Fred Burke, Kendall Forbes and David Morris are the founders of Guardian LLC, the third largest long-term care pharmacy company in the country.
The Buckhead-based company started in 2004 and now serves more than 42,000 long-term care patients nationally through 22 pharmacies in 12 states, mostly in the Southeast.Burke, CEO, of Buckhead, said the key to the group’s success, or “magic potion,” is a local autonomy business model, which they actually created when they owned a previous pharmacy company called Central Pharmacy Services, which started in 1993.
“We had to vest authority in a local management team to serve customers the way the local market desired to be served,” Burke said. “It was different than the large monolithic public company, [which was] cookie-cutter. … They decided how all clinics and hospitals out in the field would receive services.”
With the same business plan, Guardian allows each local management team to tailor its services to
provide people with what they need in that particular market.
“In small-town America, there’s an independent pharmacy in most every town, but there’s also a big CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid that have a tremendous advantage against local independent [pharmacies], in terms of sophisticated services,” Burke said.
Each management team has ownership in the individual pharmacy, and Guardian helps the small pharmacies to operate profitably, and support and assist the owners in navigating their way through “what is a pretty tough world” of business,” he said.
Burke said he and his partners picked long-term care, to provide pharmaceuticals and services to assisted living, nursing and correctional facilities, hospice programs and behavioral health group homes, because they felt their business model could best apply to that market.
“The main reason we’re in this business is because it is a great place to implement and extend that business that we became so enamored with,” he said.
Forbes, executive vice president of sales and operations, of WaterColor, Fla., said they face some challenges while trying to support, lead and direct each individual pharmacy. He said one phone call to one pharmacy can be completely different from the next.
“Even in long-term care, they have all different solutions to cater to long-term services to individual [communities],” he said.
The corporate oversight and support Guardian provides is what gives it leverage over independent pharmacies without the help from a large company, Forbes said, and the large, publicly traded companies, like CVS, lack the local market aspect.
“They have corporate support and don’t have local autonomy, which customers want,” he said. “Services might be different in Atlanta, Georgia than Indianapolis, Indiana.”
Forbes said the company is a different breed, compared to competitors, which he believes drives its success. And Morris, CFO, of Buckhead, said Guardian is like an “entrepreneurial incubator” because it helps small companies grow.
“Our plan is to continue what we started,” he said. “The business we’re in is very tough. … Margins are razor thin. … We have to have the right teams in the pharmacies, … with motivated people and the same goals and objectives.”
Morris said Guardian spent more than $20 million within the last eight years developing human capital and talent, as well as systems and analytical capabilities to provide management teams with “tool kits” to help it monitor and analyze the business.
So far, the company has added three new pharmacies annually within the past nine years, and the trio’s goal is to add three to four more every year.