Claud Derbes Loved Being An Independent Pharmacist

Growing up in Eunice where he was an altar boy and Eagle Scout, Claud Derbes worked part-time for his cousin, Chookie Derbes, the owner of Derbes Drugs of Eunice. It was great preparation to become a pharmacist, according to Claud’s wife of 33 years, Janice Derbes. “He never really wanted to be anything else,” she said.
It was in Eunice where Claud learned the importance of hometown values and caring for other people that were to serve him so well throughout his life.
“It was never about the money for Claud,” said Jill Miller, vice president of Central Drug, who worked for him for 20 years starting when she was 18. “If someone needed medicine and didn’t have the money, he let them have it,” Jill said.
Barbara Sonnier who also joined the staff at Central Drug Store right after it opened, agreed with Jill. “He’d say, ‘Just take it! Just pay later if you can!’ He said that people needed their medicine and that it was his job to get it to them.”Claud Derbes started Central Drug Store in February 1998 with his brother Pete Derbes, who was also a pharmacist. Pete too had worked as a boy at Derbes Drugs in Eunice. Claud and Pete were polar opposites in some ways but very close, Jill Miller said. “Claud was very outgoing but Pete was quieter. Both were very easy going and kind,” she said.
Janice Derbes said, “They never called each other by their names. Their name for each other was ‘Brother.’ If they called each by their names, there was trouble brewing but that was seldom,” she laughed. When Pete died suddenly of cancer in 2004, it was a terrible blow to Claud who kept Pete’s picture on the front counter and would often talk about him.
“They are cutting up quite a storm up there right now,” Janice said.
Claud started pharmacy school at Northeast but left for awhile to join the Air Force, returning to school a few years later to get his degree.
He owned River Oaks Pharmacy in Baton Rouge when he met Janice, who was working for IBM and was sent there to work on some computer issues. “I just did my job while I was there. He’d ask if I wanted something to eat. I’d say no. He’d ask if I wanted something to drink, and I’d say no. There was no conversation. Then we got in a big argument, and that was the beginning,” she laughed.
Claud worked in independent pharmacies in New Roads, Pierre Part, and Galvez, avoiding the big chains. Years later, after Central Drug Store had become a big success, he was constantly courted by the chain drug stores, wanting to buy him out.
“He never opened their letters or returned their calls,” Janice Derbes said. In 2012, Claud was asked “Have you considered selling to one of the chains?” He said, “No!” Why not? He said, “Because they won’t take care of our people, that’s why!”
At Central Drug Store, the people have been friends and customers, not numbers.
Service is almost instantaneous with little wait time.
Claud made it a point to try to know everyone and see if he could help. Thousands of Central residents relied on Claud for medical advice. They’d say, “Mr. Claud, such and such is bothering me. Should I go to the doctor?” More often than not he’s say, “That may not be necessary. Why don’t you try this over the counter product? It’s not expensive and might work better than what the doctor prescribes.”
People felt his advice was always sincere and from the heart but based on years of experience helping people. If someone had a question, he’d stop what he was doing, even in the middle of counting pills, Barbara Sonnier remembers, and come out from behind the counter. He’d shake hands with a customer or give them a hug, picking up where they had left off the last time. If he could help and he usually could, he did.
The Eunice Connection
The Eunice connection is pretty amazing. Not only did Claud and Pete grow up in Eunice and work at Derbes Drugs, but Barbara Sonnier is also from Eunice and was a customer at Derbes Drugs growing up. In addition, new co-owner John Stagg’s father was from Eunice!
The late John Murray owned Murray’s Central Pharmacy and sold it to the late Herman Stroderd in 1976, Barbara remembers. She went to work for Mr. Stroderd in 1982. When Mr. Stroderd sold out to Eckerd’s in late 1997, she went to work for Eckerd’s. However, she didn’t like working for a chain and quit after six weeks.
A pharmaceutical salesman mentioned to her about two brothers who were starting a drug store where Mr. Stroderd had been and that she should apply. She went in and she and Claud talked about old times in Eunice, and she was promptly hired.
She remembers, “Claud was great.
Easy going and kind. If you had a problem, he would help you — not only customers but staff as well.” She said, “Claud believed that the chains just couldn’t provide the personal service that people want and need. It’s all about money there. Just take a number!”
“People want the personal touch, especially in Central,” she said.
For Jill Miller, Claud was much more than a boss. She was just a young girl when she came to work for Claud and Pete in August 1998.
“It was 20 happy years for me!” she said. “I started as a clerk, then a pharmacy tech before they had to be certified, then I got certified. Finally, I graduated to the office.” As vice president, Jill has run the behind-the-scenes operation at Central Drug Store for years.
She too attributes Claud Derbes’ success to his compassion and personal touch. “He was involved with everyone. He genuinely cared about people.” Jill said, “He told me, ‘You get a paycheck because of our customers. Never forget that!’” She too
was impressed by his generosity.
“He made sure people had their medicine, even if they didn’t have money or their credit card didn’t work. It was about helping people,” she said. In times of emergency, Claud Derbes compassion for the people of Central really came through. When there was a hurricane or a storm or any other crisis, he would show up at the drug store and open to customers even if the power was out. He knew many people would lose their medicine or had forgotten to get a timely refill. If the credit card machine wasn’t working, that didn’t matter.
When asked what she thought the new owners of Central Drug Store, now Central Pharmacy, should do to be successful, Barbara Sonnier said, “Treat people right. Continue to do what Claud taught us to do. Treat people like a friend and a customer, and it will be a success!”

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

Comments are closed.