By Joann Mackenzie
---- — Alex Doyle and Bill Caperci were Eagle Scouts — and it shows.
Their shared commitment to personal community service, says Doyle, is what’s enabled the two men — founding partners in Railroad Avenue’s Conley’s Drugstore — to grow an impressively large, loyal, local customer base in just two short years, and — as of New Year’s Day 2013 — double their retail space.
The Eagle Scout ethic, adds Doyle, drives Conley’s to take on missions impossible for local mega chains to match in order to meet all manner of specific customer needs.
Case in point? This past New Year’s, Doyle — who regularly hand delivers medications to elderly customers’ homes — made an emergency run to Ipswich to source ingredients for a pediatric anti-viral medication that was unavailable locally due to the recent alarming spike in flu cases.
Conley’s specializes in customizing compounds, so Doyle was able to take those ingredients and, wielding a good old fashioned mortar & pestle, replicate a prescription specific formula of that pediatric anti-viral, to personally meet a sick child’s urgent need for medication on a national holiday.
When Conley’s first opened its Railroad Avenue Shop in August 2010, it was new to Gloucester, but it wasn’t new to Cape Ann. In Ipswich, Conley’s had been an established presence and trusted brand since the 1880s, when it was founded by the Branyard family.
In 1996, it was bought by Alex Doyle’s parents, pharmacists Richard and Marlene Doyle. And in 2010, following the closure of Gloucester’s own long-established and much beloved Connor’s— Alex Doyle saw the opportunity to fill the void left by Connor’s, and, together with Caperci, who’d worked as a pharmacist at Gloucester’s Eaton Pharmacy, signed a lease on 2,000 square feet of retail space next to Shaw’s on Railroad Avenue.
For 20 months, the two partners worked without pay, all the while holding second jobs.
“It was tough,” says Doyle, “but it was all worth it.”
Against what some might call the formidable competition of Main Street’s CVS and Walgreen’s, Conley’s not only succeeded but exceeded early expectations — to a point where, says Doyle, expansion soon became a necessity. With 2,000 square feet of vacant space sitting handily next door, leases were signed, walls came down, shelves went up, and Conley’s doubled its retail presence to some 4,000 square feet.
“We broke ground on the expansion in October 2012,” recalls Doyle, “and using all local contractors and suppliers, were up and running in time for the new year.”
“Local” is a key word in Doyle’s vocabulary.
“We have no desire to follow or compete with the national franchise model,” says the UMass trained pharmacist, “Our model is the ‘TRIAD’ of patient, prescriber, pharmacist.”
The TRIAD model, he says, is what accounts for why consumer research reveals local, independent pharmacists to be the most trusted members of the health care profession.
Although its newly doubled space vastly expands Conley’s inventory of over-the-counter medications and non-medical merchandise, its core identity remains its five licensed staff pharmacists, all of whom were also trained in compounding in Houston’s Professional Compounding Centers of America.
Some 5 percent of Conley’s prescription business is in custom compounding —an invaluable niche category that recently became a sudden cause for local customer concern and confusion when a tragic trail of national meningitis deaths led back to Massachusetts, where a compounding facility —the New England Compounding Center in Framingham — was identified as the source of a contaminated injectable steroid used to relieve chronic spinal pain.
“The confusion and concern is understandable,” says Doyle, but basically “there’s no comparison between what we do here and the kind of high-volume ‘manufacturing’ of compounded product” distributed over state lines by that now notorious laboratory (17,676 vials of the spinal steroid had been shipped to 75 clinics in 23 states, according to Massachusetts and federal health officials).
Conley’s compounding is, in fact, regulated under an entirely different chapter of U.S. Pharmacopia (USP 795) and is fulfilled by individual prescription, a good example of which is the emergency pediatric antiviral replicated by Doyle this past New Years Day.
Custom compounding can also, explains Doyle, be an invaluable tool in wound, infection and ulcerative skin care, enabling pharmacists to, for instance, blend transdermal topical treatments that can increase blood flow to help regrow tissue in affected areas, to speed the regrowth of healthy tissue and prevent limb amputation.
A big slice of Conley’s compounding customer base is four-footed, primarily dogs, cats, horses. Animal dosage requirements vary more greatly than humans, and veterinarians rely on customized compounding.
Although Doyle is proud of Conley’s compounding capabilities, there is, he says, “so much more to what we offer.”
Free RX delivery for one. And, in the works now for kids, free multivitamins — an ongoing program open to all, that will be launched shortly with raffles and prizes. Conley’s also offers a free, private consultation room. And a large slice of Conley’s pie is in medical, surgical and Eldercare equipment.
Almost 30 percent of Gloucester’s population is over 65, according to the latest U.S. Census figures, and Doyle, who frequently makes himself available for free consultation to seniors at the Rose Baker Senior Center, also works closely with care givers and geriatric healthcare professionals, to source specific equipment and needs for next day delivery.
“What we do,” says Doyle, “can be as simple as custom blending multiple lotions for an elderly patient’s complex skin care needs, or flavoring prescription pediatric cough syrup to make it more palatable for a sick kid.”
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at email@example.com.