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Edgerton pharmacy melds trendy, traditional

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Catherine W. Idzerda
March 8, 2015

EDGERTON—The sign says "Edgerton Pharmacy and Boutique."

The outside looks exactly like you'd expect a small-town pharmacy to look, with an architectural style that's somewhere between brick box and pole barn.

But travelers who stop for a pre-road-trip bottle of aspirin are greeted with a burst of color, style, originality and products that generally can't be found outside of specialty boutiques in Madison or Milwaukee.

That description sounds suspiciously like advertising copy, so here's some evidence: The store carries Pandora beads, TAG housewares and linens, Lug purses and bags along with a collection of top-of-the line educational toys.

For the poetically minded, it's the contrast that pleases: pole barn exterior, surprising interior.

The story of the successful contrast started in 2003 with-wait for it-canned beans.

In 2003, Jenna and Eric Gresens bought the pharmacy. Both are graduates of pharmacy school. Eric was the one whose "entrepreneurial spirit" motivated him to buy the store, Jenna Gresens said.

Initially, she worked at a pharmacy elsewhere. After having their first child, she was staying at home and helping out occasionally at the pharmacy.

At some point, she took a look around at the 14,000-square-foot building and wondered, "What are we going to do with this huge amount of space?"

At the time, the store carried everything from Hallmark cards to motor oil, mops, toasters and canned beans.

In those early days, they used to check and see how much dust was on a product before deciding if they should restock.

"Initially, it was a lot of guesswork," Gresens said. "It was, 'We bought this, and now it's not here anymore,'"

Over the past 12 years, they've gradually refined their system, trying to allocate space based on what sells.

Now the store has a complex point-of-sale system that allows it to track products with scrupulous accuracy.

Even with that technology, Gresens and her store manager, Jen Tropp, have to stay on top of the trends.

Gresens and Tropp operate in happy tandem, attending gift shows, meeting with product representatives and balancing each other's personalities.

Their business chemistry helps them make good product choices.

They look for items you can't find at Target, Wal-Mart or other readily accessible stores, Tropp said.

For example, they used to carry Hallmark Cards, but they now pick their own lines that target shopper age and taste demographics. Everything from the sharply funny to the sentimental has a spot in the card aisles.

The store's collection of educational children's toys and books is similar to collections found in museum stores. They also carry those classic toys you would not find at either a big box or a museum store: whoopee cushions, joy buzzers and fake gum.

Housewares, jewelry, handbags, gifts for tweens, garden décor-all receive the same kind of treatment. There's something for a 16-year-old girl with an attitude, the summer-cottage types, 8-year-olds who-if left alone-would build a rocket in the backyard, the quirky young bride, the conservative mother-in-law and anybody who stops in just for a bottle of aspirin.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the trends while at the same time having an "exit strategy" for product lines. You don't want to be left with a shipping container of Beanie Babies when people stop buying them. Scarves have returned as a fashion trend, but they might be gone next season.

"We have to be forward thinking," Tropp said.

What are the style and cultural changes that might influence people's buying habits? It's a question Tropp and Gresens ask themselves everyday.

Tropp noted that people are now buying fewer items that are strictly seasonal, such as Christmas-themed dishware. "Simplicity" is now more a buzzword.

"When we purchased the building, it was in the heyday of pharmacy," Gresens said.

Now, everything has changed. Along with more paperwork and regulations, stores such as Walgreens are establishing their own "restricted network" prescription plans. These are often connected to Medicare Part D.

General Motors put all of the retirees on mail-order prescription plans.

Even with those changes, the pharmacy thrives.

Along with all of the gift lines, the pharmacy remains a crucial part of the business. There's a seating area, and the store recently acquired the hand-held pagers that vibrate when your prescription is ready. A complete range of over-the-counter drugs, medical equipment and even a line of diabetic shoes are available for sale.

But the owners are aware of the competition and know it's crucial to keep people happy.

"We are confident in our service," Gresens said.

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