Fruth Pharmacy named Regional Drug Chain of the Year

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 30, 2023

Chain just celebrated 70 years in business

POINT PLEASANT — Fruth Pharmacy has been making its mark in the industry over the past 70 years by sticking to old-fashioned values and the motto “to do the right thing” as it continues to help take care of its patients and customers.

Lynne Fruth, the chain’s president, says the West Virginia-based company’s long-term growth strategy includes the ability to meet the needs of its customers.

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“The same things that won customers over 70 years ago are what patients are looking for today. Our pharmacists are loyal, hardworking and dedicated to serving their communities. We have been very involved in each community and are committed to improving the lives of our customers. I also think that being nimble and able to respond quickly and put programs into action have helped Fruth seize opportunities,” she said.

These are just some of the reasons why Chain Drug Review has chosen Fruth Pharmacy as its Regional Chain of the Year.

Fruth said that the biggest secret for its success is the passion that the Fruth family and Fruth leadership team, which includes Andy Becker, John Galvan, Drew Massey and Dana Richardson.

“I also believe the customers really appreciate being able to talk to the president of the company and feel like their concerns are being heard” she said. “I also like to say, ‘My family’s name is on the door.’”

Fruth Pharmacy was founded in 1952 in Point Pleasant.

“My father, Jack Fruth, had planned to attend West Point academy and become a career military officer.”

Coming from a poor family, his parents made the sacrifices necessary for him to attend Greenbrier Military Academy.

“Dad was well on his way to his dream when fate intervened. At age 16, he became extremely ill with measles, influenza and scarlet fever. Near death, he was transferred to a hospital in Charleston, West Virginia,” Fruth said.

During his illness, he became blind. A doctor performed some experimental blood transfusions in an attempt to restore his vision.

The treatments worked well enough to restore vision, but he would never be eligible for West Point with his vision loss.

“Dad changed course and attended Duke University, studying chemistry and later transferred to Ohio State University where he graduated in the 1951 class of pharmacy,” Fruth said. “There he met and won the heart of my mother, Frances ‘Babs’ Rhodes. They married in 1950 and by 1952 Jack came to Point Pleasant with a wife, a baby and a suitcase full of dreams. The truth is they had little else.”

She says they chose Point Pleasant because it was close to his hometown.

Point Pleasant was a bustling community, and the pharmacy quickly grew.

Years later, Fruth Pharmacy began expansion in other small towns across West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

All the Fruth locations are in Appalachia. The chain is now 28 stores, including one in Ironton.

Fruth says she was 5 or 6 years old when she started working in the store.

“As one of the younger children of the five, we delivered hand bills door to door throughout Point Pleasant. In a family business, it’s hard to tell where the family stops, and the business starts. It’s really a part of everything you do,” she said. “I was an educator for 20 years and came back into the company following my father’s sudden death and the poor management that followed. Someone needed to be named the chairman of the board, and my mother said it would have to be me because I was the scrappiest of the kids.”

Much later, when asked how she became the president of Fruth, she would simply say, “My mom and dad had five kids, and I’m the meanest one.”

She left teaching to join Fruth full time. Soon after she was promoted to president, the position that she holds today.

Lynne Fruth says another reason for the chain’s longevity is the groundwork her dad put down.

“My father was an excellent businessman and had a great ability to recognize good opportunities. He treated customers and employees like family, and he always said that when you brought a business into a small community, they were very thankful to have you there. Jack Fruth and Fruth Pharmacy were always actively involved in making the communities better. He worked to bring jobs, better roads and more opportunities into this area of Appalachia.”

Lynne Fruth says COVID-19 had a huge impact on Fruth Pharmacy, like most other drug stores in the country. “Early on I had been communicating with colleagues at Bartell Drugs in Seattle and Zitomer in New York City, so I had a better sense of what was coming our way. We saw about a 15% drop in prescriptions, which was significant. Because we are a small company and nimble, we were the first drug chain in West Virginia to offer testing at all locations, and we were able to install barriers at all our stores within three days. We also rolled out curbside service and expanded delivery to meet the needs of our customers. In order to remain viable, we looked for any opportunities that COVID had created, and we worked closely with the governor’s office in West Virginia and the DHHR,” she notes.

