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Nashua pharmacist says relationships are key to business' success

Union Leader Correspondent

February 23. 2013 1:23AM
Gary Wingate watches as an employee distributes medicine into capsules. The 114-year old Wingate's Pharmacy compounds drugs on site, offering dosages, mixtures, forms and flavors that may be unavailable at bigger pharmacies. (SIMN ROS/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA - With Gary Wingate - a fourth generation pharmacist and owner of Wingate's Pharmacy on Main Street - it's all about the niches.

"We try to do things that other people might not do," he said. "It's all about niches. One of the niches that we have is compounding."

Wingate is the fourth in a long line of pharmacists that began with patriarch Frank Wingate, who opened the store in the same location on Jan. 1, 1900.

A century later, the shop underwent a renovation that turned it from a vintage pharmacy into a contemporary one. And when Gary Wingate took over 28 years ago, he introduced compounding as a way to bring the shop into the modern world.

Wingate has theories about why the pharmacy has existed for so long and continues to grow.

"No. 1, we have a great staff that is motivated. They know the power of good customer service," he said. "They love developing the relationships that we have with our practitioners and our customers."

But niches are also the key. He said Wingate's tries to do the things other pharmacies don't. The shop offers a wide range of medical products. In addition to conventional and homemade pharmaceuticals, it sells ostomy, wound-care, urology, catheter and pulmonary supplies, in addition to medical clothing such as compression stockings and custom footwear.

But it's compounding that distinguishes Wingate's from the rest.

"Compounding is something that probably my grandfather and great-grandfather were doing before the pharmaceutical companies even were existent," Wingate said.

"Today, contemporary compounding is just really taking chemicals . and (processing them) based on an order from veterinarians, dentists, podiatrists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, naturopathic doctors, et cetera, he said."

Compounding is useful for a variety of reasons. One, drugs that are out of production or on backorder can be made in house. Two, specialized dosages can be prepared that aren't commercially available. And three, the drugs can be presented in different forms, like if a dog won't swallow a pill, the same drug can be made into a cream that is applied to the ear.

Wingate's offers suppositories, capsules, liquid suspensions and sometimes different flavors.

Wingate originally studied to be a veterinarian, but like his antecedents, it led him instead to pharmacology. He never lost the will to treat animals, however, and Wingate's is just as much a source for vets as it is for any other medical professional. He said he's treated bears, snakes, turtles, sugar gliders, rats and other creatures.

Wingate prides himself on a pharmacological erudition that he uses to provide individualized advice to clients. He and his staff regularly attend trainings to stay on the cutting edge of the field.

"At every point in time, you have to look at where the industry is at. You have to listen to the needs of the community and know where health care is at; you have to be very vigorous in hiring," he said.

Wingate made headlines in the aftermath of the New England Compounding Center meningitis outbreak, which was believed to responsible for the deaths of 44 patients. The Massachusetts-based company was accused of distributing infected epidural steroid injections. It subsequently closed down.

Wingate said it was the industrial-like nature of the NECC's production that led to the problem.

"This particular company was doing, I think, 17,000 dosage forms, and they were shipping to over 25 states around the country, and they were doing high-risk needles that they were injecting into people's spines. That volume of compounding is not traditional compounding, that's really manufacturing," he said.

He said the tragedy has created an opportunity to better understand what compounding really is.

Like a large portion of the city's most lasting and successful business folk, Wingate sees community involvement as an important part of business. Last week, he was collecting money for the Humane Society, and he's always open to suggestions of where he can donate his services.

Being that Wingate's offers a service unavailable at the big- box pharmacies, he said competing with the chains isn't his problem; regulation represents his business' thorn in the thigh.

The problem is "the reimbursement that we get from the (pharmacy benefit managers)," he said. "There's just a lot of legislation that needs to level the playing field."

The PBMs - large companies that process prescriptions for insurance companies and other groups - establish rules that can cut places like Wingate's out of the market, giving preferential treatment to the corporate drug providers.

"Those kinds of regulations I feel are a disservice to our customers," he said, "and to the different nursing home accounts that we have, and taking away the reason that we're here."

Though he wouldn't provide numbers on how business is going, Wingate said a year hasn't passed with sales worse than the previous year.

"Even through the recession," he said with a smile. "Niches, relationships-building, good staff."

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