Written by Karen Gellender: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 18 May 2012 00:00
Cottage Pharmacy in Woodbury is a rarity. Independently owned and operated for 37 years, it’s a pharmacy that lacks any chain affiliation, proudly going its own way in an era when a CVS seems to crop up on every other corner. Furthermore, Cottage is not only surviving but thriving; last fall, the business saw a move to a new location in Woodbury Common that is 50 percent larger than their old store on Jericho Turnpike, leading to the expansion of several departments and the opportunity to carry many new product lines. How has the business remained so vibrant, in light of all the competition?
“Whether you fill your prescription of drug XYZ here or there, the price is going to be the same,” says Matthew Carrus, general manager. “Prescription drugs are what they are; it’s whatever your insurance is going to reimburse you for. That’s why we compete in other ways.”
While there are many components to Cottage Pharmacy which includes the pharmacy itself, a surgical supply department, a cosmetic and gift boutique, and a separate division that provides personal care aids and companion services to seniors and those who have recently undergone surgery (under the banner of Cottage Home Care Services, with offices in Hicksville), the main way that Carrus says his business remains competitive can be summed up in one word: Service.
“Our pharmacists will painstakingly spend 45 minutes on the phone with your insurance company trying to work out an issue, where CVS will say ‘Sorry we can’t fill this,’” explains Carrus, going on to say that his pharmacy is becoming more and more willing to deal with such issues as it becomes clear that what customers really need is someone to interface between them and their insurance companies, or even their doctors at times.
“It’s really important in today’s world—you know the patient is dealing with myriad insurance issues and issues with doctors. What we’re seeing is that pharmacists are really at the front end of providing care,” said Carrus.
Furthermore, the staff at Cottage Pharmacy seeks to provide a holistic health experience, following industry trends. Instead of just selling a customer with a skin condition the medication prescribed by their dermatologist, vitamin specialists and dieticians are on hand to suggest vitamins and dietary changes that might help the customer.
According to Carrus, the goal of this approach is not to be intrusive and try to perform the hard sell, but to simply offer relevant, reliable information; to provide answers for customers who may be confused by the myriad of confusing health information available on the Internet. “We aim to be a source of knowledge,” says Carrus.
As Cottage Pharmacy tweaks its focus, customers are responding. While the pharmacy itself is still the main component of the business, sales in the vitamin department have picked up significantly since the move to the new location. Furthermore, the high-end cosmetic and gift boutique is growing in importance, to the point where it has become a shopping destination in and of itself.
“Where people used to come in and fill a prescription, and maybe saw something in the boutique that they liked and decided to buy something, now we’re becoming a cosmetic and gift boutique destination. That’s been the fundamental change in the business since the move [in September],” said Carrus.
Now that beauty products are becoming increasingly important to the store, Cottage Pharmacy is picking up on that customer interest by adding a new spa and treatment room, which will offer “spa-like” services. While the spa will offer dermatological services such as facials, other potential services, including minor cosmetic procedures, are still being discussed. Carrus credits Cottage Pharmacy founder Ken Villani with the idea for the spa, saying that Villani has always pushed for creative expansion.
Diversifying the business is nothing new for the company. Cottage Home Care Services, which started in 1992, provides a valuable service for seniors who can’t live on their own but wish to maintain their independence, as well as people of all ages who are recuperating from serious medical procedures. Today, Cottage Home Care Services employs approximately 80 aides. The surgical department, which retails supplies like wheelchairs, walkers and Ace bandages as well as renting equipment to assisted living facilities, was started over a decade ago. Now with the mini-spa, Cottage Pharmacy hopes to provide yet another service that differentiates them from the competition—even if it is a little unusual to offer facials in a pharmacy.
Customers seem to appreciate the unique environment that Cottage offers. Most of the customers who patronize the store are regular customers, some of whom have been patronizing the pharmacy for decades. Since the business offers delivery, loyal customers who have moved away to towns all over Long Island still give Cottage their business rather than a chain location.
However, Carrus points out, it’s not all old friends; lately, perhaps as more people who grew up on Long Island come back from Manhattan to start raising children of their own, he’s been seeing a lot of new, young families in the store.
Right now is an exciting time for Carrus and his team; the spa room is still being finished, but should be open for business before summer. With sweltering summer days coming, sun care products are flying off the shelves, and parents are stocking up on all kinds of supplies in anticipation of sending their children to summer camp. With celebrity health stars like Dr. Oz frequently providing recommendations for vitamins and other health products, the store’s focus on holistic care looks to remain an asset going forward.
Still, even with all of the services Cottage Pharmacy offers, remaining competitive is no easy task: the market is changing, and many customers are choosing to use mail order for their prescriptions, avoiding the in-store shopping experience altogether. However, the business seems to have done a lot to carve out a unique niche for itself: after all, where else can you buy a surgical brace, designer eye shadow, a fish oil supplement, and get a facial all on the same day? Probably not at CVS.
Cottage Pharmacy is located at 8285 Jericho Turnpike in the Woodbury Common shopping center, located at the intersection of Jericho Turnpike and Woodbury Road. For more information, visit cottagepharmacy.com.