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Lula drugstore provides medicine with a human touch
Pharmacists go from retail chain to local ownership
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Pharmacists Amy Miller, right, and Karen Bowling left their careers at a chain store pharmacy to go into business for themselves. The two recently purchased Lula Pharmacy, which serves the Lula and nearby Banks County communities.

LULA -- In five years, Amy Miller has come to know her customers. She knows the names of their children and grandchildren and often can recall from memory what medications they have taken.

Miller and her business partner, Karen Bowling, are the owners of Lula Pharmacy. Both women came to the local drugstore after working for a number of years in pharmacies owned by national retailers.

"It's important to know your customers and we're able to do that," said Miller, who worked at the store for five years before deciding to buy it. "It feels like you're really taking care of their family."

The tiny town by the railroad track is 10 miles away from the nearest doctor's office. It's the kind of place where residents and their pharmacist are on a first-name basis.

"We have the time to talk to people," Bowling said. "Sometimes people who aren't customers will call us because they know we're available."

Both women say they like the slower pace, as opposed to the higher-volume stores where personal contact is limited by time.

For customers with drug benefits on their health insurance plan, the cost of doing business with a small store is the same, Bowling said. Others find the value of not having to wait, combined with personal service, worth any difference in price, she said.

The smaller store offers a gift shop that features a number of collectible items, but unlike chains does not carry a large assortment of retail goods.

"We don't carry garden hoses," Bowling said.

She said they sometimes intervene on behalf of customers who are given a prescription that is not covered under their insurance plan.

"We'll call the doctor and tell them it is not covered and ask if the prescription could be changed to something that is covered," Bowling said. "We do that ahead of time, because if they come in at 6 p.m., the doctor's office is closed."

They have found that their customer base is loyal.

"These are good people here," Miller said. "I get to practice pharmacy the way I went to school and learned and wanted to do. I can take time with people and answer their questions. I've worked at places in the past that a customer was a name on a piece of paper and that was it."

The two business owners say their only learning curve has come with the responsibility of ownership.
"I'm learning a lot on the business end, although I've managed pharmacies for years," Miller said. "I've had to take a crash course in taxes and paperwork."