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Loop Pharmacy celebrates 30 years

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JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal. Bill McFarland says that community support has been key to his success. JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal. Bill McFarland says that community support has been key to his success.
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From 1984 to 2014, many things have changed for locally owned businesses.

Retail chains, with their nationally known brand names and giant-by-comparison marketing budgets, have swallowed up countless mom & pop stores across the nation — West Virginia included.

Yet Loop Pharmacy, a locally owned “drug store” and medical supply business in St. Albans, has not only survived, but thrived.

This year, the pharmacy owned and operated by Bill McFarland, celebrates its 30th year in business.

“My success in St. Albans is due to the fact that my community has supported me,” he said. “That’s an honor that I will go to my grave being thankful for. They’ve supported my dream of caring for patients the best way that I can. I feel blessed. I love this work; I’m always here.”

But, McFarland said chain stores are tough competitors.

“We have to have better service and be able to solve problems better,” he said. “I think we do. We put more resources to fixing issues and problem solving.

“Once people come and connect with us, they typically never leave.”

It started in 1984 with McFarland and his wife Cecilia and one other person. Now, there are 50 employees at Loop.

Erin Rudge, a business partner, is one of the managers, and has become someone McFarland leans on a lot.

“She’s the pharmacist in charge,” McFarland said. “I relinquished that several years ago. But I’ll work as well as I feel healthy to do it.

“This company has a personality,” he added. “We only want to attract (employees) that care about people. We want it to be that way. It’s a faith thing. We’re here to serve and that’s what we’re going to do. And I love serving physicians, helping them with their patients. That’s where my joy is.”

McFarland doesn’t have to think long to come up with the keys to Loop’s business success.

“No. 1. — Location,” he answered. “No. 2. — Developing relationships with your patients. It’s about treating them with compassion and love. There’s not enough of that out there.

“No. 3. — Having what the patients needs, when they need it. No. 4. — Having what they need at a price that they can afford, that is competitive.”

McFarland also pointed out that Loop is an “absolute, independent pharmacy.”

“Everything we do is self-contained,” he said. “Thirty years of independence has been quite a journey for me.”

Niche Products

The things that separate Loop from other pharmacies also solidify its grasp on the market, which is flooded with options for prescription and medical needs.

“We’ve developed several niches that others aren’t doing, and aren’t willing to do,” explained McFarland. “One of those is customizing medications; we call that compounding.

“People like to have medications that are very unique to them.”

McFarland said there are a lot of medications out there that a lot of people simply can’t take — maybe they’re too strong, or they need to be made into liquids. Or a medication may not be available under normal conditions and must be custom-made.

“We also do packaging for patients — assembling the medications and preparing it in an easy to take form,” he said. “We do a lot of sterile products for patients and physicians, when that is required for injected prescriptions, to assure non-contamination. And we do a lot of medical supplies and equipment for patients.”

No More Itching

Bill’s Poison Ivy Lotion became a product thousands of West Virginians have come to depend on.

It’s something McFarland came up with himself.

“About 15 years ago, I created this product,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I could create the perfect poison ivy lotion, what ingredients would I have in it?’ So I created it.

“It does a terrific job of reducing the misery of poison ivy. You apply it and the itchy feeling goes away and it helps to dry it up. There are several ingredients that work right away and there’s some that work a little bit later and then there’s more that work further on. It really does have a great effect.”

A recent change in federal laws has altered the ability to freely sell the lotion.

“I used to be able to make that product, label it and put it on the shelf like any over-the-counter product,” McFarland explained. “At one time, we were selling about 2,000 to 3,000 bottles of it every year. It wasn’t a product that we could patent, though. The only thing I could do was make it and sell it.

“However, about two months ago, the federal government has passed a law saying that we as pharmacists could not make a product and sell it over the counter. The only way I can get that product to people today is for a doctor to prescribe it. It’s a little frustrating.”

McFarland had invested in additional equipment to aid in the making of the lotion.

“I have to laugh because people have come from all over the state of West Virginia to get this product,” he said. “It’s really unique, and it really works.”

Location, Location

Loop Pharmacy is literally located at “the loop” — on 6th Avenue, across from the building that houses the St. Albans city hall, fire department and police department. It’s also near the recently rejuvenated Old Main Plaza, which has drawn new, locally owned, small businesses to the historical business district of the town. St. Albans sits along the Kanawha River, connected to Nitro by the Dick Henderson Bridge.

Its main thoroughfare is U.S. Route 60/MacCorkle Avenue.

Yet, when McFarland had an opportunity to move to an open building about three blocks away along busy MacCorkle, he stood by his choice of his original, current location.

Making his decision potentially difficult was the fact that his building is on the Kanawha Terrace side of the railroad tracks that splits the city.

But he didn’t hesitate. He knew what would work for him — and Loop Pharmacy. It started in a 1,500 square foot spot on the other side of the complex that Loop is located in today.

“In our first 12 years, we became so busy we kept asking our landlord if he could give us some extra space,” McFarland recalled.

An auto parts store on the opposite end of the complex had been seeking to move to a location with more traffic, along MacCorkle Avenue.

McFarland bought a building along MacCorkle, but used it for storage of his medical equipment. He worked up a deal with his landlord, Roger Smith, to buy the building and then offer to lease the property to the auto parts store. That would enable Loop to spread out in its complex, taking over the entire footprint of the property.

Most would question not wanting to be located in a higher visibility spot. But McFarland was laser-focused.

“I wanted to be on this side of the railroad tracks,” McFarland explained. “Being here was an important issue for me. I had been here 12 years and had everything I needed here. It never occurred to me to go out there. We were content.”

Who could argue? It worked.