Fairfield County is not lacking in pharmacies. From the big — box chains to supermarket pharmacies to the occasional neighborhood independent pharmacy that is still operating, there is a wealth of options for those in need of filling a prescription.
But the latest entrant in the field claims to differ from its competition. Since its opening in February, Shoreline Integrative Pharmacy, at 1835 Post Road East in Westport, combines both traditional and natural approaches to wellness in a single location. There is a full-service pharmacy but the store is also packed with herbal and vitamin supplements, homeopathic formulas and health and beauty products that stress organic and natural ingredients.
Phil Hein, the store’s owner, first became aware of that approach to pharmaceutical retailing during West Coast business trips in his 25-year career in fashion wholesaling, primarily with footwear companies.
“This idea is more prevalent out there,” he said. “You can find them from Washington state through southern California. There are also integrative pharmacies in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., but no one was doing it in Fairfield County.”
Hein added that his interest in the integrative pharmacy concept coincided with a desire to make several life changes. “I was in the corporate world for a long time and it was kind of the perfect storm: My kids are five and eight, and I wanted to spend more time around here. And all of the boxes were checked.”
Researching pharmacy retailing, Hein decided that his store would avoid duplicating the look and impersonal operation of some larger competitors.
“We’re doing it at such a different customer service and knowledge-based level,” he said. “One of the frustrations with someone who goes to one of those big boxes is that you stand in line to check you out, but there are no interactions. If you have questions, you have to wait in another line. We think that if you come into a pharmacy to improve your health, you should come in and feel like you’re in a place where you can improve your health.”
“We’re close to the beach, so our design is nice and bright and airy and opened up. There’s music playing and there are videos of surf or skiing — it is a get-out-and-try-to-live-life ideal.”
Hein also wanted to set himself apart from other natural products retailers, so he sought out brands that were not easily accessible to the Fairfield County shopper. “We have brands like Indie Lee and Herbivore that you won’t find up and down the Post Road,” he said. “We have a wall of Malin + Goetz here and the customers are going nuts over it. The people who know these brands are glad we have them here, because they would either have to buy them online or get them in the city.”
Shoreline Integrative Pharmacy also has a lounge space in the store with two couches, a coffee table and a big screen television for in-store events involving health and wellness experts discussing topics ranging from menopause to cardiovascular health; product vendors have also offered showcase presentations of their product lines.
Hein said he has seen most of his customer foot traffic in the mornings, especially for pharmacy pick-ups. Unlike his big competition, he opted to stay closed on Sundays.
A private office in the store is designed for private consultations between pharmacy staff and customers who are not comfortable talking about their medications over a counter. The store employs a pharmacy manager and two part-time pharmacists.
Hein, who declined to disclose startup costs for his business venture, said the most challenging aspect of the recent launch was convincing people to transfer their prescriptions to a new pharmacy. “People are used to going to whatever pharmacy they were going to. It is easier to move your scrip over than people think — all they have to do is tell the pharmacist where they get them, their date of birth and we do the rest,” he said.
The entrepreneur said his business goal was to force a rethinking of the pharmaceutical retailing experience. “It’s not about going to a place, picking up a scrip and then leaving,” he stated. “We really try to engage with the customer. I don’t think people are doing it to the level we are doing.”