The HME180 Podcast – Episode 1 – Alex Anderson from Oswald’s Pharmacy


In this episode, Sue Chen interviews Alex Anderson from Oswald’s Pharmacy, a 6th generation independent pharmacy in Naperville, Illinois with a very successful, prominent and thriving HME. Throughout their 149-year history, they have embraced big changes and executed their front end store strategy to support the business and reflect their customer’s unique store experience. They discussed the “DIR Armageddon” and how independent pharmacies need to focus on the front-end store to take control of their revenue. Alex shared his marketing strategies, importance of staff education and engagement, the value of having the right vendor partners, winning against Amazon – as well as the steps to starting and growing HME in your store.

As an additional resource, check out the Oswald’s Pharmacy case study here.

Listen to our Episode:


Introduction: Welcome. You’re listening to The HME180 Podcast. Every month, your host, Sue Chen will interview the best of the best HME retailers who are fearless, innovative and committed to their work. On this month’s episode, our special guest is Alex Anderson from Oswald’s Pharmacy in Naperville, Illinois.

Sue Chen: Hi, and welcome to the first HME180 podcast where we empower your business to empower human ability. I’m Sue Chen. I’m your host and I am very excited because this podcast is inspired by and inspired for you, our independents, our independent pharmacies and our independent HME retailers. Let’s come together as a strong community and empower each other so we can thrive and provide the best HME products, solutions and care for our community and customers.

Our first guest, which is an epic and historic guest, which I am so thrilled about is Alex Anderson with Oswald’s Pharmacy. And Alex, welcome to the first HME180 podcast.

Alex Anderson:
Thank you, Sue. Good to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Sue Chen:
Oh, it’s just such a pleasure. You know, I’m a huge fan of you and your business, and for years, and I have so enjoyed getting to know you and your company and it is epic. I mean, your pharmacy has been around for 149 years. I mean, Ulysses S. Grant was president when your pharmacy was started and now you’re in the sixth generation. And as I learned about your family history, I was so inspired because your family history is a legacy of embracing change. And that is what we have to do as independents is embrace that change and be empowered by it. So why don’t you start off by sharing with us some highlights and milestones of your family history?

Alex Anderson:
Well, I think, you know, as you mentioned, going back to 1875 when my great great great grandfather, William Wallace Wickle worked for the company. He took ownership in 1881 and that was a few years ago. So there’s not, we’ve got some old pictures, a few stories, but his son in law took over in about 1915. And that’s where, you know, you and I have talked about kind of the changes that our small pharmacy made to stay afloat. And that was in the teens, Grandpa Oswald brought in a soda fountain as that became popular and trendy, especially during prohibition. Growing up my dad and myself, we always wish that we still had a soda fountain. My grandmother tells us that’s a terrible business to get into stay out of the food business. I don’t know if independent pharmacy is too much better.

But when my great grandfather took over, so Grandpa Oswald’s son-in-law, the soda fountains were kind of going out. They weren’t as popular. This was early sixties and he saw a need for cosmetics department. So we hired beauticians, cosmetologists and became kind of west of Chicago, a destination for makeup. And then as chains kind of started growing in Naperville as a town, we went from farm town when my grandfather, great grandfather ran it to now a large city of close to 150,000 residents — surrounded, it’s the greater, you know, Chicago land metropolitan area. So it grew dramatically and then were surrounded by chains and they kind of had a stronghold on cosmetics. So my grandfather, when he took over in ’77 he computerized the pharmacy in the 80’s being one step ahead of the chains before they did that.

And when he sold to the business to my father in 1991 we, we kind of, you know, we still had a bit of cosmetics, we still did photo developing, all of the regular services that pharmacies offer usually. And then in the mid 90’s, there was a little toy called Beanie Babies.

Sue Chen: Oh Yeah.

Alex Anderson: And I love the, you know, you, you have a lot of support for independent businesses that also started that way where Ty Warner was only selling these little stuffed bean bag animals to independent businesses. 

Sue Chen: Interesting.

