Editor’s note: National Rural Health Day is Nov. 21, 2019. Throughout the month, we are sharing stories to highlight the challenges and good work being done to improve health care in rural America. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of the West Carolina Tel Connected.
Steve Trumbull arrived at Savitz Drug Store a decade ago with a vision of what he wanted in a small-town store. The formula was simple: provide customers with good service, competitive prices and a smile.
“We want to treat people like they should be treated — treat them like individuals,” Trumbull says. “If you come in my store, you’re going to get a smile and a ‘How are ya doing?’”
The Savitz Drug Store has been an institution in Abbeville since its patriarch, Joe Savitz, opened the doors on Dec. 1, 1959. As the store turns 60, Trumbull celebrates 10 years as the store’s managing owner.
“I had a vision of what I was hoping this store would be, and right now we’re actually exceeding what I thought we would be,” he says. “It’s exciting, and we just want to keep building for the future.”
The Savitz Drug Store’s ownership group, which includes Trumbull, is part of a consortium of about 30 independent drug stores operating similarly to the Independent Grocers Association behind the IGA groceries common in rural areas.
“You have to do that now,” Trumbull says. “An independent pharmacy can’t survive without some kind of buying power out there with the big-box stores and things like that.”
Soon after Trumbull took over operations at Savitz Drug in February 2009, the store was moved from its original location in Abbeville’s picturesque downtown to the Greenwood Highway near the Abbeville Medical Center and other medical offices.
Trumbull says the move traded the nostalgia and comfort of 50 years at the downtown location for additional conveniences for the store’s customers, including dedicated parking. “Here, I can look out my window and see the doctor’s clinic right across the street,” he says. “Once we get the people in here and they see how we operate and how we treat them, they usually come back.”
Nostalgia or not, Trumbull says he is proud that his eight-person staff of “regulars” have kept alive the same sort of hometown service Abbevillians were accustomed to in the 1950s and ’60s.
“We don’t want someone to come in with a prescription and just fill it and take their money,” he says. “We try to learn about the person, learn about their families and their hobbies. Some of my customers, I know what their favorite football team is, college and pro. I know what their kids are doing. It’s really nice. This is a nice community to work in, that’s for sure.”
Trumbull had worked in Abbeville once before as a young pharmacist at the beginning of his career. He returned to work alongside a friend and mentor, Charles Loyd, who worked in Abbeville as a pharmacist for 50 years before retiring in 2014.
Now, Trumbull is no longer “the new druggist” in town, and that’s the way he wants it. “It took a little time, but I started winning them over slowly but surely,” he says. “They call and ask for me now. It’s about building trust.”
Old business, new century
While customer service is at the forefront of Trumbull’s vision for Savitz Drug Store, it is only one piece of the plan in a changing business. Access to a high-speed fiber optic internet service provided by WCTEL has helped position Savitz Drug for the next decade and beyond.
WCTEL’s Business Solutions team supplies all of Savitz Drug’s telephone, internet and security services. “If we have a problem I can actually talk to somebody,” Trumbull says. “I’ve got their cellphone numbers. If something’s not working, I can call. They make you a priority. I’ve had their competitors come to me, and I say, ‘I don’t need your services because WCTEL always takes care of us.’ We don’t have a lot of issues, but when we do, I call them, and they take care of it.”
It’s the type of partnership WCTEL Director of Business Solutions and Network Operations Chuck Nash tries to foster with every local small business his team serves. “We treat our single-line small businesses with the same priority we do our major enterprise customers,” Nash says. “We know that no matter your size, your business is your livelihood. We take that seriously.”
Trumbull sees similarities in his business and WCTEL. “A lot of WCTEL’s people come here and get their medicines,” he says. “We all try to keep it in the community, but I wouldn’t be using them if I didn’t like them.”
Though much of Savitz Drug’s business comes through the old-school method — word of mouth — Trumbull says he will look to expand the store’s presence on the internet and social media as he blends a bright future with the successful heritage he embraced when he first arrived.
“When I had a chance to jump on this opportunity, I did, and I haven’t looked back,” he says. “We’re taking care of people, and we want to make everyone happy.”