Vaccinations a Booster for Thrifty White
When a Covid-19 vaccine rush hit in winter, Twin Cities residents discovered the easiest shot could be found at a rural pharmacy chain they’d never heard of.
Thrifty White operates 99 pharmacies in small towns in the Upper Midwest, including 54 in Minnesota. But Forest Lake, about 30 miles northeast of Minneapolis, is the closest Thrifty White comes to the core metro area. In February, March, and April, it administered about 200,000 vaccinations. Thrifty White staffers inoculated plenty of people they’d never seen before and probably never would again. “About 30 to 40 percent were people who were very motivated, so they were willing to drive to get a vaccine,” says Jeremy Faulks, Thrifty’s director of specialty pharmacy and pharmacy procurement.
Faulks says Thrifty White made several moves that allowed it to serve customers beyond its normal base. It was poised to take part in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in February, because Thrifty White already had successfully vaccinated people living in about 250 long-term care facilities in Minnesota and North Dakota.
To gear up for the public vaccinations, Faulks says, Thrifty White’s IT team quickly built a vaccine scheduling tool that would be easy to use (Editor’s note: It was!) and collect patient information, so pharmacy employees wouldn’t have to input it. In January, about 140 pharmacy technicians got certified to give shots.
Thrifty White is the creation of a 1985 merger. Thrifty Drug was founded in 1957 in Brainerd, and White Drug was founded in 1884 in Jamestown, N.D. The employee-owned drug store chain generates about $500 million to $600 million annually, Faulks says.
Thrifty has been acquiring customers as independent pharmacies close small-town businesses and as retailers go under. For example, in 2019 it purchased the pharmacy files of Fergus Falls patients when the town’s Shopko pharmacy closed.
Faulks doesn’t envision Thrifty White taking on Walgreens and CVS in the Twin Cities metro. “It’s tough to gain a new foothold,” he says. “You’d have to spend a lot of money and lose money for a couple of years, probably, to open up a pharmacy and really gain that customer base you need.”