Alex Anderson: Which is, you know, that, that was just such a great way to support small businesses. And as that grew and then eventually died out, no one was going to college off their beanie baby money as they once planned. we, we grew our gift and toy section and around that same time, we hired a pharmacist who said, “Hey, Bill,” – that’s my father – “You should get a lift chair.” And at that time, we didn’t even know what a lift chair was by the mid-90’s and we had one on our floor. But when we were in our old location in downtown Naperville, it was 5000 square feet. So we didn’t have a lot of room and we saw every month or two. And then when my dad was at a trade show, he saw another guy speaking on DME/HME and he’s like, “The more lift chairs you have, the more you’ll sell.”

So we moved out to our new location in 2004–so 20 years ago–we had a little more room, we doubled the size of the store. So he goes, “Ok, how about 4 lift chairs?” And then in the early 2000’s, we got connected with NOVA. And that, you know, because there’s a small amount of DME/HME, you can get through Cardinal, McKesson, ABC, the big drug wholesalers, but it’s not until you’re going direct with DME/HME wholesalers that you can get a really nice selection of items that are quite popular. And so when we started working with NOVA, we just expanded first, it was 4 ft, then 8 ft, then 12 ft, then 32 ft. Then we’re carrying hosiery, diabetic footwear, diabetic socks, ADL, and just grew dramatically. And at that time, we still were 10,000 square feet. And then we were running out of room and there was a vacant 5000 square foot spot next to us, so we put a couple of holes in the wall and opened up a DME showroom. So from one chair to four chairs, now we’ve got about 45 on the floor. 

So that’s kind of the centerpiece, but it’s surrounded by a sea of green from some wonderful NOVA products along with, you know, we do a lot of compression, hosiery, braces. So we work with a lot of great vendors in the industry and I like it a lot because it’s very, it’s hands on service the way I think pharmacies used to be when you see photos of my great, great grandfather after merchandise was behind the counter and you know, they would help you. It’s a one on one transaction and that’s what we see in DME because people come in and they see this wall of hosiery, they don’t know how to size themselves or what they need or what compression level.

So it’s really nice. It’s a lot of one on one in depth interactions where we really help people find exactly what they’re looking for or sometimes what they didn’t even know they were looking for.

Sue Chen: Exactly. I mean, and that was the whole mission of your, your pharmacy in the first place was to connect with your customers and really help them. Well, that is an incredible history and where you are today, being the destination in your community for HME. So, but let’s go back because I think it’s important for our listeners to hear about what’s happened to pharmacy. There was a time where maybe it was your grandfather was able to make a decent living as a pharmacist and as mostly a pharmacy, what has happened to reimbursements specifically for, for pharmacy in the last decade or so?

Alex Anderson: Yeah, for independent pharmacy. A lot of independents right now are fighting for PBM reform which the chain pharmacy is vertically integrated. They bought insurance companies, they bought PBMs and pretty much they’re able to claw back a lot of money from independents. And this year is what they’re calling the DIR Armageddon. And a lot of independents are really worried about going out of business.

And that’s sad because we know, you know, as an independent, as a family run business, that’s been around for six generations, we know how to take care of our customers. We know what good customer service is. That’s why we’re still around and, you know, you see our pharmacists, they’re on hold for two hours with a Walgreens or CVS and then, how these big companies operate, there’s just a lack of customer service because it’s not about the patient. It’s really more about the bottom line and shareholders. Sadly, and, you know, like I, I try to look at an easy way to describe PBMs and, and I was reading on a pharmacy message board where someone’s like, “How do you tell your friends about it?” Like my friend is a plumber and I said, “If you, you know, did a job $300 for labor, $200 for parts.” And then two months later, the guy says, “Actually, I’m gonna need $250 back. We kind of overpaid for that.” And his friend was just dumbfounded like, How do you do business? There’s no business that’s like that.

And while, you know, we’re a member of NCPA and they’re working to fight and reform PBMs and other issues that are affecting independent pharmacy were also being proactive and working with vendors like NOVA or Golden or Medi Sigvaris to offset some of those losses in the pharmacy, we also still maintaining in that health care realm. 

