by Walt Frank (Altoona Mirror)
If you provide products people need and good service, there’s a good chance your business will be successful.
“As long as you give good service, people will stay with you – that is the secret,” said William D. Thompson III, president and CEO of Thompson Pharmacy, which is marking 50 years of business in 2015.
The business was founded in January 1965 by his father, William D. Thompson Jr., who now is chairman of the board.
He said he first became interested in pharmacy in ninth grade when he wrote a paper saying he wanted to be a druggist and own a store in Juniata. He had started working at Meek Drug Store in Juniata when he was a student at Altoona High School.
“(Daniel Meek) didn’t have any kids, and took a liking to me. I was at Penn State Altoona at the time, and he said he would sell the business to me some day. That was the impetus for me to succeed,” said Thompson Jr., who was studying to be a teacher but changed gears.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 1962, he returned home to work for Meek.
“I worked for him as a stock boy, soda jerk and delivery boy. I liked the business. I had a paper route, and I knew a lot of people from Juniata. With all the contacts I had, I thought I would do well. My boss believed in me,” Thompson Jr. said. “He was my inspiration. When I saw what he did and how he helped people, it was real enticing to me.”
The business grew through acquisitions and additions, purchasing Sitnek’s Drug Store at 12th Avenue and 12th Street in October 1985, Broad Avenue Pharmacy in August 2003, and in 2014, Thompson purchased a pharmacy in Centre Hall. Thompson moved its Juniata store from 610 Second St. to its present location at 600 E. Chestnut Ave. in 1999 and added a Hollidaysburg location in 2008.
Thompson also got into the long-term care business in 1988.
“It has been very important. When you see a downturn in the retail cycle, that is a constant steady flow; those prescriptions are there every month,” Thompson III said.
“You are on call every night. We provide pharmaceuticals and supplies to long-term care and assisted-living facilities as well as drug and alcohol facilities,” Thompson Jr. said.
Since its beginning, Thompson has been a part of the Value Drug Co. cooperative, which enables it and other locally owned pharmacies to compete with national chains.
“Mr. Meek was a member. When I took over, he recommended I stay with them. I have been on their board for 40 years or so; they are one of the reasons we are still in business,” Thompson Jr. said.
The keys to success and growth have been simple.
“It is all about trying to take care of people through good service. We significantly increased our business when we moved here (Chestnut Avenue),” Thompson Jr. said.
Adding merchandise and gifts also played a big role.
“Dana, Bill’s wife, made it take off, mainly in Hollidaysburg and here. She expanded the gift lines in Hollidaysburg and Juniata. We try to make it one-stop shopping, and that has helped us. Selling all kinds of food and consumer items has helped us,” Thompson Jr. said.
“Dad once said we want to be the Sheetz of pharmacy,” Thompson III said.
The business has grown from $70,000 in revenues during its first year to doing millions of dollars every year.
Thompson III is not surprised by the business’ growth.
“Dad said when you put your nose to the grindstone every day and you work hard, success should follow. That is all we do and continue to do. One key to our growth has been taking care of people and giving them the service they deserve,” Thompson III said.
Providing that special customer service helps Thompson to compete with the bigger chains.
“Our customer service is something we focus on, that is near and dear to our hearts. It goes back to hard work and very, very dedicated team members,” Thompson III said.
Adding an automated prescription filling system – Script Pro Machines – in 2004, also has helped.
“We were one of the first automated or robotic pharmacies in the area. They count out pills and fill prescriptions without labor, labor saving had been a big benefit to us,” Thompson III said.
“They are so accurate you can’t believe it,” Thompson Jr. said.
The Thompson family is honored to have reached 50 years in business.
“It is humbling. I feel very honored that our local community has supported us to be here for 50 years. We give back as much as we can, that is one of the reasons we have been around for 50 years. We wouldn’t be here without good people who help us every day, they are a very dedicated staff,” Thompson III said.
“I worked hard, I wanted the business to succeed and am very proud it has. It is hard to compete against the big box businesses. To stay alive and be profitable is quite an accomplishment,” Thompson Jr. said.
Thompson Pharmacy has played an important role in the community.
“One of Blair County’s economic drivers has been its homegrown businesses and Thompson Pharmacy has clearly been one of those. As much as the Thompson family has done to advance the pharmacy industry locally, it has been just as effective in helping the local community to prosper through their numerous philanthropic efforts. They are simply good people who care deeply about this area,” said President and CEO Joe Hurd of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.
Thompson Jr. credits his son for a lot of the business’ success.
“The business really grew after he returned from college. I am very proud of what he has done, it is all his business now,” Thompson Jr. said.
The Thompsons are optimistic about the future of the family business.
“My son (William IV) is in his second year of pharmacy school, he may come back and join us. We will continue with what we have done and take care of our people and customers. That is what got us here and we are willing to adapt to change when it is needed,” Thompson III said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.