Coming Full Circle
Greg Deese’s journey to becoming a community pharmacy owner isn’t a traditional one. In fact, even five years ago, the odds of him running an independent pharmacy would have seemed unlikely to most. We recently spoke with Deese about his long career as an executive for major chains, his transition to hometown pharmacy owner, and how he has learned to connect with the community during a pandemic.
It all started because of a girl.
Even though Deese became interested in healthcare at a young age, he wasn’t sure which area to focus on. Then he started dating a girl in high school who worked at a drugstore, a job she loved. Deese saw firsthand the positive impact a local pharmacist had on the community and was sold. A Charlotte native, Deese enrolled at the University of North Carolina and eventually earned his pharmacy degree.
He immediately accepted a job with a chain pharmacy upon graduation, working as a pharmacist for seven years. While he enjoyed the pharmacy experience, Deese grew more and more fascinated with the business side of the industry. This led to an ascent up the corporate ladder within the company, first as a Pharmacy Supervisor in which he oversaw 50-60 stores. Deese was soon promoted to District Manager, a post he held for about seven years before earning a Regional VP role which brought him to Washington D.C. Deese held this high-level executive position for 10 years.
While Deese visited many stores during this time, he says he missed out on those key personal interactions inside a pharmacy.
“I was really not in the pharmacy,” Deese said. “I oversaw the whole store but was never actually in the pharmacy.”
After a decade in D.C., Deese returned home to North Carolina, despite his company not having any openings in the area. He accepted the same position with another large chain, a position he held until about three years ago when the company chose to leave the South. While he could have relocated with the company or taken a job with another chain, at 57 years old, he didn’t want to do either.
“I was tired of 150 flights a year and 150 hotel rooms a year,” Deese said. “People think it’s glamourous until you do it. After 18 years of doing it, I wanted to sleep in my own bed at night.”
“I found I love being a pharmacist now as much as I did 30 years ago and maybe even love it more.”
Deese decided it was time to open his own store, a challenge he was eager to tackle despite not having filled a prescription since 1990. He partnered with a long-time colleague who had already owned 10 independents in South Carolina. The two opened North Main Pharmacy in Mount Airy, NC in 2018, followed by Oakhurst Pharmacy in 2020.
“I absolutely love ownership, I never had done that before,” Deese said. “I found I love being a pharmacist now as much as I did 30 years ago and maybe even love it more because the technology is so much better. I was literally on a typewriter when I first started.”
Deese’s second store opened a year ago, just as the pandemic was starting. This prevented Deese from using one his core strengths, his social skills, to connect with people to help get his young store off the ground. Fortunately, the pharmacy’s hometown location helped offset those early challenges.
“My store is literally one and a half miles from almost everything I did my entire life until I left for college,” Deese said. “As I started getting on Facebook and doing advertising, it was amazing how many people would ask, ‘Are you the same Greg Deese I went to elementary school with?’”
“It’s work, but it pays off. I have people walk in and say their neighbor learned about our store’s COVID tests from our Facebook page.”
Deese’s use of social media has helped him connect with the community during the pandemic. He has built partnerships by joining three local community Facebook groups, participating in web events with the Monroe Road Advocates (MORA), and posting pertinent videos on his store’s Facebook page. Oakhurst Pharmacy also has a presence on Instagram.
“You have to find a way to do it even though you can’t visit people,” Deese said. “It’s work, but it pays off. I have people walk in and say their neighbor learned about our store’s COVID tests from our Facebook page.”
Oakhurst Pharmacy began doing COVID testing in November 2020. The store continues to expand its COVID-testing capabilities, now offering antibody tests and PCR tests. Deese feels this has helped put Oakhurst on the map.
“That’s what helped us turn the corner,” Deese said. “It brought people out of the house because they needed to get the test. They walked into the store and said, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know you were here!’”
As of this writing, Deese and his staff are fully prepared to administer the COVID vaccine, they just haven’t received any doses yet.
“I’m eager to get it,” Deese said.
Once he does, it goes without saying he’ll be successful at getting the word out and taking care of his new patients. Deese is also eager to tap into those social skills that made him a successful executive once the pandemic relaxes.
“As soon as doctor’s offices open up I’ll be calling on them,” Deese said. “I already have a list of every single doctor’s office, orthodontist, dentist, and chiropractor within five miles because I know each of them have a different part of the business they can impact for me. That’s what you have do in this world right now with all of the competition and the big boxes.”
While Deese might not have said that five years ago, it couldn’t be more fitting now.
“I’m a 60 year-old with a 13 year-old, so in my mind it’s the perfect segue,” Deese said. “I’m home for my 13-year old at night.”
Learn more about Oakhurst Pharmacy by visiting their website.