Sue Chen: Yes.

Alex Anderson: And if I’m not going to make that money on a prescription, the way my grandfather used to, well, when you need any medical equipment, like you said, people go to Oswald’s, go to Oswald’s and we’ll take care of you on that end too. And I think that’s what we’ve discussed. It really kind of stays in that realm where a lot of pharmacies, especially a smaller footprint. 5000 square feet, you don’t have a ton of room, so maybe you can get a couple of chairs in. But there’s so many of those items, those smaller aids to daily living, the bathroom safety items that are just so important. And often even we do advanced wound care. It’s an acute need. I needed this yesterday. I need it today. And even with Amazon Prime, might come tomorrow, is it the right one? Is it the right size? Do you know what you’re really shopping for?

And that’s, that’s where I think that curated selection where we vetted all the products. We know our vendors. We say that we wouldn’t carry anything. We wouldn’t want our parents or grandparents or friends and family to use. So there’s just so many items out there that it’s like, hey, we know the industry, we’ve done the hard work, let us help you. And as you know, cheaper isn’t always better, which is often what they’ll find online.

Sue Chen: That’s right. And it sounds like you have the ultimate competitive edge, which is saying, let us help you. And that’s that human connection that you’re not gonna get on Amazon or in your Walgreens or your CVS and it and it feels like because like what you’re describing with the PBMs and the claw backs and what the chains are doing, you could just get downright angry or you just kind of give up because it’s, it sounds illegal and it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating that the people that care the most that deliver the best quality get paid, not just the least, but in some ways you get money taken away from you for the work that you’ve done. 

So I don’t want to get on that soap box as I get really angry about it, it sounds like what you’ve done is you’ve basically transformed the emotion of feeling angry and frustrated to saying, you know what, I’m going to be empowered and I’m gonna compete, I’m gonna crush my competition in an area where they’re frankly just not very good at. And so now you have a thriving HME/DME pharmacy and you have a lot of product. You said 45 lift chairs, so many different categories. And how did you get the word out? Because I just have to share with our listeners that you’re not a pharmacist.

Alex Anderson:[laughs] Yeah. Contrary to many of my fellow pharmacy owners, most of them are pharmacists. So that’s where you know that story of my dad and hearing, “Hey, if you, the more lifters you have, the more you’ll sell.” That’s where I love connecting with other industry leaders and people in that pharmacy because a lot of my friends, they’re pharmacists so they know a lot of things I don’t know, they’re a lot smarter than me. But where I can help them is my expertise in DME and retailing and marketing, which was my background. So it’s nice to have those connections because, yeah, it’s like, especially in this wild world of pharmacy in 2024 it’s good to have friends who are running successful independents because whenever I have a question, I can reach out and in the same way, that’s kind of what I’m helping them do is like, “Hey, I know your reimbursements aren’t where you need them to be. I’m gonna help you. Here’s a simple turnkey way. You can get 4ft, 8ft, 12ft of DME,” and, and you know, and for a pharmacy, what I also love is it goes both ways your pharmacy customers can become your DME customers and your DME customers can become your pharmacy customers. 

So I think you kind of want to talk about marketing materials and getting the word out. And that’s so I’m kind of going in reverse because they’re at the store, but when they leave with that lift chair with that rollator with that post op kit, we give them a folder that if, if necessary, we’ll have the warranty, it’ll have our monthly newsletter, our return policies. And also like, hey, where do you get your prescriptions filled? You know, and it makes you think, oh, why don’t I, they were very friendly there.

Sue Chen: Yes! Well, because they probably used to–I mean, if they’re going to Walgreens or CVS, like, they barely even make eye contact with you and you’re on hold for two hours. And so with your store you have a completely different experience. 

But let’s start with, we’re gonna talk about marketing because that’s where you have a lot of expertise and I want our listeners to learn from you. But let’s start with what you just said that customer experience. Your customer has a great experience in the store and they leave with lots of information. And then what I’ve noticed on your website is you have a lot of great reviews. So share with us how you engage with your customers so they come back and also spread the word.

