On a wall near executive offices at Amber Pharmacy hangs an electronic bulletin board that helps tell the secret to the success of one of Nebraska's Top 10 fastest-growing businesses.
The monitor flashes constant updates from the firm's call center — letting officials know, for instance, the number of calls fielded so far that day, the longest someone waited and the average time an Amber pharmacist or care coordinator spent with a client.
In the world of high-priced specialty medicines, such attention to customer service is critical, said Michael Agostino, president of the family-owned company that dispenses prescriptions, education and other support to patients of complex and chronic health conditions.
“Here, patients can spend upwards of 30 to 40 minutes with a pharmacist,” Agostino said. “It's a very detailed and up-front experience, for the right reasons.”
He credits old-fashioned care, along with cutting-edge therapies and a growing national market for specialty drugs, for the doubling of Amber's revenue since 2010. Named by Inc. 5000 as the state's ninth-fastest-growing company in Nebraska, revenues in 2012 are expected to reach $160 million.
In just the past year, a workforce largely based in Omaha grew by more than half, to 125 employees.
To accommodate even more growth, Amber is expanding its corporate headquarters near Wehrspann Lake at 10004 S. 152nd St. from about 25,000 square feet to 68,000 square feet.
“We're absolutely out of space,” said Tim Kaplan of the Kaplan family that founded the 15-year-old business that has pharmacies in Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia.
The new digs, to be completed by February, also provides space for the growing Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions, which is a joint venture between Hy-Vee Inc. and Amber Pharmacy.
TACKarchitects designed the addition to reflect what it called the down-to-earth, hands-on philosophy of the family business run by William Kaplan Sr., whose family in the 1930s also founded Blue Star Foods in Council Bluffs; and children Bill Jr., Tim and Stacia.
Agostino, who, like Bill Jr., also is a pharmacist, was hired as president in 2008.
As visitors walk through the original building to the new lobby, they'll see a historical timeline highlighted by a portrait of Amber, the family's golden retriever after whom the business was named. She died in 1994.
They'll also see polished concrete, and some primed but unpainted spots meant to drive home the “humble beginnings” theme, said Chris Houston of TACKarchitects, which teamed up with MCL Construction.
Calling itself a pioneer in the specialty pharmacy industry, Amber's most notable growth spurt followed a credibility-boosting accreditation in late 2009.
Today, Amber officials say they manage about 20 percent of the nation's transplant prescriptions, and serve oncology, hepatology, rheumatoid arthritis and most other chronic conditions that can cost $10,000 in prescriptions a month.
Agostino expects further growth in the wake of the new health care law and as people look for more accountability and ways to control costs.
Meanwhile, an Amber spokeswoman said, industry analysts predict spending on specialty drugs to increase about 20 percent through 2014. While specialty drugs account for only 2 percent of prescriptions nationally, they account for up to 40 percent of U.S. spending on drugs.
The Kaplan sons said they look forward to handling any increased workload in the new building that overlooks a lake in the city where they were raised.
Asked if they considered other cities or sites, the elder Kaplan said, “Why would we?”
Relocating, he said, would cause a paperwork and licensing nightmare. Agostino, who came from Florida, said he prefers the Midwest labor force and work ethic.
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