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Elephant Pharmacy Expands With New CEO By CASSIE NORTON

Friday August 05, 2005

In another example of a local business making it big, Elephant Pharmacy has announced its intention to open three new stores in the next year and has hired a new CEO to facilitate the company’s growth.  

Elephant expects to open new stores in San Rafael in November and in Los Altos in the spring. A store is planned for Pasadena in 2006. 

“We needed creative people in the beginning, but now we need a new management style,” founder Stuart Skorman said. 

That new management style comes in the form of CEO Kathi Lentzsch. 

Lentzsch has 30 years of retail management experience from home decorating stores Pier 1 Imports and Pottery Barn, among others. She said Skorman has been courting her for four years, before the store on Shattuck Avenue was built. 

“[Skorman] approached me when Elephant was just a concept on paper,” Lentzsch said. “Over the years I went from being intellectually interested in Elephant’s philosophy to a participant. So when [Skorman] asked me again in the spring, I was ready to come on board.” 

Elephant Pharmacy had a rough start after opening in 2001. Skorman bankrolled the company with the profits from previous ventures and nearly went broke in the process. According to Lentzsch, things began to look up last year, when “you could really see it was going to be something big—and so could CVS and JP Morgan.” 

The pharmacy giant and financial institution are minor shareholders and strategic partners. 

In what he calls “an M.B.A. moment,” Skorman explained the reasoning behind the company’s expansion.  

“It’s like a tent,” he said. “You need a tent whether you’re camping for one night or 10 nights, and we need the same number of people to run one store as 10. We still need PR and human resources, buyers and managers. But it’s hard to support that infrastructure with one store. We need six or seven to really make it work.” 

Elephant takes an innovative approach to health care, combining conventional and alternative methods of health care in the same store. According to a press release, the company was “created to meet the growing needs of educated baby boomers and other health-conscious people seeking a better shopping experience.” 

A key component of Elephant’s business plan is the free classes it offers to customers. Skorman said he believes that “the more you know, the healthier you are.” Classes address mental health, alternative healing, nutrition and exercise. In addition, a rotating group of local experts from registered nurses to naturopathic doctors offers consultations throughout the day. 

The consultations are just one example of Elephant’s customer care philosophy. Skorman’s goal is to be able to sustain the business and make a profit without losing sight of the people involved. 

“We tried to build helping people into the shopping experience,” Skorman said. 

“We really want to help people. If we don’t have a product that will help a customer, we’ll tell them that and suggest where to find it. We don’t try to sell them stuff they don’t need,” Lentzsch said. 

In keeping with this, information cards throughout the store offer alternatives to over-the-counter medications, such as avoiding napping after meals to relieve indigestion, and debunking medical myths, like the claim that vitamin C cures and prevents colds. As Skorman said, Elephant is “the pharmacy that prescribes yoga.” 

Elephant is staffed and run by “refugees from corporate America—people who are sick of the corporate world and ready to work for a company who really cares about people,” Skorman said. 

Lentzsch said she looks forward to what she views as her biggest challenge—“providing an environment where the company cares about the workers, the customers and the community.” 

Working for a company with a culture of caring is “a dream,” she said. 

As for Skorman, he has semi-retired after handing off the leadership of the company to Lentzsch and remains the chairman of the company. It is his intention use his free time to “recover from four years of very hard work” and spend time with his family. 

Lentzsch said she is thrilled to be involved in “one of the most interesting phenomenons I’ve seen in retailing.”