Alex Anderson:Well, leaving reviews and that’s, you know, you can encourage it, you know, of course Google Yelp do not pay people for reviews. So I don’t do that. I know people can and you’re able to, we just, we have a, a business card that just says, “How do we measure up?” And then we have  our website, we just shorten the URL. So I think just like So it’s like 10 characters, type it in, maybe there’s a QR code and it brings you right to a page with Yelp, Facebook, and Google, which I think is the most important, you know, Google business profile and they just click on it and it takes them right there to leave a review. We’ll hold like fun competitions on our end where we go, hey, whoever can get us the most reviews this month gets a $50 gift card, you know, ways to motivate the team. And yeah, and some people just do a great job of it.

And yeah, when you do get that good service, like, I recently had a flat and went stopped at the nearest tire store. They patched it for free. Say, “Hey, could you please leave me a good review? No, no charge.” And I was like, “Yeah, definitely, as a small business owner, I’d be delighted to.” And even when not asked when you get that good service, you know, I think that’s really important to support other small businesses in that way.

So yeah, and reviews and right now that’s where we do. A lot of our advertising is Google because that’s the first thing you see when you Google, you know, anyone’s medical equipment shop that Google my business on the right side is gonna come up. How many stars do they have? How many reviews do they have? Does it have their hours? Does it have links to their website? Because yeah, it’s funny you’ll go to go to them sometimes and they don’t even have a website link or there’s no reviews or maybe not so great reviews and there’s a lot you can do to offset that or you work on it and just build a better Google My Business profile.

Sue Chen: So that sounds like something that’s pretty simple for everyone to do is to make maintain and make sure that their Google Business Profile is up to date. Has pictures, has reviews. I mean, that’s all free. Right. You don’t have to pay for that though.

Alex Anderson: That’s how they get you into Google Ads and then, then you pay for that. But the Google My Business or Google Business Profile, those are free. And yeah, definitely important when Google has, I don’t know what it is, but like over 90% of the searches on the internet are all through Google.

Sue Chen: Ok, great. And so let’s talk about search because you have done a great job and your brother seems to be pretty savvy when it comes to a digital marketing strategy when it comes to keywords and Google Search. And I know that can seem a little like the abyss for people. So maybe kind of just simplify how that can be strategic for bringing in new customers to your store.

Alex Anderson: Yeah. Well, Sue, when this conversation started, I was having trouble my, with my camera. Like I’m not a super tech savvy person, but when I started back at the family business in 2016, I taught myself Google Ads and again, not super tech savvy it is, you know, there’s a lot but Google has some great lessons and videos. You can watch that kind of teach, teach you how to do it.

And I did it myself for a couple of years and that’s where again, it’s a low bar to, you know, there’s not too much you need to do to just dip your toes in it and get your feet wet. And once you see that success from it, then, then you can grow that and you can work with an ad agency or, and that’s kind of how I get to a point after a couple of years. I go, “This is all these keywords, it’s too much.” So my brother who is the more tech savvy and he’s worked the pharmacy most of his life. So he knows those DME products really well, which is important because that’s how you choose what keywords and then what negative keywords, what you wanna show up for, what you don’t want to show up for, how much you set your bid for.

And when you get to that point, that’s where you can work with somebody. And because my brother knew the industry, I started a group with some friends around the country called IMR: Independent Medical Retailers. And he’s helped out a few of them and my friend Travis up in, Seattle. Travis said it was like turning on a fire hose it was just like it really in a couple weeks. Once the ads optimize it just brings new people in your doors and depending on what your market is, you could be one of the few people doing that. We’re being so close to Chicago, there’s a lot of other businesses that do that make our clicks a little more expensive. but yeah, based on where you are, it can be extremely helpful, especially to get the word out. And I, you know, as we’ve discussed that in person marketing is also extremely important. But yeah, Google Ads is definitely an important tool.

Sue Chen: OK, an important and, and I feel like necessary. So at the very least, our listeners need to start exploring how they can use Google and digital marketing to bring in customers in the store because that’s where they’re at, you have to meet customers where they’re at and there’s a lot of targeted search where when people are looking, then they will come to your store.

