Discount Drug Mart: 50 years of one-stop bargain shopping
MEDINA, Ohio – When Parviz Boodjeh opened the first Discount Drug Mart in 1969, there was almost nothing he wouldn’t carry. He loved scouring importers’ inventory and going on buying trips, looking for merchandise he thought his customers might like. His early stores carried lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, even lumber.
That spirit of offering the unexpected permeates Discount Drug Mart stores today, where shoppers might come across all kinds of things they wouldn’t see in other drug stores: Fresh produce and frozen foods, pet foods and auto supplies, home health care products, beer and wine, board games and video rentals, hardware and paint supplies, and fishing and hunting licenses.
Now run by Boodjeh’s children, Discount Drug Mart has thrived for nearly 50 years (the company will officially celebrate its anniversary on April 15) despite heavy competition from national chain drug stores and mass discounters. By targeting value shoppers who are more frugal than fancy, Drug Mart expanded to 74 stores from Ashtabula to Sandusky, and now employs more than 3,700 Ohioans, including 225 pharmacists.
President John Gans, who started as a 19-year-old stock boy at the North Olmsted store more than 40 years ago, said Parviz Boodjeh was the hardest-working person at the company, the first one in the office every morning, and the last one to leave. “He instilled that in all of us, and set an example,” he said. “We all learned the business from the ground up from him.”
“He would always tell us to treat customers the way you would like to be treated, always to help out and treat them like family,” said Dave Boodjeh, chief administrative officer and Boodjeh’s eldest son.
He said the original Discount Drug Mart was almost exactly the same concept as the stores today: A wide variety of discounted goods, open for business from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, including holidays. His father loved visiting the stores, talking to the employees and greeting customers.
The company is opening three more stores this year: In Bainbridge Township, Broadview Heights, and Lisbon in Columbiana County.
And in Summit, Lorain, and Tuscawaras Counties, Discount Drug Mart now gives anyone filling a prescription for opioids a free tamper-evident disposal bag that renders any leftover medications useless and unable to be misused.
Doug Boodjeh, chief operating officer and Boodjeh’s youngest child, said his father was the first drug store to carry frozen food, the first to offer fresh produce on top of other staples like milk, bread and eggs, and the first to stock home medical supplies and equipment alongside the prescriptions. He remembers making Easter baskets and filling them with jelly beans and candy to sell in the stores. Drug Mart still assembles and sells its own Easter baskets.
Middle brother Don is the chief executive officer. Their sister Diana Boodjeh Burke is a management training coordinator, and their sister Debra Boodjeh Calevich is still involved in the company, but not as actively as her siblings. Not only did their father not show them any favoritism when they worked in his stores, he actually cut Doug’s pay in half when he injured his right arm and had to wear a cast.
Parviz Boodjeh, born in Tehran, Iran, came to the United States at age 21 planning to study medicine. But when he realized that becoming a doctor was going to be too expensive, he switched to pharmacy. He earned his pharmacy degree from the University of Toledo, which later awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2008. He worked at and eventually became general manager at Jay Drug Store in Cleveland.
In 1969, married with five young children, Boodjeh struck out on his own and opened the first Discount Drug Mart in Elyria. His customers quickly embraced the idea of a store that combined several retail concepts. By 1977, he had opened other Drug Marts in Amherst, Avon Lake, Brunswick, Lakewood, Medina and North Olmsted.
When he died in 2015, Discount Drug Mart had grown to 72 stores. And up until 2009, the founder was still pulling shifts in the pharmacy of the Lakewood store, saying, “You don’t make money sitting in the office.”
Discount Drug Mart started offering an employee stock ownership program in 2018 to employees 21 and older who had worked at the company for a least one year for a minimum of 1,000 hours during the year. But the family maintains a controlling share of the company.
Of the ESOP, CEO Don Boodjeh said: “We wanted our employees to be rewarded with Drug Mart stock for all their hard work and to own their piece of the company.”
In addition to Parviz Boodjeh’s five children, six of his 17 grand-children are also working in various roles within the company.
With stores that range from 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, they are larger than many chain drug stores but smaller than mass market discounters like Walmart and Target. Discount Drug Mart stores carry about 30,000 items, more than twice the industry average for stores that usually focus on health and beauty items, Gans said.
Discount Drug Mart, on the other hand, seems to offer a different assortment in every aisle, the origins of the company jingle that “Discount Drug Mart saves you the runaround… We have everything you need.” On a recent visit, the Medina store was selling candy and decorations for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, as well as clothes for Browns, Cavaliers, and Ohio State fans.
Boodjeh was always thinking about what was ahead: Upcoming seasons and holidays and what items he should carry to stay ahead of his competitors.
Boodjeh also had a knack for anticipating where to locate future stores. He would buy vacant properties predicting they would become busy traffic areas, and decades later, a highway exit ramp or housing development would sprout up nearby.
Retail expert Robert Antall, a principal in Columbus Consulting based in Columbus, said: “Retailing today is all about providing the customer with a customer experience that brings them back over and over again. Retailers have many different formulas for providing this, but it all relates to satisfying and exceeding customers’ expectations (a memorable and dependable experience).”
At Discount Drug Mart, “they do a good job of understanding their local customer and satisfying their needs, as opposed to the large drug store chains that are mostly ‘cookie cutter’ impersonal stores. They focus on the needs and wants of a lower- to middle-income customer, sometimes called the ‘value customer,’ pretty much the same customer that shops at Family Dollar, Marc’s, et al. They offer many ‘convenience’ and spontaneous purchase items that don’t necessarily compete with the online retailers.”
CEO Don Boodjeh said via email, “We’re more than ‘just a drugstore.” He said the company is like a neighborhood general store. One customer asked for birch beer, a soft drink that isn’t a very sought-after item. The store found where to buy it and stocked it the following week. “We believe doing this will bring customers back and they will also let their neighbors know about our willingness to provide them with what they need.”
Antall said the company has also done a good job of picking convenient locations and don’t seem to waste a lot of money on advertising. Finally, being privately owned enables management to make decisions quickly and adhere to a common vision “without the pressures of reporting quarterly results.”
Gans said the clearest sign that they’re making people happy are the customers — often husbands dispatched to find things like artichoke hearts, aluminum foil pans or raspberries — who tell him they tried several other stores before coming to Discount Drug Mart. “The look of relief on their faces when I tell them we have it” is priceless, he said.
Discount Drug Mart:
Founded: 1969, by pharmacist Parviz Boodjeh. First store was in Elyria.
Owners: Boodjeh’s children, including CEO Don, Chief Administrative Officer Dave, and Chief Operating Officer Doug.
Retail Stores: 74, from Ashtabula to Sandusky to Columbus.
Employees: More than 3,700, including 225 pharmacists.
Headquarters: 211 Commerce Drive, Medina.