Ellie Darj, Corner Market & Pharmacy, Silver Spring, MD

After earning her pharmacy degree outside of the U.S., Ellie Darj secured a position within a large retail chain pharmacy. She quickly climbed the management ladder and focused on operations and the broader scope of the pharmacy industry, including staff training, understanding the supply chain and patient services. With her desire to increase her focus on patient care, she set in motion the process to open her own pharmacy.

Networking within her metropolitan region led to a meeting with a local grocery store owner with whom she planted the idea of adding a pharmacy to the store. Combining the help of mentors, an investor and savings, she launched her first pharmacy in 2006. “There weren’t many female owners in the business when I started, but I have certainly seen that change over the past decade,” said Ellie. “I was fortunate to have mentors, a strong family support system and the finances to get started.”

Management matters

Ellie’s passion for knowing her customers and giving the highest level of patient care possible is a large part of her success. She instills that passion in her staff at all levels. “Training is important if you want to have a committed staff that can care for a patient as you would do yourself,” said Ellie. “We’re like a family here and that is reflected in our relationships with our patients and each other.”

Success has come from long-term support staff and what Ellie said is an approach that relies on “working with my team, not above them.” She concentrates on training that addresses “why we do what we do” and how the extra work brings reward through patient loyalty, provider trust and professional fulfillment. With a robust training approach to management, she is able to minimize micro-managing staff so she can enjoy life, too.

Ownership strategy for growth

Ellie currently owns three pharmacies in the Washington, DC suburbs. Even with the broad responsibilities that come with ownership, finding a work/life balance and time to strategize for the future of the business is critical. She found value utilizing the resources of McKesson’s RxOwnership® solutions and advisors to evaluate local demographics, develop business plans, find professional service partners, and help in determining high-potential locations for growing her business.

“Ownership has allowed me not only to enjoy time with family and outside activities such as travel, but also to invest the time to build a staff I can trust to get the day-to-day work done,” said Ellie. This approach allows her to put energy into developing, expanding and improving patient services from compounding to lunch-and-learn sessions at a local assisted living home.

Ellie’s strategy going forward includes meeting challenges common to other independent pharmacies, including lower reimbursements, drug price changes, securing funding, and the need to add growth services such as med sync, MTM and compounding. To accomplish these goals, she’ll rely on both her staff and resources available through McKesson and its partners.

Mentorship works

Mentorship from others helped Ellie make the leap into independent pharmacy ownership, and she now gives back by speaking on conference panels, including one coordinated by RxOwnership at Howard University. “It’s important to focus on staff training, choose management carefully, and build close employee relationships that enhance their skills and commitment so that you can help them succeed, and give back to those starting out in the business,” said Ellie.

Ellie has mentored more than a dozen local students or recent graduates through a sponsored internship program at her pharmacies. She encourages those looking at their options in pharmacy to learn what part of the business is best for them, from retail pharmacy ownership to roles at institutional clinics or chains.

Advice for future pharmacy owners

Ellie suggests students and graduates utilize resources such as RxOwnership and attend classes or conferences on small business management skills. “I want to encourage everyone starting out in the business to follow their dreams of ownership and not be afraid to take the leap if it is right for them,” said Ellie. “Ownership offers the rewards and advantages of a flexible schedule and daily interactions with patients, as well as financial independence.”

Ellie remains active in the industry through participation at conferences and networking events at local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce, International Women in Business, and other local women’s business associations.