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These are the words PioneerRx’s first employees use to sum up this adventure that has greatly contributed to the success of independent pharmacy over the last decade. However, none of this would be possible without one simple, six-letter word: change.
As we celebrate our 10th Anniversary, our first eight employees look back on the early years of PioneerRx Pharmacy Software: Dave Anderson, Paul Carrig, Kris Griffin, Gina Groves, Jeff Key, Kristi Lang, Kevin Messenger, and Jenny Roe discuss their history with the company, the first PioneerRx independent pharmacy, and all the expansion that has since occured. These eight were pioneers in their own right as they recognized the potential within the industry, then began working to establish a firm foundation built on technology so that community pharmacy would continue to flourish for years to come.
PioneerRx President Jeff Key was on a mission to improve software and technology capability by educating local computer science students. After leaving a local information technology company, he became an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University’s Shreveport campus where he educated many bright students who would later become members of the core team of developers. Before agreeing to come on board to develop a new pharmacy software system, Jeff met with Mark Dickson, President of New Tech Computer Systems, and presented two requirements. “One, the goal had to be to develop the best dispensing software in the country. If the goal was just to be a good Windows-based pharmacy system, then I wasn’t interested.” He continues, “Second, the software had to be wholesaler-independent because we weren’t going to be the best in the U.S. if we only reached 9 states and one wholesaler.” Mark concurred, and the journey to become the fastest-growing software began.
After putting together a team of former students and longtime coworkers from previous endeavors, Jeff and the team set out to design a system that would radically shift the marketplace. Jenny Roe, a developer and now Vice President of Customer Support, still has binders containing the initial software layouts she and fellow developer Kris Griffin captured from numerous design sessions. She points out the notes and suggestions that were scribbled onto the concept screens 10 years ago. When asked about her favorite project during her years with the company, she nods to the binder. “It’s PioneerRx as a whole!” she says excitedly. “I saw it from this,” she points to the early concepts, “to what it is today. That’s such a huge project, and I’ve watched it grow for the last decade.”
That growth began with the first PioneerRx independent pharmacy: Country Drug in Vivian, La., about an hour’s drive from PioneerRx’s headquarters in Shreveport, La. Conversion was not an overnight operation; rather, for 6 months, the crew of developers travelled in pairs to Vivian and repeated the previous day’s prescriptions within the software’s beta program to test for potential issues and opportunities. Kristi Lang, now the Director of Accounting and Financial Support, was one of the core developers who travelled to Country Drug weekly to work with the pharmacy staff. When it was time to officially install PioneerRx, Kristi looks back on the event with great affection. “That install at Country Drug was like watching my child walk for the first time,” she reflects. “It was so thrilling to see something we had nurtured from infancy and work with the pharmacy staff to evolve and mold. It was a truly exciting time for us.” On July 23, 2008, Country Drug became the first independent pharmacy to go live on PioneerRx’s pharmacy software.
With the new software in place, we wanted to take a unique approach to customer support. Gina Groves, now a Support Lead, remembers being the first Account Manager hired at PioneerRx with a pharmacy technician license plus 10 years of hospital, retail, and home infusion/LTC pharmacy experience. Today, all PioneerRx Account Managers are licensed technicians, and Gina has enjoyed this unique purpose her pharmacy background has offered her throughout the past 10 years since becoming Country Drug’s Account Manager. “If you look at our customers, who are independent owners and pharmacists, what makes them successful is that personalized experience — someone who knows you. In Support, we really try to achieve that in the relationships we build with our customers,” she describes. “We want to build a rapport with them so they have confidence in us and rely on us for knowledge, training, and trust. The root of our focus is being that champion for our pharmacies and helping them be successful.”
Country Drug was the first of 3,300 pharmacies to choose PioneerRx, and that number steadily grows. After installing the pharmacy management system in 14 locations within one year, Jeff predicted that we would bring 1,500 stores on board within 5 years. “Some people expressed doubt,” he recounts with a grin, “but we hit 1,500 stores in 5 years and 2 months. I’m proud of the execution, the steady march, and the work we had to do to hit that goal.” In March 2018, we welcomed our 3,000th independent pharmacy location to the PioneerRx family.
We continue to meet our goals, and running boldly towards innovation has been the greatest factor in our success. “Basically, we’ve always embraced and prepared for change in everything we do,” declares Paul Carrig, Vice President of Development and Operations. “Very few businesses remain successful if they continue on the same path and ignore change.” Kris Griffin, Manager of Conversion, muses on our mission to continuously sharpen the software to ensure it is a reliable tool for community pharmacists. “PioneerRx has withstood the test of time because we rapidly innovate and work with pharmacies and pharmacists who are innovators themselves. We make changes to our product as the industry changes.”
An added advantage is how quickly we respond to shifts in the industry. Senior Software Developer Kevin Messenger states, “Our competitors can only do major changes once or twice a year. Many times we can turn a customer’s idea into a released feature within a few weeks. This innovation we initially introduced with PioneerRx and the speed at which we continue to improve the software has kept us way ahead of the competition.”
Of course, these updates aren’t possible without a team of incredible people. The original, core group blazed a path for nearly 300 future coworkers to follow. Most are now in a position of leadership, and the sense of pride, loyalty, and responsibility to independent pharmacy are qualities they inspire within their teams. “We’ve had the incredible fortune of hiring great people, and we’ve been able to build a strong team who cares about the company and our customers,” boasts Dave Anderson, Senior Developer. “Not all companies are successful at that. We’ve done well.”
As the industry undergoes constant shifts and multiple sudden detours, we continue to work on creative solutions to save and revitalize independent pharmacy. Every year, we host our user conference, PioneerRx Connect, where we bring innovative pharmacy leaders, cutting-edge vendors, and our customers under one roof for an unforgettable weekend of education, networking and entrepreneurship. Connect 2018 in Nashville, Tenn., was our largest conference to date and included an exclusive opportunity for Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Networks (CPESNⓇ) to dialogue with attendees. In addition, we shifted our focus to the next generation of pharmacists and began offering PioneerRx University, a Cloud-based training version of PioneerRx, to pharmacy schools and technician programs for hands-on student education.
As for our future, we demand greatness from ourselves and anticipate greatness from our community pharmacies as they raise the bar of better health and patient care. Jeff does not shy away from setting larger goals for PioneerRx and the pharmacy industry. “We have moved from an innovative imitator to being an innovator. We expect the next 10 years to move from being the fastest-growing pharmacy system to being the largest pharmacy system,” he says. “We also expect to continue our innovation centered around the idea of pharmacy as a healthcare provider — transforming from just a paper transaction to being recognized for skillfully managing patient health.”
The hard work is never over, and we know we are just at the beginning. “You always think when you’re developing software that there’s going to be an end to it,” Kristi Lang says. “With PioneerRx, I don’t ever see an end. I see all the potential for independent pharmacy, and I just can’t wait to keep going.” She pauses, then declares, “I’m proud of where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we are going. I just love this place. It’s in my soul.”