How about some other ways? Because I think we’ve shared that marketing is a multifaceted approach and it’s something that you spend a lot of time on is marketing, bringing those customers in your store.

Alex Anderson: Yeah. So to tonight after this, I’m going to the local Children’s Museum for their Love Bugs Dance where, you know, adults bring their moms and dads, bring their kids and it’s like a little Valentine’s Day event and we market our store, and again, it’s like you think DME all, it’s just, you know, aren’t you advertising at the retirement home? And it’s like, well, here we can advertise our pharmacy, we can advertise –We have pediatric wheelchairs. You know, kids get hurt sometimes too. We have pediatric braces and you know, that sports teams and stuff like that. There, there are other needs in that realm. So, getting involved in any events in your community, I think we really like to do that.

So we work with our Park District, local museums. We’re members of our Chamber of Commerce. So we’ll sponsor events through that. So, that community involvement is an important aspect and especially as our town has gotten so big, it’s you gotta be front of mind and be out and about and letting people know you’re still there and then it is old fashioned marketing just calling on doctors and going to their offices, going to retirement homes, assisted living communities. You know, we’ve done speaking engagements or we’ve worked with our hosiery — or no, Segal says “compression socks”, don’t say hosiery because that doesn’t make it sound cool. So if you and we’d work with Medi and they’d come out and they do like Doppler vein tests and talk about your leg health and how compression can benefit you.

So it’s, I think those two components are really important when you’re going out there is that educational component, both for, you know, prospective customers and for doctors and their staff because often they don’t know all the services that you offer and, and, you know, it’s, it’s whenever we do have a nurse come to the store, it’s like a kid in a candy store. Like, “Oh my gosh. I didn’t know all this exists.”

You know, because that it’s, there’s always new things happening in this industry as you know, you’re always coming out with new products and it depends on how long ago they were in school. What products were there? And there’s so many new innovative products that help people ambulate safely, get around, stay active. And yeah, it’s important that that educational component and that’s, you know, doing videos is really important. Like I mentioned Kevin at All Star Medical in Tennessee. He does terrific videos and it’s just, it’s simple. He just sets up a camera and talks about new products, but it’s engaging. People aren’t looking for high end effects. They just tell me about this new lift chair. Tell me about this new role later and that’s what he does.

Sue Chen: Wow. So it is a multifaceted approach, working with the community, your referral sources, doing digital, doing in-store marketing, just always marketing, which is just getting the word out and letting people know what it is that you do and what you have. So that’s, that’s marketing and, and, and I think that it’s important for our listeners to know that that’s got to be part of your business strategy is marketing, marketing, marketing.

Alex Anderson: And we talked about two with that just to add on real quick is, is engage your staff. Like, as I’ve gotten older, like TikTok? No, I don’t know what that is. But I’ve got 22 year old who works with us, Julie who’s awesome or our pharmacy tech, Nancy, who they do an amazing job creating engaging educational videos on TikTok and then they’ll share those on Facebook and Instagram. So it doesn’t have to be that one man show which I think me and a lot of other independent pharmacy owners… You’re just like, “Well, I’m gonna do it best. Let me do it.” But you know, ask for help, reach out, see if you’re staff and that’s fun for them. It’s hey, I get to step aside from counting pills or fitting people for compression socks and I get to shoot a YouTube video or a TikTok. And so it, it’s, yeah, engage your staff and you’ll get some help and some buy in.

Sue Chen: That is a great idea because I think under a certain age, people know how to create a lot of content because they’re doing it all the time anyways. That is a great idea. And speaking of staff, I feel the most amazing part of your store is your staff because that’s again, something that you are not gonna get on Amazon. Not gonna get a CVS. Is your amazing staff. And they are fantastic, by the way, and you’ve got 10 dedicated people that are educated, expert, compassionate, caring, people taking care of your customers. Maybe share with the listeners about your staff because they’re dedicated HME specialists, right? But they weren’t always, when you first started in HME, it was kind of like a hybrid where the pharmacy staff was also doing HME. But then as it grew, you had HME, dedicated staff.

