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Kenmore Heritage Society reached out to Matt Binder after reading the below article from the Seattle Times, Oct 20, 2023. We sent him a few questions, to get to know him and his connection to the Kenmore community. We were delighted by his answers!

Matt Binder is doing something unusual in the Seattle area. He’s buying and opening independent pharmacies. He now owns three Seattle-area locations: Ostroms Drug & Gift, Bob Johnsons Pharmacy and Madison Park Pharmacy and Wellness Center.

But he’s an exception. Pharmacies, big and small, are struggling and closing across the nation and in the Seattle area.

Rite Aid, which owns 58 Bartell Drugs and 36 Rite Aid stores locally, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last Sunday and announced that it will close underperforming stores while it reorganizes. The company previously closed nine Bartell locations and hundreds of its Rite Aid locations nationwide.

Independent pharmacies are also struggling because of the same tough economic conditions that are pressuring the chains. A combination of oversupply and increased competition from mail-order prescription services, lower foot traffic compared with pre-pandemic, and inflation have taken a toll on the industry. But independent pharmacies, which typically earn more than 90% of their revenue from prescriptions, are particularly vulnerable.

In addition to the overall economic landscape, independent pharmacy owners say they are getting squeezed out of business by giant companies, known as pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs, which manage prescription drug benefit plans on behalf of insurers, Medicare Part D plans and large employers.

Matt has lived in Bothell since he was a toddler – while in UW Pharmacy School he interned at Woodinville Pharmacy where he fell in love with independent pharmacy. He valued working directly with his boss and being able to suggest and implement a change. He really enjoyed working where patients were known by name and feeling like he could make a difference.

1. What inspired you to start your business in Kenmore?

After I graduated pharmacy school, I applied at Ostroms and was able to also work with a strong team and work in a community that really loved their pharmacy. After working for Todd Ramsey for 4 years, he decided he was ready to join his wife Kerry in retirement and sell the store to myself and my business partner, Jeff Harrell. I bought Ostroms with the goal of largely keeping it the same. We’ve kept the same staff, same hours, and same commitment to customer service. I was scared of the idea of someone else buying Ostroms and ruining such a great place.

2. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when taking over an existing business?

Some challenges I’ve faced – we are in a difficult industry. Insurance middlemen known as PBMs seem to keep giving us worse reimbursements. This can be reflected in closures of not only independent pharmacies but also major chains such as Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS. We need to be constantly changing and evolving – we can not remain stagnant. During the busiest time of year – September to January – our team really needs to work extra hard to keep up with the demand for vaccines, antibiotics, etc. This is work we are proud to do – but it does take some extra work.

I bought Ostroms in September of 2021 – but February of 2020 is when Ostroms pharmacist manager of 40 years, Bill Briggs, retired. We are so lucky to have had Charina Peterson step into his shoes as manager – she also brings over 20 years of Ostroms experience to the team and was able to continue Bill’s legacy while improving some of our technology and workflow. I know Bill is really proud of how Charina has taken over. Adjusting to a post Bill/Todd Ostroms has been a change – but I think our team has done incredibly well with the challenge.

3.What do you think sets Ostroms apart from other businesses in the same industry?

Ostroms is proud to have recently won the Seattle Times’ Best in the PNW campaign as best pharmacy. We also placed as the third best place to buy a gift. Ostroms’ pharmacy is set apart from competitors because we choose to staff better than just about any other pharmacy.

We have a strong team of people who love to work with each other – and this is reflected by the very low employee turnover. Many pharmacies staff at the absolute minimum – sometimes not even having time to answer the phone. We pride ourselves in having people who can problem solve and give patients the extra attention they deserve. We believe this earns us more customers in the long run. We also seek to make our store a center for joy – we know many people view visiting the pharmacy as a chore. We seek to be a highlight in our customer’s day.

We also believe our gift shop – ran by 50 year veteran employee BZ Davis – offers a particularly unique experience that will not be found in most other drug stores. We have items you won’t find anywhere else, and we are proud of it!

4. What do you think the future holds for your business (or industry as a whole) – especially since online pharmacies are becoming popular?

The future of the pharmacy industry will depend on legislation. We’ve seen the Bartell corporation be bought out by a national chain which itself is currently in bankruptcy proceedings. PBMs steer patients towards the mail order pharmacies that they own. They promise to save the patient some money, and yet are not required to offer patients the same counseling that they’ll receive by using in-person pharmacy.

We take pride in managing patients’ medications, educating them and problem solving. We don’t think that online pharmacy offers nearly the same level of service.

5.What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful business owner?

A successful business owner needs to be someone who believes they are performing ethically. I think those who perform unethical actions doom themselves and will find it difficult to find employees who will go along with them in the long run.

A successful business owner should have a good relationship with their employees. It’s okay to be friends with your team. You can not show favoritism, but you should view your employees as people – not tools that exist to better your life.

Understanding numbers is pretty important in business. If you don’t know what’s coming in or coming out, it’s hard to stick around.

6. What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful employee?

A successful employee first and foremost finds value in the work they do. I want employees who believe that the work they do is good for their community. They should have a good time at work – finding personal satisfaction and being thrilled to achieve new personal and team goals.

They must have the desire to achieve continuous improvement. No matter who you are, you can get better. Setting new goals and achieving them, finding more efficient ways to perform a task

And ultimately no matter how well prepared and talented an employee is – if their workplace doesn’t have a culture that allows them to thrive they’re going to have a ceiling.

7. Will you continue to offer unusual merchandise and one-of-a-kind gifts?

Yes! B-Z Davis has been stocking our store with all the hard to find and fun items for 50 years and we are so proud to be a destination gift shop. We hope to continue to see lots of people this holiday season.

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