Service is key to success for city’s last independent pharmacy
Norwood’s Suburban Pharmacy is a place where everyone knows everybody, and owner and pharmacist Nick Shanos wouldn’t have it any other way.
Just sitting in the pharmacy for five minutes, one can see that every customer who comes in is greeted by name and asked about something going on in their lives. Most customers also know Shanos and other employees by name.
Although Suburban Pharmacy is Warwick’s last independent pharmacy after the closing of Oxnard Pharmacy, Shanos says he will remain open for many years to come.
“We’re strong. We plan on being here,” said Shanos. “We’re definitely not next.”
Suburban has operated out of its location on Pawtuxet Avenue for 52 years; Shanos’ parents, Thomas and Anna, started the business in August 1961.
Shanos grew up in Norwood and has worked in the pharmacy his entire life. He remembers helping to stock shelves as a kid, then waiting on customers and running the cash register.
“I grew up in this store,” said Shanos.
Shanos says many of the customers remember him as a kid, working in the store with his father.
“People remember me when I couldn’t see over the counter and now I’m taking care of them. It’s a great feeling,” said Shanos.
Shanos says he is a product of the community, attending Norwood Elementary, Aldrich Junior High School and Pilgrim High School. He eventually went on to attend the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy. When he graduated in 1986, the plan was for him to work with his father as a pharmacist at Suburban.
Unfortunately, that never came to be because Thomas passed away in March of 1986 after a long battle with cancer. Instead, Shanos bought his father’s business, completely renovated the place, and has kept it going all these years.
Although the idea of great customer service has remained, some things have changed since the store first opened in 1961. Shanos explained that the store did have a classic soda fountain and the entrance was not on the side of the building as it was originally. When he purchased the business in 1986, Shanos took out the soda fountain and completely redesigned and renovated the building to how it looks today. He also put in all of the newest technology at the time, and has kept technology up-to-date in order to stay competitive with chain pharmacies.
“Computerization was one of the first things I did,” said Shanos, adding that he installed the best pharmacy software in the industry, along with computerized cash registers and signing pads right away. “We had that before some of the chain stores.”
Lately, it has occurred to Shanos that he has run Suburban Pharmacy longer than his father did; his father was owner for 25 years, while Shanos has been running things for 27.
“I can’t believe I’ve done this longer than he did,” said Shanos, adding that he plans to continue running Suburban Pharmacy until he physically can’t. Shanos has a lot of family pride running the business his father started and says it is rewarding to know he is taking care of people and giving the best kind of personal drug delivery possible through an independent pharmacy.
Now, Suburban Pharmacy is the last independent pharmacy in Warwick, something Shanos says is “bittersweet.”
“It shows we’re clearly strong,” said Shanos.
Shanos believes that independent pharmacies, and Suburban Pharmacy in particular, can offer services that no chain pharmacy can. For example, the staff at Suburban gets to know all of their customers, will mail prescriptions to regular customers vacationing in warmer climates for the winter, and issue IOUs when good customers need a helping hand. The pharmacy even stays open late for customers who realize they need a critical medication at the last minute.
“It’s a totally different feeling,” said Shanos. “And it’s a different service, a better customer service.”
Shanos believes it is a misconception that smaller, independent pharmacies will charge more than the bigger chains and are not technologically advanced, but that is not the case. Shanos pointed out that he uses the same supplier that CVS Pharmacy does, and can sell products at a competitive price.
The pharmacy department also uses the most up-to-date technology; Shanos says he is a big technology person and plans to always stay up-to-date. For example, all prescriptions are computer counted for accuracy and use a bar code system to ensure the correct medication is going to the correct patient. “It’s always getting scanned; it’s like having two pharmacists,” said Shanos.
Shanos added that most of his patients (they are not called customers at Suburban) feel comfortable speaking openly about any concerns or medical needs they have, and the staff really takes the time to listen and ease those concerns.
That is something pharmacist Joe Masso says sets Suburban apart.
“I like the fact that you’re allowed to counsel the patient,” said Masso, who has worked at Suburban for 11 years. “This is something that chains don’t get to know.”
Masso used to work at Thorpes Pharmacy (Shanos was once his pharmacy student) and stayed on when CVS Pharmacy bought it. He says the mentality at a chain pharmacy is different than what he experiences at Suburban.
“The emphasis is on production [at a chain], not service,” said Masso.
Peter Melim has been going to Suburban Pharmacy for almost 25 years, since he moved to the area.
“The personal service is the best; that’s what we need,” he said. “I would never go to the big guys.”
Masso added that patients appreciate the fact that the staff at Suburban knows them individually and really remembers them.
Shanos says his staff is “the best staff on the planet.” He added that there is very little turnover in staff as well. For just one example, he has two employees who began working when they were 15 years old, and even after going to college and getting their careers started, they stayed on part-time at Suburban because they loved the community and the environment.
Another employee, Carol Linehan, has been with the store 15 years, and her son Ryan has been working as a pharmacy tech for four and a half.
As for the future, Shanos says he plans to continue for many years to come, but he isn’t sure if the store will pass down to the third generation. His children are only 13 and 16, and Shanos says they are too young to tell if they want to pursue pharmacy or own the business one day.
That doesn’t mean his kids don’t help out, just like Shanos did when he was growing up. Shanos says his kids help out making signs and flyers on the computer, and stocking shelves when they can. His son is also really good with computers, so he helps keep the store’s computer network up and running.
Shanos says it is important to keep at least one independent pharmacy in Warwick, and is happy to shoulder that responsibility. When Oxnard Pharmacy closed last month, Shanos said a number of Oxnard patients started to come to Suburban because they were looking for that “independent experience.” He joked that more people need to “unchain themselves” and experience an independent pharmacy.
Former Oxnard customers can also find a familiar face at Suburban. Oxnard pharmacist of 16 years, Paul DiBiase has officially joined the staff at Suburban. Shanos said they are very happy to have DiBiase join their team and he is a great addition.