Alex Anderson: Yeah. And, and that’s what you and I have talked about in the past. It’s when you hear me say 45 lift chairs, 10 full time employees, 5000 square feet, it’s like that didn’t happen overnight and you gotta start somewhere and you can start really small. And that’s what I encourage because this is where we are now. This is, this is going on 30 years when we got our first lift chair.

So, yeah, staffing has always been important. And again, that’s what independent pharmacies hang their hat on is look at our customer service. It outshines the chains 10 to 1. We’ll take care of you and we just, you know, that just translated to DME. So when we started with that 4, 8, 12ft section and the 1 to 4 lift chairs. Yeah, it was our pharmacy staff. They did the rentals, we kept them behind the pharmacy, they’d help you fit a pair of diabetic shoes or the compression socks. And when we opened the show room in 2015, I remember my dad saying like, “Yeah, by 5 p.m. you don’t even need a single employee there. You know, it’s, it’s not gonna be that busy.” Within a couple of years, we had at least two team members open to close at all times, three during the day.

And now,  between our two locations for medical equipment, you know, we got 10 full time employees and that’s what’s tough is hiring people who know about the equipment and many people don’t. And that’s, and that’s where training is an important part and that’s where we look for vendors like NOVA that have really great–don’t you call yourself the Chief Educational Officer?

Sue Chen: I do.

Alex Anderson: [laughs] But, but that’s so important because how do you train these people? How did I, how did I learn myself? Like watching NOVA videos, watching YouTube videos, you know, so we have like playlists of videos to introduce product to new employees. And then of course, what’s best is showing them in person, showing them how everything works and that’s what they’re gonna do to all your future customers.

So, now that we’ve, you know, I think that this retail DME has been an industry, and even people that come from ad me or HME, that does bill insurance… at our new store, we just hired someone who, that’s she, she’s been in DME for 20 years and it was like, wow, someone who actually knows out the gate how to fit for compression socks. Where, again, none of this is rocket science. We’ve trained most of our staff from the ground up. You know, they came from the restaurant industry or just a retail clerk and now they’re fitting people for compression house, finding what they need post surgery, helping them with advanced wound care. Training is so important and that’s where whoever you find. And again, this started with just the pharmacy staff doing this. And as it grew, you find that person who’s really passionate about DME or who really engages with the customers and that’s the first day. “Ok? You’re, now you’re in charge of this and as we grow, you’re gonna train the next person,” and that’s, and that’s what we’ve done over the past going on 10 years with the, the new showroom and since last year with the new store.

Sue Chen: That’s great information. So what it sounds like is that once you recognize someone, whether it’s in your staff or you’re hiring, that really loves helping customers, then you can train them on the products, you can train them on fitting. So all of that training and education you can give them, but you can’t change the attitude of someone who doesn’t want to help customers. They can work at CVS, right? 

Alex Anderson: Exactly! [laughs]

Sue Chen:[laughs] But when you see someone who really is passionate about helping people. Then the training is just, you know, something that’s easy.

Alex Anderson: I’ll speak to like on the reps end of it too because we can do, you know, put together Youtube playlist, do training in store. But it’s great when that’s taken off your plate. And that’s where, you know, where we talk about our curated selection. Like we really do try to find the best equipment for our customers is also working with the best vendors in the industry who will come out. And like if, if it’s between two items and this one is maybe 2% more, but it’s a really attentive rep who comes out and trains your staff and takes care of you. I’m gonna go with that company because that’s so important. It’s not always about the, you know, the dollar amount. Sometimes it’s about that support you get and then in turn, you can support your customers.

Sue Chen: Mmmm, that makes sense. And, and kind of speaking of choosing the right vendors because I feel that that’s a very important part of your store strategy is having the right vendor partners. And I have to say that when it comes to a vendor partner, we have to speak about a competitor and it starts with the letter A — Amazon. And you’re competing against the chains, but it sounds like you can crush them when it comes to products and, and customer service all day long, all day long. But with Amazon, I think that also is important to think about the vendor strategy, maybe share with us kind of what you do competing against Amazon and how that makes you think about your vendor strategy.

