January 2019

Bluffton Pharmacy: Commitment to personalized customer service continues to set local drug store apart

Author: Justin Jarrett | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

A career in the medical field was almost a certainty for Jim Sauter, whose family has had at least one person working in the healthcare field since 1903. His mother was a nurse and his father a doctor, and Sauter always planned to follow in his dad’s footsteps. His father had other ideas, though, and encouraged young Jim to, instead, go into his grandfather’s line of work. Numerous customers who have come to count on Bluffton Pharmacy for unparalleled customer service and advice over the years certainly thank him for that.

Sauter took his dad’s advice and went to pharmacy school, and he was practicing in the Charlotte area in 1988 when he saw a newspaper ad from someone looking to open a community pharmacy in the small town of Bluffton. Sauter got the job, and less than a year later he bought the pharmacy.

Thirty years later, Bluffton Pharmacy is still providing the personalized service once expected of a small-town drug store but rarely found in today’s marketplace, which is dominated by “one-stop shops.” And contrary to common belief, the locally-owned business offers competitive pricing, especially for customers who have to pay for their medications out of pocket.

“We focus on practicing pharmacy and serving our customers and taking care of their prescription needs,” Sauter said. “We’ll let the chain stores sell the beach chairs and fry the chicken and try to be pharmacists at the same time.”

Even during Sauter’s first decade in Bluffton, when the now sprawling town was a tiny village where his pharmacy had no direct competition, the focus was always on giving his customers top-notch service. And even as the population of Bluffton has exploded and brought numerous competitors to town, Bluffton Pharmacy remains essentially the same as it was three decades ago.

“We’ve had to streamline our operations to some extent, but we’re still one of the only businesses you’ll ever call where you’ll get a human being answering the phone,” Sauter said. “And that’s a challenge. It would be a whole lot easier to have a machine answer the phone so we could continue doing what we’re doing, but I’ve always believed in keeping that high level of customer service, and part of that is being able to talk to a human being.”

The personal touch goes well beyond the phone, though. Bluffton Pharmacy also offers home delivery for customers who can’t get out of the house, a 24-hour emergency hotline, and curbside concierge. If an elderly customer or a busy parent with a carload of kids doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of going into the store, they can call from the parking lot and the human being on the other end of the line will bring out their order.
“There’s a reason we win ‘Best of Bluffton’ awards year in and year out,” Sauter said. “We treat you like family and will know you by name. We do whatever it takes to make you happy.”

That includes custom ordering products that might be hard to find elsewhere—like an obscure brand of deodorant or shampoo—and recommending home remedies to be used in lieu of medication, some of which are shared on the store’s website.

The Bluffton Pharmacy Team
Jim Sauter, Alexis Wonser, LaFrenchie Gillison, Austin Snyder and Zeus, a day visitor from Maranatha Farm who is currently looking for a new home.

Another area where Bluffton Pharmacy made its mark is with its custom compounding laboratory, which is one more way Sauter and his team add a personal touch. They work with doctors to prepare personalized medications to fit their patients’ needs.

“We had to find a niche in order to be really successful, and that niche is compounding,” Sauter said. “We’ve been compounding since day one, basically. There are a lot of other entities out there that claim to be experts in compounding, but no one has done it longer than I have in this area.”

For example, if a patient can’t take a certain medication because it upsets his or her stomach, Bluffton Pharmacy can take the active ingredient and put in a different delivery form, such as a topical cream, so it can be applied directly to the affected tissue and bypass the stomach. In some cases, they can even devise methods to deliver a medication the patient is allergic to without causing a reaction.

Compounding is especially useful with hormone replacement therapy, Sauter said, likening it to “sitting 600 women down in an auditorium and telling them they all need to wear a size seven shoe.” Instead, Bluffton Pharmacy can fine-tune each patient’s combination of medications to produce the desired result.

They even do custom compounding of veterinary products, just one example of their dedication to caring not only for their patients, but also for their pets. The pharmacy also hosts the Ridgeland-based non-profit animal rescue Maranatha Farm for pet adoptions every Thursday.

“We love to see our pet patients,” Sauter said. “They come in and we have treats for them.”

Whether human or canine, it’s always a treat to do business at Bluffton Pharmacy, and that goes for both the customer and the staff.

“We have a lot of customers who have been with me since day one, but we have a lot of new people too,” Sauter said. “A lot of great people come through the door.”

Bluffton Pharmacy is located at 167 Bluffton Rd., Suite B, in Bluffton. For more information, call (843) 757-4999.

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