the deliveries for the store and customers love him!
“He spends time with them,” says Samantha. “He’ll help them take out their trash or just talk with them. Sometimes he might be the only person they see all day.” They require their interns to make deliveries with Hollifield so that they can see and experience their customers as not just an order number but someone’s grandmother, a grandpa, a dad, or brother or sister—a neighbor deserving of care and respect.
“We understand there are other places they can go,” adds Samantha. “We appreciate their trust and are invested in the safety and health of every customer.”
Along with prescription services and free delivery, they provide medication counseling and planning to keep customers on track with their medicine. “We are not just putting pills in a bottle,” says Kristen. “We monitor their prescriptions, help them with Medicare, work with them to find discounts, and even make phone calls on their behalf because we care.”
Samantha also works hard to keep the store stocked with everything from toothpaste to bug spray and bandages. They stock medical supplies including wheelchairs, walkers, support hose, diabetic shoes and provide adult vaccines. An in-house discount card helps customers save more and the staff work with customers on pricing when they can.
The owners and staff at Marion Pharmacy operate on what I call servant leadership, which provides the best one has to offer for both the company and the customer. Despite the disruption of the Coronavirus that had many companies letting staff go, all 23 staff members stayed on, worked diligently with strength and integrity, Samantha says. “We have an amazing staff, especially during Covid-19,” adds Kristen. “I am so impressed. They didn’t miss a beat and rallied to the cause.”
As each of us considers the importance of our health during this time, remember the value of relationships as well. Be confident knowing your entrusting your health and well-being to a staff that makes you a priority each and every day.
Marion Pharmacy has two locations, 232 S. Main Street downtown (828.625.4661) and 2293 Sugar Hill Road (828.652.2700) in West Marion. Visit their site at marionpharmacy.com.