Alex Anderson: Well, yeah, and like I said pricing doesn’t always matter, but it’s very important and that’s where working, I think first and foremost, and this is across every product category in my store MAP pricing: Minimum Advertised Price. And it’s tough to protect with the wild west of the internet. It’s, it’s easy to have your products mispriced, but there’s vendors — NOVA does a great job. Golden does a great job. And I got an email from Golden today, “Hey, one of your lift chairs is underpriced on your website.” And I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll get my brother to fix that.” So it’s nice that you know, that these people are looking out for you because you know it’s happening more and more as the years go on. And usually it’s like, you know, the younger 40-50 somethings buying a chair for mom or dad and they’re looking on their phone at Spinlife and Amazon and doing price comparisons and if I can sell for the same price, it is on the internet. I feel like that’s, that’s how, of course, I wish every vendor was like that. But that’s a win-win-win. Online can sell for those people who don’t want to go into a store. They can order online, they can come to me and the vendor is selling it well, I guess what they sell it for can change. But if everyone has the same price–it just kind of levels the playing field. So MAP is really important one to us. And then as I mentioned that rep support and educational components. And then on the new website, we just launched yesterday, a new medical equipment website, we have a tab called “Why Buy From Us?”– the “Why Buy?” Page. And it talks about like, ok, you can get that lift chair from Amazon for $400 or that knee scooter from Amazon for $90 and you’re and my store, the cheapest ones, $200. I can tell you all the reasons why I don’t carry that $90 one. And you know, and I talked about education both for your staff and your customers. A social app we didn’t talk about is next door and we’re on next door and we get referred a lot and someone was looking for a knee walker. Half the responses were, “Go to Oswald’s,” the other half were, “Get it on Amazon 90 bucks, 100 bucks.”

So I left a comment and I go, “Hey, thank you whoever, you know, who, who recommended us. We do rent and sell them. we’d be happy to show you. Please come visit our showroom if you do buy one online, make sure you read very carefully.” Because a lot of them don’t have stops on the handles and it can, it’s a tip hazard and a lot of these really, let’s call them affordable models–yeah, they’re tip hazards. I would never carry them. But small wheels, they’re narrow. The part of the seat that your leg rest on isn’t offset. And there’s just all these things that we know in the industry that someone, they look at my $200 model or the $80 model and they’re gonna buy that. But in the long term you risk another injury, you and if you don’t want to own it, we rent them and that’s what we were talking about renting the TKW 12, the original NOVA Knee Walker. That’s a beast. Those things last for years and you can get repair parts if you need them. And that’s another in the Why Buy? Sheet. And if you visit, which is strictly for our medical equipment. Yeah, there’s a tab: Why Buy From Us? And we can replace them. That $499 chair you got on sale at Amazon or the local furniture store–They order a container, they come over, they sell them and then something goes wrong. “Sorry. I don’t know where that motor came from. I can’t get a replacement part for that.” For these lift chairs being medical devices, we have service teams that go out and, “Is there a problem with the chair? Call us! Plus we’ll troubleshoot it with you over the phone. If we need to go out, we’ll go out.” You can buy the, all these items have great warranties. We even sell extended warranties and try, you know, calling Mr. Amazon to come fix your $400 lift chair. It’s just not gonna happen. And there’s just a lot of reasons that you can really advocate for yourself and show why you’re so much different and why you’re so much better outside of just shop local, which is important. But there’s so much more to it than that, especially in our industry.

Sue Chen: Especially in our industry. And I, and I love that you created a “Why Buy From Us?” because that why is so important to the consumer because when it comes to HME/DME products, the customer is uninformed and these are health care related products that deal with their safety and their recovery and their well being. With a knee scooter, they’re already recovering from surgery. I mean, if they get injured again, I mean, that would be catastrophic. So the why is so important and the why is why independents are the best place for people to go to when it comes to their HME/DME needs hands down. And that’s why we have to thrive. 

