In November of last year, a new kind of pharmacy made a stampede into Berkeley, CA, aiming to reshape the landscape of retailing by providing specialized service to specialized natural products customers. The introduction of Elephant Pharmacy is something co-founders Anthony Harnett and Stuart Skorman have been dreaming about for a long time. Discussing its roots was Mr. Skorman, also CEO of the company. "Twenty years ago when I was helping Anthony Harnett to invent Bread & Circus, which is now Whole Foods-the dominant company in the East-there were many things that were similar to mainstream grocery stores and many things that were different," he explained, "The whole idea behind Bread & Circus prompted us to envision a store down the road geared toward aging adults such as ourselves. We figured we were going to need a baby boomer drugstore." Explaining the significance of the name, Mr. Skorman said, "We like to think of our store as being big, gentle and intelligent, which are all the characteristics of an elephant. It was also one of those names that stuck. We wanted to use a name that was more poetic. We also think part of being healthy is not taking things too seriously in a sense, so we wanted a fun spirit within the company."
The layout of Elephant Pharmacy is strategically similar to other big box pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS. There are exceptions, however, as Elephant Pharmacy is the only store in the world that has a full service prescription pharmacy in addition to a full service herb pharmacy, according to Mr. Skorman.
The store is also based on a strong commitment to education and creating a customer-friendly atomosphere. "We are building in a huge amount of education into the shopping experience. We don't think we are that smart as to tell people what they should take, but we want to give them all of the information available in order to help them make a good choice," he said. Giving the customer the most information possible may not help sell vitamin C, Mr. Skorman said, but it will tell them the truth, with the ultimate goal of building long term relationships with the customers. "We think when it comes to health people are really looking for service and we want to build a very strong service culture," he said. "Whole Foods has done a lot with building a service culture in grocery stores and we want to do the same in our niche."
Speaking of Whole Foods, Mr. Skorman pondered the idea of marrying Elephant Pharmacy with a Whole Foods type of chain. "That is a great idea. But we are a new company and we are still learning," he offered. "Whole Foods is a wonderful company and being partners with them could be a lot of fun but nothing has been discussed."
As for expansion, Mr. Skorman said, there are more stores planned but the focus is on the Berkeley customers at the present time. "Our mission as a company is to make the people in Berkeley very happy first," he commented. So far, stores are planned for 2003 on both the West and East coast because Mr. Skorman feels those are the best locations to start building a brand.
In the end, Mr. Skorman hopes Elephant Pharmacy will revolutionize retailing. "What we are doing is unique, not just for the pharmacy business, but also for retailing because we are really going after the long term relationships with the customer. With most retailing, stores are focused on the sales they made today and not focused on whether they made a friend," he said. "Telling the truth is not cheap and it costs us a lot of liability insurance to have our own information. Sales so far are very good but we certainly have a long way to go to prove our concept."-R.M.W.
Elephant Pharmacy: Big, Gentle, Intelligent
Published January 1, 2003