In 2009, Fruth was elected chair of Fruth Corp., a position that would pose more challenges than she was expecting. The loss of its founder left the company in financial trouble, which was compounded by the recession in 2008.
Fruth began to right the ship by visiting all of the Fruth pharmacies and personnel, and refocused the company on her father’s founding philosophy of community engagement and catering to the needs of rural, working-class customers — the company’s key demographic. After making some necessary changes, including changes in management and reestablishing the family’s stake in the business, Fruth began to turn things around, seeing profits after years of deficits.
Initially, after her father’s death, Fruth thought everything with the family business was in good shape until she started asking questions and looking more deeply into the books. “At the time, we thought everything was fine, but it wasn’t,” Fruth says. “Along with the economic downturn in 2008 there was a crisis of leadership. I think there was some complacency.
“So I decided to look over all the financials, which took six months. It became obvious to me that the company was very much at risk.”
Since its founding in 1952, the 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 is the driving force to our business,” Fruth says. “We believe our success comes from the support our customers and employees give us. We simply do our best to return that support.”
Today, there are 30 Fruth locations: 18 in West Virginia, 11 in Ohio and one in Kentucky.
Fruth says that even during the tumultuous time after taking over the company, she never lost sight of the needs of the community, especially the poor, the undernourished, the addicted and those lacking adequate medical care.
“The question I asked was ‘What can we do to help?’ ” Fruth says, adding that focusing on the community and customers as family is what sets Fruth apart and allows it to compete against the big chains like Walmart, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens. “I believe people like doing business with local companies,” she says. “People want that personal relationship with their pharmacist and at the checkout counter.”
Some Fruth pharmacists, Lynne Fruth points out, have been with the company as long as 20 years, and the company has some employees, including delivery drivers, in their 70s. “When everyone wants to hire younger and cheaper help, we have embraced the older workforce and what they offer, such as a level of service that you just can’t find at a cold, big-box store.”
That personal one-on-one service is what Fruth says distinguishes her stores from others. “If a customer is looking for an item elsewhere and can’t find it, we’ll make sure to find it for them,” she says.
Ever since her father, a pharmacist, opened his first store in Point Pleasant, Fruth Pharmacy has been a recognized name for shoppers in West Virginia — and now Ohio and Kentucky as well.
Growing up in the family business was a wonderful experience, which Fruth says has paid off. “It is so much a part of who you are as a family. Sometimes it was hard to tell where the business stopped and the family began.”