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RedSail Technologies recently partnered up with the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) to present the 2022 NICE Awards. The NICE Awards showcase the best of the best in community pharmacy branding and marketing. This year, three PioneerRx pharmacies won three respective NICE Awards in the following categories: Best Community Engagement, Best Internal Modification, and Best Delivery Vehicle.
Today, we hear from the winner of the Best Internal Modification Award, Avant Pharmacy and Wellness Center.
In the world of independent pharmacy, Amina Abubakar is something like a celebrity. For over a decade, Amina has promoted the profession and practiced at the top of her license — and she’s inspired thousands of other independents to do the same.
Whether she’s serving as CEO of the Avant Institute, teaching skills to students at local pharmacy schools, or speaking among leaders at the White House, Amina stays involved: and she’s racked up plenty of awards to show for it.
In the past few years, she’s been named NCPA’s Pharmacist of the Year, PDS’s Pharmacy Entrepreneur of the Year, and Wingate University School of Pharmacy’s Preceptor of the Year.
It’s safe to say, then, that Amina is no stranger to the spotlight.
But back home in Charlotte, NC, she sports a simple white coat and keeps a laser focus on caring for her community — a community she’s been serving since 2009.
Over a decade ago, Amina opened Rx Clinic Pharmacy with the hopes of treating underserved communities in Charlotte, mostly those on Medicaid. She worked around the clock to fill scripts and see patients, happy with the impact she was making.
But over time, she still felt something was missing.
Amina knew that pharmacists were capable of so much more than dispensing, so over time, she became interested in enhanced services. She wanted to expand her business beyond the traditional fill-and-bill model and grow into other areas: areas that would serve patients, empower people, and strengthen the future of pharmacy practice.
So she set out to do it.
Among independents pharmacists everywhere, Amina is known for her innovation — but she didn’t develop it overnight.
Amina says, “April makes 13 years at the pharmacy. For almost half of those years, we’ve been transforming from just dispensing medications to offering more services and better experiences for the people who come in. That’s where our journey is now, and that’s where it continues to go.”
Early in the journey, Amina started by opening up a few simple services, like health screenings and point-of-care testing. Over time, though, she wanted to try more ambitious services — ones that few pharmacists had tried before — like pharmacogenomic testing and wellness-focused programs.
In just a few years, Amina explains, “We became a very wellness-focused pharmacy.”
With more services, Amina felt better than ever. Finally, she was able to experiment, innovate, and see real results: and she wasn’t stopping there.
Her vision had only expanded, but she was still held back by something: her space.
For the past 10 years, Rx Clinic Pharmacy had operated in a small, cramped building in an underserved area. At first, Amina made do with the space, but as she started innovating, she noticed the building seemed smaller and the pharmacy seemed sparse of patients.
Amina says, “We had all of these services, but we needed space. We had outgrown our area, and our location wasn’t bringing in people with the economic ability to afford the services we were offering. We still wanted to treat [undeserved] patients, but we wanted to make sure we could meet all walks of life. We wanted to be accessible to everyone.”
In order to achieve accessibility, Amina knew Rx Clinic Pharmacy couldn’t operate in the same way it had.
She would have to wipe the slate clean and start over. In anticipation, she prepared herself, her team, and the patients she’d been seeing for the last 10 years — and she got ready to make a move that would change the way she practiced pharmacy forever.
To hear more from Amina, tune in to Episode 21 of Beyond the Scripts, You Can’t Put a Price on Connection.
Amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, Amina felt another source of uncertainty: finding a new space.
Amina says, “It was hard to find space, but eventually, we found an old Rite Aid building that was just about three miles or so from where we were but that accessed a different patient demographic.”
The space seemed perfect — with a whopping 11,500 sq. ft. available, Amina would have plenty of room to grow — but the price tag was high. To get around the issue, Amina called up a few physician friends and found a few who were interested in subdividing.
They sealed the deal, and in the summer of 2020, Amina purchased the space.
At last, it seemed, her dream was coming true.
Once again, though, change took time. The building was relatively run-down and in need of renovation. Demolition began in early 2021, followed by months of mapping out blueprints and redesigning the layout.
In her design, Amina allocated plenty of room for her current services, but she also left room for services she’d open in the future.
After months of planning and plenty of work from the construction team, the new space was ready by the summer of 2022 — just over a year since Amina bought it.
And, at long last, in August 2021, Amina cut the red ribbon to her new store, which now had a new name: Avant Pharmacy and Wellness Center.
It’s been just over 8 months since Amina and her team opened up shop, but in that time, she says, “There’s just been an outpouring of support from the community.”
Amina gushes, “People are always saying how much they love the space. They say how welcoming it is and how beautiful it is. We’ve attracted a lot of new patients and they all just fall in love with it when they come in. They can’t believe it’s a pharmacy. If you look at the Google Reviews, they’ll tell you it’s the nicest pharmacy they’ve ever been to.”
This kind of customer service was at the forefront of Amina’s mind when designing the space. She arranged for a light and bright building, spacious rooms for services, and a front end that increased in size by 2 ½ times. And now it was a reality.
Amina shares her thought process: “I think we don’t think enough about [the experience], especially when it comes to pharmacy. But if you think about the stores that you like to visit or the restaurants you like to go to, there’s always an emphasis on the experience. So I think for independent pharmacies, we need to start thinking that way.”
The experience pulls patients in, but the innovative services make them stay.
Amina explains what it’s like walking into Avant:
“When you come in, you’ll be greeted by a care experience guide. These people can guide you to the different sections and services of the pharmacy. We have a section dedicated to sports and nutrition. We have one dedicated to home safety, comfort, and mobility. We have the health studio for things like point-of-care testing. We have a space for health and wellness education, and then, of course, we have our immunization room testing center. We even have our own IV infusion room.”
More space means even more new services, which now include:
Each of these services has enabled Amina to get closer and closer to her goal of providing wellness-based pharmacy services — and continue to push pharmacy practice forward. It’s benefited her bottom line, too.
Amina says, “We’re seeing more patients. We’re seeing more revenue from non-dispensing, and we’re selling more over-the-counter items, too.”
8 months in, it seems that this transformation was an investment worth making.
And it hasn’t only been beneficial for Amina, but also for her team.
Amina emphasizes, “I didn’t realize the morale that this transformation would bring to the team. I think they just immediately felt like they were on top of the world. Before the transformation, I always wondered, ‘How do you guys really feel here?’ But now, the morale and the energy are so much different.”
For Amina and her team, winning the NCPA NICE Awards was just icing on the cake.
Amina says, “We were very excited [to receive the award]. Internally, we’ve been very proud of the transformation, so to be recognized by others in the industry — the team is just so ecstatic. It just validates that what we did was the right thing.”
With so much success from her transformation, Amina encourages other independents to take part in their own, even if it’s on a much smaller scale. Even just applying a fresh coat of paint or setting up a new display can make all the difference.
As Amina says, “My advice would be to build up your services but to also think about how people should feel [when they walk in]. How should they experience independent pharmacy?”
With this transformation, Amina has made sure that the experience has been a good one.