Alabama family pharmacy chain Adams Drugs holds its own against the giants

Alabama family pharmacy chain Adams Drugs holds its own against the giants
Lee and Mike Vinson in the Emily B gift shop of their store on Perry Hill Road in Montgomery. The gift shop is named for Mike’s mother, Emily Blakey Vinson. Adams’ other two named gift shops are Periwinkle on Vaughn Road and Emily’s Closet on Copperfield Drive. (Amy Carson Dennis/Alabama Retailer)

“We serve our customers in such a way that we will have the opportunity to do it again,” said Mike Vinson, president of Adams Drugs, a 12-store, family-owned regional pharmacy serving 60,000 patients in the Montgomery area.

“My parents cultivated us and taught us how to take care of our customers,” he said.

Tom and Emily Vinson opened their first pharmacy 58 years ago on Adams Avenue in downtown Montgomery. The Vinson family still operates a store at that location.

“My father opened his second store in 1978 behind Baptist Hospital, and we’ve grown the business since then to 12 locations,” said Mike Vinson, who, along with his wife, Lee, owns the family business. “I thank her for not throwing me out of the house the times I came home and said, ‘I want to open another store,’” he said.

Adams Drugs has eight locations in Montgomery and one each in Prattville, Millbrook, Wetumpka and Pine Level.

Family serving families

The Vinson family lives its company motto, “Our family serving your family since 1962.”

With help from his family and trusted employees, Mike Vinson has turned the Montgomery-based family business he inherited from his father into a 12-store chain that competes well against large chain drug stores. (Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

Tom Vinson died shortly after opening the second pharmacy, leaving his wife and sons, Mike and Blake, to run the business. While Blake Vinson is now retired, Blake’s son, Bo Vinson, is a technician at the Vaughn Road store in Montgomery. Mike and Lee Vinson’s children, Blakey and Scott Vinson, have administrative responsibilities with the pharmacies.

The third generation has “pretty much done everything – deliver, clean commodes. The same things I did when I was growing up,” Mike Vinson said. “I was helping to stock shelves” at age 8,” he said. “I eventually became a clerk, then a delivery man and then a technician.”

 Give them a reason to come back

Customer service sets Adams Drugs apart from other pharmacies, Vinson contends.

“Good customer service is giving the customer what they want and giving it to them when you said you were going to give it to them, and it really helps when you have a smile on your face when you’re doing it,” he said. He asks his more than 150 team members to show compassion to Adams Drugs’ customers who are often dealing with illness and other life stresses.

“They treat our elderly customers like they were their grandparents,” he said. “We’re all about relationships.”

Ninety-five percent of Adams Drugs’ revenue comes from its pharmacies. While all of the stores also sell gifts, three have named gift shops, which attracts customers, especially to the new stores, Vinson said.

“Adams Drugs competes with national chains and somehow makes it work,” said the 2019 Alabama Retailer of the Year judges, who chose Mike and Lee Vinson as the 2019 Gold Retailers of the Year in the Annual Sales More Than $20 Million category.

“Once the customers get to experience the level of customer service we offer, it’s not often that they return to a chain – not by choice, at least,” Vinson explained in his Retailer of the Year entry.

“It means a lot when you walk in our store, and before you even get to the counter, they’ve got your package, your prescription waiting for you.”

The Adams Drugs location on Perry Hill Road is one of the company’s eight Montgomery stores, with four additional stores elsewhere in the Montgomery area. (Nancy King Dennis/Alabama NewsCenter)

Staying well

Adams Drugs’ services don’t extend just to those who are sick.

Adams’ locations also offer wellness screenings and immunizations. During the past two years, wellness screenings have grown 60 percent and the number of flu shots administered has increased 66 percent.

“Our immunization program is really taking off,” Vinson said. “Pharmacies give more flu shots than any other profession. We give more flu shots than doctors, because we have better access to the vaccine and the patient.”

He said some pharmacists, especially newer ones, “don’t want to be counting pills or jumping through hoops to adjudicate claims with insurance companies. They want to help the patient,” and Adams’ wellness programs give them that opportunity.

Hepatitis A exposure at a Montgomery restaurant in February 2019 added that vaccine to the stores’ protocol. “We vaccinated almost 2,700 people in about two months,” Vinson said.

In August, the Alabama Department of Public Health recommended all food service workers be vaccinated for Hepatitis A. “It costs a good bit to get a Hep A shot,” which will keep some from getting the vaccine unless the state requires it, Vinson said.

Adams Drugs has also developed a private label and distributes free vitamins under that label to children between the ages of 3 and 12.

Good neighbors

Besides the health of its customers, Adams Drugs also cares about the well-being of the communities it serves.

“The Vinson family, through Adam Drugs, gives back,” said Willie Durham, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. “They are good neighbors.”

From left, Adams Drugs owner Mike Vinson, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Willie Durham and Rick Brown, president of the Alabama Retail Association. (Nancy King Dennis/Alabama Retailer)

He points to Adams Drugs’ commitment to delivering Meals on Wheels to area shut-ins and sponsoring more than 15 youth sports or cheerleading teams in the Montgomery area.

“They are making a difference, as well as making a living,” the chamber exec said.

Sponsoring youth sports is “the best advertising money we have ever spent,” Vinson said, adding that the family business sponsored its first baseball team the first year it opened. “It is a great investment, because you’re invested in these kids.” Plus, it generates “goodwill with their parents and their grandparents,” he said.

Among Adams Drugs’ many other sponsorships are the March of Dimes Breakfast for Babies program and Hope Inspired Ministries, which offers job and life-skill training for chronically unemployed, poorly educated and low-skilled adults.

Adams Drugs considers customer service and community involvement as company cornerstones.

“You can rest assured that the excellent customer service, friendly employees and community commitment has not changed since 1962,” Vinson said.

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retailer.


THE ESSENTIALS

Founded: November 1962

Number of employees: 156

Mentor: Tom Vinson

Smart move: Taking advantage of opportunities to locate stores where there was a heavy chain presence but no independent pharmacies.

Learning moment: When I came to the realization that the customer pays all the bills and that I needed to give them a reason to come back. My father told me, “The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer.”

Wisdom shared: I tell our employees to be a “giver” rather than a “taker.” Give of your time compassionately to the customer across the counter, because you are probably not aware of what they are dealing with in their life. This world is made up of givers and takers, so choose to be a giver. My favorite quote is, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

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