Independent pharmacy owners in central Maine, competing against national corporations, have to give customers a reason to keep coming back rather than go to the bigger store down the road.

Few people understand that concept better than Shane Savage, who runs pharmacies in Fairfield, Oakland, Unity and Winslow. The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce is recognizing Savage’s commitment to customer service by awarding him the Business Person of the Year. The chamber awards dinner is Tuesday at the Elks banquet hall in Waterville.

Savage, 41, of Oakland, is a second-generation pharmacist, starting independently with his father after the two left Rite Aid, where they were pharmacists.

“Working for a national chain, you have someone in another state telling you how to handle your customers, what hours to be open,” Savage said. “We wanted to put ourselves in a situation where if we wanted to spend 15 or 20 minutes with a patient we could.”

Another way Savage’s pharmacies have been able to thrive when competing against larger chains that buy supplies in bulk is competitive pricing, especially for customers without insurance.

“About four percent of our customers don’t have insurance so when they’re price shopping, we can usually beat the big stores’ price,” Savage said. “We’re buying at prices almost as good as the larger chains are. Only difference is we don’t have 50,000 square-foot facilities, so our overhead isn’t quite as high.”

One issue Savage said his small chains are forced to deal with are agreements in insurance policies that require customers to go to an exclusive pharmacy, which is usually a larger chain.

“Bigger pharmacies like CVS and Hannaford are allowed to partner with insurance plans and almost force insurance customers to go to their store,” he said.

To combat that, Savage makes sure his pharmacies add the personal touch.

“We do delivery calls and visit our customers in the hospital,” Savage said. “People like to be able to come in and have a pharmacist available to answer any questions and spend time with you.”

A graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield and Northeastern University’s College of Pharmacy, Savage got into the business after watching his father, Bud, work with customers.

“I know of people who followed him from store to store for the type of service he provides,” Savage said. “I wouldn’t have been steered in this direction if it wasn’t for him.”

Savage and his father started their independent drug store chain in central Maine in 1998 before branching off and buying an independent pharmacy in Unity in 2004. That purchase eventually evolved into four central Maine stores that employee about 40 people — the Unity Pharmacy, Oakland Pharmacy, Fairfield Pharmach and Winslow Pharmacy.

“We’re going on our 10-year anniversary competing against larger stores — we’ve got to be doing something right,” Savage said. “People want to be taken care of, they don’t want to be a number.”

Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Kim Lindlof said Savage exemplifies the criteria for business person of the year, which is given to an area business person who has displayed leadership in setting the positive direction of his or her company while maintaining integrity, professionalism and vision.

“Shane is like No. 1 with customer service,” Lindlof said. “They know everyone and know their families and enjoy talking to them personally. I’ve had to run from the doctor’s office to his store to see if he could stay open late and he always does.”

When Savage isn’t filling prescriptions and chatting with customers and community members, he’s spending time with his wife, Bethany, and three dogs, Sully, Hawk and Sage.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239 [email protected] Twitter: @jessescardina