Retail News Breaks
Fruth Pharmacy reaches milestone
December 11th, 2012
POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. – As it marks its 60th anniversary, Fruth Pharmacy has stayed true to its roots.
Founded in 1952 by pharmacist Jack Fruth, the 26-store, family-owned drug chain has never wavered from its core mission of serving as a trusted health care provider to people in the rural communities of northwestern West Virginia and southeastern Ohio and giving back to the towns in which it operates.
“Helping members of our community as we are able remains a driving force for our business,” says Lynne Fruth, the founder’s youngest daughter, who took over as the company’s president and chairman three years ago after a long career as a school teacher.
“We believe our success comes from the support our customers and employees give us,” she says. “We simply do our best to return that support.”
And, Fruth stresses, the drug chain has an unparalleled understanding of its shoppers.
“The rural customer is a value customer,” she says. “They are sensitive to price, brand loyal and committed to local businesses.”
Fruth Pharmacy has been a recognized name for shoppers in this part of the country ever since Jack Fruth opened his first store in Point Pleasant.
After suffering severe vision problems while a student at Greenbriar Military School in Lewisburg, W.Va., Fruth was forced to alter his career path, foregoing a future in the military in favor of one in pharmacy.
After leaving Greenbriar, Fruth began studying chemistry at Duke University but soon transferred to the Ohio State School of Pharmacy, got married and moved to Point Pleasant, where he started a family and opened his first drug store.
From almost the time they were old enough to peer over the counter, the five Fruth children were involved in their father’s business.
“Growing up in a family business is a unique and wonderful experience,” Lynne Fruth says.
“It is so much a part of who you are as a family,” she explains. “Sometimes it was hard to tell where the business stopped and the family began.”
Working so closely with their father and seeing the way he approached business instilled a strong sense of values in the Fruth children and made them keenly aware of how important it is to do what Jack Fruth simply called “the right thing.”
At the heart of that philosophy, Lynne Fruth says, is a sense of obligation to the company’s customers and its employees.
“We’ve had multiple opportunities to sell,” she says. “But for our family it’s not all about the money. The reason my father never sold the chain was that so many people would lose their job and that same feeling still holds with me and my siblings.”
Founder Jack Fruth at a store during the 1960s.
While Fruth has found the formula to succeed for six decades, it has not always been easy going, Lynne Fruth says.
In early 1969 the company’s second store burned to the ground. Because the store was not adequately insured, the company suffered a heavy loss, setting back its expansion plans. In the winter of 1996 a second fire inflicted even more damage, destroying Fruth’s corporate office and warehouse.
Lynne Fruth remembers that the blaze had such a severe impact on the company that its future was in doubt. “It’s fairly amazing that they continued to maintain operations,” she says. “I know that it came down to their being a few days away from going out of business.”
Help from the community and his own determination to not let a setback bring about the company’s demise enabled Fruth to persevere, and within a year the headquarters and warehouse were rebuilt.
A few years after Jack Fruth passed away, a third crisis hit. This time it involved the company’s finances and led Lynne Fruth and three of her siblings to play a bigger role in running the business.
“When I became aware that the company was struggling, I knew that I had to step in,” Lynne Fruth says, recalling how the company had maxed out its credit and was locked into some contracts that were only driving it deeper into debt.
Contracts were renegotiated, new vendors were found and Fruth Pharmacy quickly became a much more efficient operation.
After a year the company had trimmed $1 million in expenses and Fruth estimates that the chain was able to eliminate another million dollars from its expenses in the next two years.
Through all of the belt tightening she says she never lost sight of what got the company through its first 60 years and what she expects will guide it going forward — know the customer and be a good community citizen — the two tenets instilled in her by her father.
“There has never been a day when I wasn’t proud to say that Jack Fruth was my dad because of the impact he made on the community,” she says. “We’re going to continue to serve our communities, and we will strive to hold up the ideals that my father embraced in 1952.”
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