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In the Spotlight- Grass Lake Community Pharmacy

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Local pharmacist Todd Raehtz loves his job.  “A little bit of a workaholic,” he says, “but it’s the best job in Grass Lake.”

Raehtz owns the Grass Lake Community Pharmacy in the Village.  The pharmacy opened in 2010 but by 2013 the business had outgrown its small location at 112 East Michigan Avenue.  When space next door opened up the drug store annexed it for total floor space of 1,800 square feet.  Raehtz estimates that GLCP fills about 3,000 prescriptions per month, depending on the season.

“People in my profession complain about ‘lick, stick, pour, and count,” he says, describing the rigmarole of the druggist’s daily duties.  But Raehtz doesn’t just fill scripts by rote.  “I’m a very lucky person,” he says.  “Every patient is unique, every script has to be taken into consideration.  If you’re from Grass Lake I take care of you.  That guides our decisions.”          

On a recent Friday morning Raehtz, 55, sans white coat, sat down for an interview with the Grass Lake Times in his “pretty fancy office” in what was apartment space above his shop.

GLT: What drew you to your industry?  Looking on your career, what was it like starting out?

TR: I was drawn to pharmacy through my experiences as an 18 year-old college student. I started as a delivery boy at an independent pharmacy in Jackson in 1980. I recall seeing how the pharmacist enjoyed his work, and I ultimately transferred from JCC to Ferris (State University) for my pharmacy degree.     

GLT: In addition to the pharmacy you own a private company.  What makes it different from your work at GLCP downtown?

TR: Our parent company is Indispensable Health, an LLC that has four partners, three of whom are pharmacists.  It was created as a merger between my Pharmacy Company, Indispensable Enterprises, and an Okemos company called PGPA (Pharmacy in Okemos). In our company, we operate three retail pharmacies, and three programs directed to support health system pharmacies.  When I am not the pharmacist at Grass Lake Community Pharmacy, I am the president of our company. It is a very enjoyable career that challenges me daily.

GLT: What is it like to have to keep up with the changes in the Pharmaceutical industry year by year?  How do you manage to stay current?

TR: Staying current in pharmacy, like any profession, requires an investment of time. Between changes in clinical practice, insurance regulations, and law, there is quite a bit of new information. Pharmacists like me tend to read professional journals, email snippets, and attend conferences to keep current. My favorite technique, however, involves our relationship with the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy. We precept [teach] Pharmacy students to give them clinical experience. While most of them come to Grass Lake expecting me to teach them about practicing pharmacy, just as often, they are teaching me.

GLT: What is the most stressful aspect of your work?  Are some seasons busier than other?  Do the chain drug stores, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen exert a lot of competition on GLCP?

TR: The most stressful component of running a pharmacy is usually financial. The percentage of margin that a pharmacy makes filling a prescription has been cut in half since we first opened.  This has created pressure to process more prescriptions with either fewer or the same resources. Further, the costs of medications continues to climb rapidly. The challenge for any pharmacy, therefore, is managing cash flow — investing in an ever more expensive inventory, and having less cash to pay for pharmacists, technicians, taxes, computers, etc. The diversity in our company has allowed us to continue to grow.  Our business has some seasonality. We typically are busier in the late fall and winter, as many more people are subjected to coughs, colds, and flu. Even these common ailments lead to serious conditions for many, often frail, patients.

Competition in pharmacy is interesting. It may come as a surprise, but big chains are not really our most significant competitors. We deliver service and relationships. Normally, that is not where the big guys are strongest.

GLT: What matters most at the end of the day?

TR: Despite the obstacles, the Grass Lake Community Pharmacy has been growing regularly, at over 10 percent per year. We owe it all to the people of Grass Lake. They are intelligent and friendly. I like to brag to my colleagues that we have the “best patients of any pharmacy anywhere”. Many of our patients experienced the impact of not having a pharmacy in Grass Lake during 2009-10. They have a deep understanding of what can happen if we do not support our local businesses. We still hear from many “we are so glad you are here”!  Well, neighbors, the feeling is mutual!

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