Puerto Rican Community Pharmacies: Uniting Against the Big Chains


Going into a pharmacy has never been more convenient in the United States and its territories. People living near urban centres need not travel far to find a 24 hour-supermarket-style pharmacy. It is not only about acquiring medication, but about offering everything customers might need, from cheddar cheese to XL t-shirts.


Consolidation continues to be the trend, which could explain why the number of independent pharmacies, also called community pharmacies, continues to slowly decline

In the United States, two giants, CVS Health and Walgreens, dominate the retail drugstore market, concentrating around 41.7 percent of total prescription revenues and generating more than $177.2 billion dollars in 2018, according to the Drug Channels Institute. Consolidation continues to be the trend, which could explain why the number of independent pharmacies, also called community pharmacies, continues to slowly decline. According to a recent report in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that independent pharmacies were three times more likely to close than chain pharmacies.


With limited staff, retail space, and exclusion from preferred pharmacy networks and 340B contracts, beating the big chains’ business model is not an easy feat for independently owned pharmacies. But Puerto Rico is proving to be a model for small players wanting to fight back.


While independent pharmacies in the US mainland account for around 35 percent of the market, the Puerto Rican community pharmacies control over 50 percent, according to Raúl Rodríguez, owner and president of Droguería  Betances (DB), the island’s number one local drug wholesaler. The reason for the discrepancy? According to Rodríguez, it is all about investing in independent pharmacies so they are closer to their community: “We asked ourselves what we could do to make our clients successful. The first step was creating the Community Pharmacy Alliance, a non-profit business movement whose aim is to position the pharmacies in the minds of consumers as Puerto Rican businesses that contribute to the island’s society and economy.”


Almost all of the 750 community pharmacies in Puerto Rico have a business relationship with DB, and the reason is simple: the distribution company is investing heavily in supporting independent pharmacies, free of charge, in everything from marketing, legal support, human resources, to financial issues. The pharmacies have even adopted the “Farmacia de Comunidad” (Community Pharmacy) name and logo to brand themselves as one.


Asked about his unusual relationship with the pharmacies, Rodríguez explains that DB invests in its customers “because it is in everyone’s interest, especially the Puerto Rican consumer. We are the only drug wholesaler that operates two mobile units that regularly provide health clinics to the pharmacies’ patients at no costs. DB provides the mobile unit, the personnel and the tests performed inside. Why? DB feels that if a pharmacy gets involved with the community, the community will embrace them because they know that they care.”

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