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Hims, Inc., the telemedicine startup building its brand on tongue-in-cheek marketing and FDA-approved medications that treat skin, hair loss and erectile dysfunction discreetly by mail, is set to open its first brick-and-mortar pharmacy next year in Columbus, Ohio. The pharmacy will be mail-order only, and will be taking in-house some of the duties that Hims currently sends to third-party contractors.
Though Hims has long billed itself as a wellness brand or e-commerce website, recent changes show that the company has ambition in healthcare beyond the internet. Last July, Hims named its first Chief Medical Officer, former Walgreens executive Pat Carroll. Now it’s spending the money, and time, to create a fully operational pharmacy that will allow the company to dispense more medication with shorter delivery times.
“We are definitely a health provider,” Carroll says.
CEO and founder Andrew Dudum launched Hims in 2017, finding success by providing inexpensive, discreet and well-marketed over-the-counter and prescription medications for traditionally “embarrassing ” conditions such as hair loss and erectile dysfunction. Often these are drugs prescribed off-label, such as generic Zoloft, an antidepressant medication which Hims sells to treat premature ejaculation. Less than a year after launch, the company spun out its sister company, Hers, which sells birth control pills as well as skin- and hair-care products.
“We view ourselves as a really valuable access point to care, particularly around stigmatized conditions” Carroll told Forbes.
Hims has been criticized by the media and some physicians for the short times that patients spend communicating with doctors (sometimes only through a questionnaire) and its suggestive marketing (including phallic-shaped cactuses). Despite the critiques, Hims is still the leading company in the scorching-hot direct-to-consumer drug industry. Competitor Ro made headlines in April for two back-to-back funding rounds of more than $80 million each, and earlier this year Hims reached unicorn status with a valuation of $1 billion, according to Recode. (Forbes Media has a small, passive investment in Ro.)
This Hims-owned pharmacy will help the company’s continued growth, says Melissa Baird, COO of Hims. The company has delivered almost one million products, Baird told Forbes, “and we have no sign of slowing down at all.”
Hims contracts with third-party pharmacies, including California-based Truepill and Curexa in New Jersey. These pharmacies receive electronic prescriptions from Hims-employed doctors, dispense the medication and then mail it to customers in Hims’ signature packaging. Partnerships with these pharmacies have been “wonderful” and will continue, Baird says, but moving some of the medication dispensing and packaging in-house “makes sense from a strategic point of view,” she says.
Baird says that having a brick-and-mortar pharmacy will enable faster delivery to customers who live in the Midwest and in rural areas closer to the company’s new Ohio location. It will also ensure continued service for customers if the company is unable to provide delivery through a third-party pharmacy. “It’s more an investment in making sure we have a reliable, scalable delivery service for all of the patients,” she says.
Before the pharmacy opens, however, it will have to overcome some legal hurdles. Pharmacy licensing “is a little bit of a Russian doll scenario,” says Anne O’Brien, a healthcare lawyer at Quarles & Brady. Hims will have to employ pharmacists with separate licenses to dispense medication in each state the ship to, and finding a pharmacist with multiple out-of-state licenses is “like finding a silver unicorn," O’Brien says.
Despite these potential challenges, Hims plans to open its pharmacy by the end of March 2020. “Opening a pharmacy is a layer of complication,” says Baird, but “it just makes sense for us.”