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New independent pharmacy opens in Warrenton

Saturday, Aug. 27 | By Betsy Burke Parker
Havi Vo opened Havi's Care Pharmacy in Warrenton, an independent pharmacy specializing in personalized care and compounded medicines.
Call Havi Vo the giant-slayer. Like a David among Goliaths, Vo doesn’t consider nine big-box competitors within three miles of her new independent pharmacy the challenge most would imagine.

In fact, Vo knows she holds the key to make her new Havi’s Care Rx on Warrenton’s bypass stand out in a crowded field.

It’s all about customer service, said the owner of the full-service pharmacy that opened in the Warrenton Galleria last month, an old-fashioned ideal she believes lost in the sea of chain stores, corporate pharmacies and impersonal company policy that favors shareholder profits over patient needs.

“I did my research” before opening, Vo said. “I found that the lack of customer service, the lack of personalized attention, time to talk to patients, time to figure out how to tackle a problem, those are the things that drive you away from a big chain. I knew I could gain business using good service … like curbside and home delivery, offering blood-pressure screening, some specialized home products, vitamins and more.”

But it’s the counseling that makes her store shine, Vo said. As well, she is CPR-certified, and has training that allows her to administer immunizations — a wide array of choices in a small, independently-owned community business.

Havi’s Care Rx chief specialty is so-called “compounding medications,” or specialized mixing, custom dosing, personalized flavoring and varied administration methods that can transform a hard-to-swallow pill to an easy-to-apply topical ointment, depending on the active ingredients.

Havi’s also offers veterinary compounding, creating solutions for tricky tasks like cat pills and reptile ointment. “There’s a lot you can do through compounding,” Vo said.

Vo, 36, is a native of Saigon, South Vietnam. She moved with her mother and 12 brothers and sisters — Havi Vo is the youngest — to Florida in the mid-1980s.

Vo attended the University of Central Florida, earning a B.S. in molecular microbiology. Though she initially wanted to go to med school — she briefly entertained specializing in optometry — she redirected her schooling after a frightening medicine mix-up nearly claimed the life of her mother.

“It was a heart medication,” Vo said. “She had a severe reaction to a [combination of drugs], one of which was eventually pulled from production. It nearly caused kidney failure, and it really woke me up to the challenges.

“I began to look into the pharmacy field,” Vo said. “It was fascinating, how drugs work on the human body, how I could learn to help.”

She graduated in 2004, moving with husband Vinh Nguyen to the area when he took an IT job in Washington. They lived in Alexandria first, moving to Warrenton in 2005.

Vo worked as a staff pharmacist at the Warrenton Walgreens, then was promoted to manager, and tasked to open a new chain store in Manassas. She stayed with the national corporation four years, leaving last year to plan Havi’s Care Rx.

“As I worked, in my mind I always wanted to open my own business,” she said. “I knew I could beat the big chains on personal attention. There, you always have to meet quota, work by volume, and you don’t get a chance to interact with your customers. Also, I had a great interest in compounding,” something not typically offered through chain pharmacies.

“We are committed to providing our customers with the best individualized care,”Vo said.“We strive to provide the most comprehensive product lines with friendly and supportive staff.”

Havi’s offers on-site testing and screening, immunizations, including flu shots (discounted to $25.99), pneumonia, shingles and more, as well as hormone assessment, home delivery and curbside service.

Compounding can transform a foul-tasting liquid medicine into a tasty lollipop, for instance, with patients selecting from a menu of flavors that include chocolate, cherry, candy apple, bubblegum and more.

“It’s all about customer service,” said Nguyen. “There are nine other pharmacies in Warrenton alone,” he said. “That’s a lot of competition, but we offer the most complete customer service in the area. Clients don’t like it when they see the revolving door policy of most of the chain stores. You want to trust your pharmacist.”

Nguyen acknowledges that the rough economy challenges any start-up, but he is encouraged by Havi’s reception so far, barely a month in.

“Many of the area doctors were always telling her she should open her own store,” he said.

Starting a business in a down economy is a tough proposition. The Plains Pharmacy, which is closing on Aug. 20, blamed the shaky economy for its demise. Opened in 1944, the store is merging with another area independent, the Leesburg Pharmacy in Loudoun.

The venerable Rhodes Drug Store in old town Warrenton stopped selling pharmaceuticals in 2005, though it remains open as Rhodes Gift Shop.

Remington Pharmacy, the nearest independent, is a landmark in southern Fauquier. Opened in 1913, like Havi’s, Remington provides consulting, prescriptions, immunizations, over-the-counter meds and more. Staff pharmacist Al Roberts feels they’re more like cooperative than competitive.

“I believe we can feed off one another by supporting each other,” Roberts said. “I have no problem whatsoever referring patients to Havi’s, or vice versa, if she can better serve their needs. Independents are really good in … working together for the patient. We want them to get exactly what they need.”

Reach Havi’s Care Pharmacy at (540) 878-2486.
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