Ok. So as we’re wrapping up. This has been such a fun and enlightening 30 minutes. And thank you so much. I want to just leave a little bit for our listeners. Some people may not have done any HME/DME or maybe dabbling or doing some, what would you say would be some words of wisdom or some advice for them? Especially since they know now they’ve got to transform their front end pharmacy.

Alex Anderson: Again, I think the most important part is starting small. I don’t think you need to take it all on at once. And that’s as I mentioned, even if you’re with Cardinal, McKesson, ABC, you can get some of these items from your drug wholesaler. They carry a small selection, but that’s where you wanna, you wanna make sure that you’ve got an adequate selection to and again, start with 4 ft or 8 ft and then once your staff knows and then start the simple things when you’re even when you’re at your own doctor, let him know. If I ever see a doctor, “Hey, you know Oswald’s, yeah, here’s my card. If we have, if you need anything, just let me know.” And then, yeah, it’s simple things like that and then getting involved in the community to let people know that you have these services. And again, doesn’t have to happen overnight. If you want it to happen overnight, then you gotta spend some money with our friends at Google because that, that does help.

But yeah, it can sound daunting, especially if you’re a pharmacy owner that is just underwater and have too much on your plate to think about. Now you’re asking me to get into DME. I didn’t learn about that in pharmacy school. But again, with, you know, the program we’re working on for an easy 4-, 8-, 12-ft section. NOVA sends it to you. They’ll come out and, you know, Dan is terrific at doing resets. He makes your store look beautiful.

And again, it’s those company relationships that you’ll have that really can make all the difference. And when, when you have a company like NOVA or Golden or our hosiery/sock/compression sock vendors that are really hands on, really educate you. They’re doing half of the heavy lifting for you. And then once you have their help, that’s half the battle and then you’ve got to dedicate a little bit of your time or one or, you know, ideally, especially as a pharmacy owner, find that person on your staff that we talked about who’s outgoing, who’s got the best customer service. And say, “Hey, there’s a little more responsibility help me out with this,” and watch it grow because it’s been a terrific asset to the pharmacy and one of the most important departments over the last decade.

Sue Chen: Oh, that is just so great to hear because six generations, Alex and now you are thriving HME Pharmacy. And more importantly, you’ve helped so many people in your community. I mean, thousands and thousands of people whose lives have been improved because of Oswald’s Pharmacy. And are you pretty confident that Oswald’s will thrive for the future? Because HME is so prominent in your store?

Alex Anderson: I hope so. I’m doing everything I can to make it that way. You know, I can’t, I can’t tell my kids that they gotta work for the business because when I was a kid, I said I’d never work for the business and look at me talking to Sue Chen on a podcast about equipment. So you never know. But I’m doing everything I can to keep it going. And yeah, I’m so proud of my family’s history and love going into work every day and doing what I do to continue that tradition.

Sue Chen: Oh, that is just so powerful and empowering. Alex Anderson, Oswald’s Pharmacy. Thank you so much. Thank you for being our first guest. This has been incredible and I want to thank all of you guys for listening. This has been so much fun. We are so passionate about the independents and this is what we’re doing. We wanna come together as a community and empower each other so we can empower our customers. And we can do this. We can thrive by doing this together.

So you can see more about Oswald’s Pharmacy in our show notes. We’re gonna put there some pictures of his amazing store. We’re also gonna have a link to the website where you can get more resources and education and how you can grow HME in your store. So here we go. Let’s do this. This is going to be the first of many episodes where we’ll be supporting each other and empowering each other. All right, take care and be empowered. Thank you.

Outro: A transcript and a copy of the visual companion guide is available on our website at Your host was Sue Chen, Chief Educational Officer of NOVA Medical Products. And our special guest today was Alex Anderson from Oswald’s Pharmacy. This podcast was produced and edited by Melissa Grace Klose. Our theme music was created by Rebecca Klose. Thank you for listening to The HME180 Podcast and we will see you all again next month.

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