One local pharmacist honors the true spirit of medicine, one customer at a time.
Bluffton pharmacist Jim Sauter is a throwback to simpler times: a good man who knows his business and does it for all the right reasons.
Newcomers to the area might patronize the same Walgreens or CVS where they got their prescriptions filled back home, but Blufftonians who are “in the know” use Jim. Bluffton Pharmacy, his unassuming shop on Highway 46 in Old Town, has received the “Best of Bluffton” voter award for many years running. Local residents appreciate Bluffton Pharmacy’s great prices, top-notch customer service, unique products and independent ownership that keeps money in the local economy. However, underlying all that is Jim’s genuine desire to help people.
While this interview was being conducted, a woman came in asking, “What can you do for stinky feet?” Jim picked an old-timey box of powder off the shelf and said, “This has been around since the pharaohs.”
The woman looked at the price and noted that it would cost more than its value to ship it to her son in Florida, whereupon Jim suggested she take a picture of it and tell him to find a community pharmacy in his area because the Walmart wouldn’t carry it. He then advised that the son take off his socks more often to allow his feet to breathe, and that if they were really that stinky he probably had some kind of fungal infection going on and should “do something about it soon.”
The whole exchange was typical of the kind of service you get at Bluffton Pharmacy.
With no thought whatsoever to his own bottom line, Jim wholeheartedly dispensed the best advice he knew to give. This is why he is one of the most universally respected and appreciated businesspeople in Bluffton. We recently caught up with this modest pharmacist at his place of business to learn more about his background, methods and philosophy.
How did you get into the pharmacy business?
Jim Sauter: My grandfather was a pharmacist in upstate New York; he graduated in 1902. My dad, who passed away last December, was a physician, and my mom was a nurse. I decided I was going to follow in my dad’s footsteps, but he actually discouraged me from going to medical school. This was in 1976. He said that too much government intervention and private pay insurance companies were making it unpleasant to practice, so he encouraged me to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps instead.
I went to pharmacy school, graduated in 1981 and was practicing in the Charlotte area, but in ‘88 I saw an ad in the paper by someone who wanted to open a pharmacy in Bluffton. I interviewed and got the job. Then, after less than a year, he asked me to buy him out.
What was it like being a pharmacist in Bluffton then?
Jim: It was very quiet, very slow. This was an ideal fit because I felt like practicing pharmacy in a small-town environment would give me the opportunity to make a difference. We gave a lot of things away.
Do you remember any specific occasions when you were able to help someone?
Jim: I do remember one situation. I got a call from a mother who was in a panic because her child had swallowed some medications. I told her to meet me here immediately, then I went through Bluffton doing 60 in a 30 mph zone. When I pulled up to the front of the store, there were four police cars behind me. I said, “Guys, I’ve got a child poisoning,” and they just drove away. We gave the girl Ipecac and warm water and made her vomit in the sink. Then I sifted through it and found the tablets. She was fine.
What is it like practicing pharmacy here today?
Jim: It’s just a whole different environment. We are constantly being chased by the proverbial hounds chomping at our heels. I have discouraged my son from going into pharmacy for the same reason my dad discouraged me from becoming a doctor. It’s a lot more difficult now to be successful, but not because we have competition down the street. If anything, that helps us because our prices are so much more competitive. I think that’s why we’ve been in business 30 years.
How are you able to offer lower prices?
Jim: I’ve always been very service-oriented, very conscious of what I charge my patients. It’s more important to me that you get your prescription than it is that I make a big chunk of money at it. I literally would like to treat people the way I wish I could be treated.
Is asking a pharmacist for free advice a good way to solve simple issues with over-the-counter and home remedies?
Jim: That’s what I’m all about: helping you avoid spending more money than you need to, but at the same time making sure you are doing things that are in your best interest. What’s really rewarding is when people tell me, “Jim, I trust you more than I trust my doctor or anyone else in the medical field. What’s your opinion on this?” I’m grateful for that kind of confidence, and I don’t take it lightly.
Another very important role I pride myself on is being able to provide products that you can’t get anywhere else. Like that lady who just came in looking for a certain type of syringe, but they don’t have it at Walgreens. There are quite a number of products on my shelves that we have special-ordered for people. Big box stores are very in tune with how long it takes to sell a certain item, and if they don’t think they can sell it quickly, they won’t stock it. But we don’t follow that kind of criteria. If you want a certain kind of deodorant, we’ll keep it for you. We do custom orders and custom compounding, and we’re big on pets, so we do custom things for them as well.
What is custom compounding?
Jim: Let’s say you need to take a certain medication, but it upsets your stomach. We can take the active ingredient and put it in a different delivery form, such as a topical application. We’ve been experts in custom compounding for years, but now everybody’s doing it.
What is your best health advice?
Jim: Be very aware of your diet and consider vitamin supplements. That’s one of my most important recommendations. I take about 10 different vitamins a day. People too often don’t take care of themselves. In today’s world, you don’t even have to get out of your car to get a cup of coffee, but we don’t have a drive-through and we never will. If you can’t walk in here, chances are you have a cell phone. You can call me and I’ll bring it out to your car. But I want to look at you. I want to see how you’re doing. This isn’t a one-shot deal.
Bluffton Pharmacy is located at 167 Bluffton Rd. For more information, contact (843) 757-4999 or visit https://www.blufftonpharmacy.com.
By Michele Roldán-Shaw