She adds that in a week or two the chain had rolled out mass testing sites and continued to do these one to three days a week throughout COVID. “Our ability to scale and utilize community resources and the National Guard helped us to drive testing and vaccine revenue while serving our communities in a very visible way. West Virginia did not opt into the federal pharmacy program for vaccinations and instead chose to partner with Fruth Pharmacy and other local pharmacies. We hit the ground running in December, and West Virginia was the first state to complete the vaccination of all nursing home and assisted-living patients. After that West Virginia led the way in completing vaccination of patients over 80 and later those over 70.”

Fruth Pharmacy was very involved in this effort as well as the vaccination of teachers and students in the public schools. “Our pharmacists worked diligently through the early phase, including going into the homes of elderly patients and providing vaccinations to bedbound patients. We made a commitment early on, and I’m proud to say that in the first six months not one single dose of vaccine was wasted. As I read about the many wasted doses in the early days, I took great pride in knowing that our pharmacists had gone above and beyond to make sure every dose found an arm. This revenue helped sustain Fruth, but the bigger satisfaction came from knowing that what we did truly saved lives.”

She says that Fruth Pharmacy was the first chain to remove single ingredient Sudafed and replace it with a tamper-resistant product. By working with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, Lynne Fruth was able to convince several other large chains to follow suit in West Virginia. This led to a 60% decrease in the production of meth in West Virginia. Fruth also piloted HIV and hep C point-of-care screening with high-risk populations in West Virginia. With one of the largest undiagnosed populations of hepatitis C patients, this helped create awareness and provide information for patients to seek treatment.

Fruth says that with the struggles today’s retail pharmacy is facing, one accomplishment she is most proud of is simply being able to continue the legacy of Fruth Pharmacy. The second generation has the same commitment to provide employment and pharmacy services in many underserved areas throughout Appalachia.

“I am very proud of our proactive response to COVID and being able to be a part of the greater good for the community. Finally, I am very proud of the Fruth Pharmacy Scholarship program, which has generated over $1 million in donations for education. Our scholarship program currently provides over 50 scholarships per year, many that are available to Fruth employees and other members of our local communities. In recent years, Fruth shifted focus to begin work on providing scholarships to nontraditional students. We partnered with West Virginia Health Departments to create the Bridge of Hope Fund. In just two weeks we announced the program and were able to raise $100,000 to provide scholarships for people in recovery from substance abuse addiction. This program was kicked off in 2017 with both West Virginia senators, Joe Manchin and Shelley Capito, in attendance. To date, we have distributed nearly 100 scholarships for men and women who have overcome substance abuse problems. The substance abuse program has been very successful, and many of our scholarship recipients are now in the workforce. We recently kicked off a scholarship fund aimed at helping high school students who have experienced incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse or domestic violence seek training or college courses after graduation.”

Fruth Pharmacy is also actively involved in the juvenile drug court program and will launch a scholarship for these students to get additional training or education.

Lynne Fruth says that the retail pharmacy industry has never been more critical to health care and more at risk of losing viability than today. “The unfair reimbursement that has been allowed to persist over many years through PBM practices has brought the retail pharmacy industry to a dire crossroads.”

She notes that a major portion of her job is now spent on lobbying and working on policy that will help regional chain pharmacies and independents remain viable into the future. “Andy Becker, Fruth’s vice president of Pharmacy, and I have been very involved in work in the West Virginia legislation that has been hailed as model legislation for fair reimbursement. We’ve also been very active in the DIR space, 340 B legislation and regulations, and the Ohio managed Medicaid move to a single PBM. There has never been a more crucial time for pharmacies to fight for fair reimbursement. Most pharmacies have gotten past a fear of retaliation by PBMs and are committed to exposing their egregious practices to create an environment where patients are no longer overcharged, pharmacies are no longer significantly underpaid, and government plans are no longer being ripped off. Fruth Pharmacy will continue to have a strong voice in this fight. It is critical for the entire industry to survive. We will not go down without a fight,” she concludes.