Diamond Pharmacy Services has always embraced new technologies to better serve its customers and facilitate expansion. Back in the early 1980s, the small-town pharmacy invested in a fax machine – no small sum of money at the time – to receive orders remotely. Then it invested in fax machines for its customers.
“We owned a fax machine but none of our customers did,” President, CEO and Owner Mark Zilner tells The CEO Magazine. “We made the decision in 1982 to spend a couple thousand dollars on a fax machine for every customer.
“It really helped us to receive orders more quickly and enabled us to expand nationally.”
Technology has evolved exponentially from the humble fax machine over the past four decades.
But being ahead of the technological curve, while staying true to the core values of service, accuracy and customer relationships, has put Diamond on a path to becoming the largest family owned pharmacy in the United States.
We come from a hardworking community where our staff put their heart and soul into making sure those orders are shipped in a timely manner, as accurately as possible.
Strong family culture
Based in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Diamond has morphed from a single store known for its personalized service to become the largest provider of pharmaceuticals to correctional facilities in the United States – supplying medicines for roughly one-third of the American prison population.
Diamond has also become the largest independently owned long-term care pharmacy provider in the state of Pennsylvania.
It still operates a retail drug store and a medical supply store in Indiana, which has a population of 13,564. But Diamond now employs more than 1,000 workers and operates a 3,066 square-meter state-of-the-art operations facility just outside town. It also has four more divisions: Diamond Medical Supply; retail mail order pharmacy InnovaScript; FDA drug repackager RemedyRepack and electronic health record company SapphireHealth.
“We’ve always been a strong family cultured company from day one and we still look at ourselves as a small family business, even though we have 1,000 employees,” Zilner says.
“We come from a hardworking community where our staff put their heart and soul into making sure those orders are shipped in a timely manner, as accurately as possible.”
We have 52 years of experience within the industry, that really makes a big difference. Our longevity, service, buying power and technology has helped us to become a leader.
Zilner’s parents, Gilbert and Joan, both pharmacists, purchased Diamond in 1970. They filled prescriptions for the local community and served several long-term care facilities.
“At an early age, I worked around the pharmacy and saw the benefits and compassion that pharmacists applied to people,” Zilner recalls.
He followed his parents into the family business in 1991 after graduating from the pharmacy program at Northeastern University in Boston and immediately started looking for ways to expand the business, which had footholds in serving retail, correctional facilities and nursing homes.
Zilner worked hard to improve efficiencies, winning new customers in the correctional space and undertaking construction of a highly automated pharmacy. “It was all total organic growth and basically, we treat our customers well,” he says. “We offered enhanced services to them, and the growth came after that.”
The ‘experience’ advantage
The combination of conscientiousness, customer service and technology has made Diamond a national player, according to Zilner, and helped the company compete against rivals backed by venture capital funding, who invest heavily in technology. However, these rivals don’t share the true secret to Diamond’s success.
“What we find, as some other pharmacies get involved in this, venture capital comes in, they build a pharmacy and they spend millions of dollars on a machine,” Zilner explains.
“To have the proper culture and infrastructure, most of them can’t obtain that. We have 52 years of experience within the industry, that really makes a big difference. Our longevity, service, buying power and technology has helped us to become a leader.”
This combination of characteristics is also coupled with high standards in an industry where fulfilling orders correctly is crucial. “We have the lowest error rate within our industry,” Zilner says.
“However, we continue to invest in the technology where every product that leaves our building is now barcode-checked and vision-checked and then checked once more by a pharmacist. So the chance of an error since we’ve installed our new automation system is very low.”
These investments in technology and infrastructure have paid off in other ways for Diamond as well, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It eased entry into new lines of business, including retail mail order to patients’ homes.
“We always felt we were very efficient, but the pandemic really taught us to even be more efficient and quickly adapt,” Zilner says.
“I feel that the infrastructure we had in place, that really helped us. A lot of our competitors are really struggling now because they weren’t properly prepared with the infrastructure.”
The pandemic has some silver linings, however. “I think it allowed our team to come together and offer more digital offerings and remote capabilities,” Zilner says.
“Customers are more willing to accept remote mail order offerings, so there is less travel involved, which not only saves us that expense but also allows staff to be at their desks and be more efficient rather than always traveling on a plane.”
We really go above and beyond the competition with our offerings, service and pricing.
Still, long-term relationships are crucial, Zilner says, along with maintaining a commitment to quality service.
“The level of service that we have is important. The offerings we provide to our clients are important. We really go above and beyond the competition with our offerings, service and pricing,” he says.
“This really helps us retain our customers for the long-term. Ultimately, all these extra services are great for the client, but you do need to get your medications out accurately and timely.”