Vale drugstore prospers through customer service

Adam Tolman, who along with his wife Jennifer, owns Malheur Drug in Vale said his business success model isn’t very complicated. It all revolves around treating the customer right, said Tolman. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Reams of reports, statistics and individual testaments chronicle what it takes for small business to succeed, but Malheur Drug’s Adam Tolman has a simple explanation.

“A lot of luck,” he said.

Tolman and wife Jennifer own the local store and pharmacy that has evolved into a distinctive landmark in Vale. Tolman said Malheur Drug was established in 1954, and his dad, Roger, took over the store in the early 1980s.

In this era, giants such as Walmart control huge shares of the pharmacy market, and hometown drug stores are fading away.

But not Malheur Drug.

Tolman attributes the store’s longevity to good fortune, community encouragement and a focus on consumers.

“If we don’t offer good service, then people don’t want to support you,” said Tolman.

Customers are so important to the Tolman’s that they set aside one day every year to show their appreciation. Last week Vale residents converged on Court Street to enjoy hot dogs and beef sliders and to take advantage of special deals inside the store as part of the customer appreciation day.

Malheur Drug has been a part of Tolman’s life since he was a child.

Now 35, Tolman said he began to work in the store when he was a toddler, when his father owned the business. When a Vale resident walks through the glass doors at Malheur Drug, chances are Tolman either knows them or their family. That familiarity, he said, is another key to success.

“You are in a small community and everyone knows you,” said Tolman.

That intimacy can swing both ways, said Tolman.

“You get treated like family, which means that they are much more comfortable expressing how they feel,” said Tolman.

Small businesses sprout every year – more than 200,000 across the country in 2015. About 30 percent of small businesses make it 10 years.

In Oregon, between 2009 and 2011, the number of independent pharmacies plunged from 161 to 97.

Tolman said his first few months of ownership in 2012 weren’t easy.

“I didn’t sleep for six months. It really stressed me out,” said Tolman.

Jennifer Tolman didn’t share her husband’s worries – at first.

“I think I was young and naïve. Then it was like ‘Holy cow, this is a pretty big deal,’” she said.

Adam Tolman said his anxiety lessened over time as he learned the business.

“Now that I have been in it and working with various people like accountants and bookkeepers and financial people, having their help makes a big difference,” he said. Malheur Drug employees seven people, including four pharmacy technicians. The store offers a wide variety – from stationary, to phone chargers and rifles to shot guns and fishing equipment – for a customer to purchase. Adam Tolman said while the whole store is vital, the pharmacy drives a good share of his business.

“The pharmacy fails, then Malheur Drug fails. That is the bottom line,” said Tolman.

Pharmacy business is brisk, said Jennifer Tolman, a pharmacist.

For example, on a recent Monday, the pharmacy served 179 customers.

“Convenience is probably a good part of it but I like to think we provide better customer service then some of the bigger box stores,” said Jennifer Tolman. Small businesses can encounter an array of challenges and, with a pharmacy, the obstacles can be unique. For example, the pharmacy must pay to stock medicine every Monday. But reimbursement from insurance companies for that medicine sometimes can extend over a few months.

“It is not unusual to have claims over 90 days,” said Jennifer Tolman. “So yeah, that is a challenge but overall, I think our business is good,”

The pharmacy and store are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The pharmacy is closed Saturday and Sunday.

The Tolmans said employees are important to their success.

“They are the biggest deal. They work really hard and we don’t have to ask them to do things. They just know what to do. We are like a big family,” Jennifer Tolman said.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.