How to Be an Entrepreneur, Lesson 3: Go Where You are Needed

Woman stands in an empty office. She is framed in a window.
Pharmacist Shantelle Brown stands in the space where her in-construction pharmacy will soon open.
By Nicole Carter
Auxiliary Label Staff

Hope Pharmacy is a new independent pharmacy inside a new independent grocery store, The Market @25th, that is projected to open March 28 in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond.

Shantelle Brown, Pharm.D., is Hope’s owner and operator. The 2003 graduate of Howard University College of Pharmacy believes she will be the first African-American female to open an independent pharmacy in Richmond. Auxiliary Label had the opportunity to speak with her and tour her pharmacy while it was in the final stages of construction.

Auxiliary Label: How did you decide on the name Hope Pharmacy?

Shantelle Brown: Well, I didn’t want to do last name. I think hope is so pivotal. It’s something that we all have or hope to have. I think it’s just encouragement. [The pharmacy’s logo shows the word with a second P superimposed over the first.] This stands for “helping others physically prosper every day.”

The Hope Pharmacy counter under construction.
The Hope Pharmacy entrance under construction.

What’s your pharmacy’s mission?

I would definitely say education. I think that’s what’s missing with the disparities that happen with the East End. And my prayer is that I’ll be able to bridge the gap between the residents that have been here for years and the new residents that are now coming into Church Hill. I had the chance to go to a town hall meeting and the longstanding residents expressed their concern that they were being pushed out, that maybe all the change is not for them. So, hopefully, with working with the grocery store and their promotion of good, healthy foods with affordable fruits and vegetables, and me being a mouthpiece for African-Americans in this area, I can relay the message to the residents that you’re wanted in this community. We want everyone to come together.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far?

Financing has been my challenge. For me, it was important not only to do this as the first African-American female [pharmacy owner] in Richmond but to be able to do it with just myself and my family. I told my husband that we need to be able to do this on our own. Thankfully, I closed on my loan at the beginning of January with Virginia Community Capital. They saw the vision and they do a lot of work with the community. Right now, for banks to give money to startups is unheard of.

What are you going to use your startup loan for?

I did a term loan for the store buildout and a line of credit for my inventory*. With any pharmacy, you’re going to be responsible to pay that bill from the drug distributor at least once or twice a month. It’s quite often. But you don’t get reimbursed from the insurance company for 45-60 days so you need to have a line of credit in order to bridge that gap.

I have a term loan for my build out and a line of credit for my inventory.

How did you figure out what kind of drug inventory your store needs?

We haven’t pinpointed exactly what we are going to start off with yet, but I’ve spoken with the old district manager for Ukrop’s [Super Markets Inc., a longtime grocery chain in Richmond that closed in 2010] and I spoke to a couple of independent owners. I learned that there are quite a few brands that skyrocket your inventory numbers, but you don’t really need to start with all those brands. Most of the time I end up sending them back. So, of course, there are exceptions. For example, you have to pay brand for your insulins. Most people say the norm for starting inventory is $60,000, but you should be able to almost cut that in half by utilizing more generics.

What advice do you have for future pharmacist entrepreneurs?

Do your research. Get the feedback from the residents. You want to be in an area where you’re needed.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

[*This sentence has been updated and clarified.]

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