ASHVILLE — For one Ashville business, the secret to 40 years of success is a strong connection with family and the community.
Forty years ago this month, Bob Mabe, 70, started Ashville Apothecary in downtown Ashville.
“We’ve had a strong family presence ever since we started,” Mabe said. “The reason we’re here is because of the very fine way the patrons have taken care of us over the past 40 years. It’s a responsibility to have a good operation.”
Mabe said he’s had many great employees over the years and gave a special nod to his wife, Melissa and his son Stephen. Stephen has taken over and now runs the business.
“It’s always one prescription at a time,” he said. “If they’re ill or trying to not become ill, they get attention. It’s been that way right from the beginning. You never worry about where someone spends their money, you worry about giving them value for their business.”
Bob said there have been changes to how the business has run, including technology upgrades and advancements, but the major changes have to do with who is paying, how they’re paying and the role of the pharmacist in the community.
“When we first opened up, probably 90 percent of your business was cash business,” he said. “It was free enterprise, and if they didn’t like the service or the price they didn’t come to you. Nowadays, about 98 percent of it is controlled by third parties, like insurance companies and Medicaid. The controls have become so difficult to take care of people.”
Bob said they’ve tried to support the local community organizations and school systems, which he admits due to the reimbursement situation they’ve not been able to support as much in the past.
“I really feel bad about this,” he said. “The community has been good to us.”
Stephen said the profession has evolved and the role of the pharmacy has grown over the years, sharing that when Bob was fresh out of school, it was illegal for pharmacists to counsel patients on their medications and their side effects.
“Not only do we do dispensing, but we do a lot of vaccinations in the community, we do compliance packaging to make sure patients don’t miss doses and a lot of specialized compounding for things that aren’t commercially available,” he said. “We’re very active with doctors now to make sure we’re optimizing the treatments to what they’re suppose to be. We’ve really evolved throughout the years and continue to do so.”
“You couldn’t even put the name of the drug on the bottle,” Bob added.
The Mabes said now they have conversations constantly with patients about what they are taking and potential alternatives for the lowest cost possible. Stephen gave an example of a company with a $20 co-pay but the medication cost $17, it was illegal for him to tell the patient it was cheaper.
“For a long time we couldn’t tell a person it was cheaper to buy the medication at a regular price than it was with insurance,” Bob said. “That law just went into effect allowing us to do that.”
Stephen said the old store was just that and they would never have been able to get some of their robotic equipment into the old location.
“People want to have good parking and or it to be easy to get in,” he said.
When it comes to the opioid crisis gripping the state, Stephen said they have their ear to the ground for the community.
“Things have changed over the years as far as guidelines go,” he said. “We definitely have an ear to make sure the community knows the resources they have. In our area, we don’t see the doctors writing for it. Most of our population is local and we don’t see a lot of [opioids].”
Stephen said he felt many people outside the community wouldn’t know what an apothecary is but locally it’s a different story due to their business.
“It’s the only thing many people around here have dealt with,” he said. “That’s kind of an interesting thing. We’ve been a family business all that time.”
Bob said he’s now seen great-grandchildren from people who had kids when he first started.
“I really get a kick out of that,” he said. “I really miss seeing people. It’s something where you develop a real bond with folks.”
Looking ahead, Stephen has taken over the business and Bob now works about 20 hours a week mostly helping with the books and doing compounding, where a pharmacist prepares a personalized medication for a patient in which the exact ingredients are mixed together to form the proper dosage.
“I’m very much a minor influence now,” Bob said. “Stephen has done a good job and has worked in the store since 2010. He started working in the store when he was 15. He’s a very good businessman. Our hope is to continue being a service to the community and to give them a quality service.”
With Stephen now running the business and making the decisions, Bob thinks the future is bright for his son and business he started.
“The profession as a whole has been a lot of great things, it’s been a great profession,” he said. “At 70 years old, it’s getting tougher and tougher to keep up and it’s time to pass it on to people with more specialized training but it’s been a great run.”