OXFORD, Miss. – Robert Salmon opened a drugstore, Southern Discount Drugs, across the street from a clinic in Charleston in 1980. Fifteen years later, he and his pharmacy technician began packaging diabetic testing supplies in a back room of the drugstore and mailing them to patients.
Since then, the University of Mississippi alumnus has moved that once-small diabetic supply business three times to accommodate ever-expanding services, inventory and employees and grown that back-room operation into Tallahatchie County’s third-largest employer. The Diabetic Shoppe has an economic impact of $13 million annually.
“Our business has expanded to five other states, and we employ 75 people, including half of Mississippi’s pedorthists,” Salmon said. Pedorthists provide corrective footwear – including custom-fit shoes, shoe modifications and inserts – to prevent or improve painful and/or disabling conditions of the foot and ankle, such as those caused by diabetes.
“We make all our own inserts,” Salmon said. “If they are prescribed by a physician, sometimes they are covered by Medicare and other insurance plans.”
The business, which also provides such things as insulin pumps, is truly a family affair. Salmon is president and CEO, and his wife, Sharon, is administrative assistant. His twin daughters, Peyton Salmon Boone and Leslie Salmon Heafner, are the company’s vice presidents. Peyton oversees purchasing and shipping, while Leslie oversees customer service.
The Diabetic Shoppe employs seven salespeople to cover its service area, which includes portions of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. While the salespeople call on physicians, nurse practitioners and others to acquaint them with the business’ goods and services, the pedorthists visit patients to obtain the casts for the 15,000 pairs of inserts and 5,000 pairs of shoes they provide each year. They visit those same patients again to deliver the specialty footwear.
The Diabetic Shoppe also employs a nutritionist and other health care professionals to counsel diabetic patients about managing the disease, educate members of the local community about diabetes risk factors and provide free screening clinics.
The business has earned several awards. The most recent is the second-quarter Health Champion award from the Regional Health Council, which serves the eight counties (Coahoma, DeSoto, Marshall, Panola, Quitman, Tallahatchie, Tate and Tunica) in the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi’s service area.
“We are honored to have been chosen for this award,” Salmon said. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can to help diabetics manage their disease and promote wellness in our community to live up to this honor.”
Alfio Rausa, district health officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health, attended the June award presentation. It was his first visit to The Diabetic Shoppe.
“This was a discovery,” Rausa told Sun-Sentinel reporter Clay McFerrin. “I didn’t know that we had a pearl sitting here on the edge of Tallahatchie County. Now that I’ve gotten to see the plant and meet Mr. Robert, I can’t imagine anybody else deserving this award more. He’s a walking educator for diabetes prevention.”
He is also a walking educator for small businesses and is willing to talk to anyone who will listen about what needs to be done to improve the climate for such businesses across the country. To obtain the ammunition needed for such discussions, Salmon invited two Mississippi State University graduate students to conduct an economic impact study of his business.
The study found that for every dollar The Diabetic Shoppe generates, it adds an additional 27 cents, or $2.1 million annually, to the local economy. It also generates local and state tax revenues of more than $575,000.
The study also found that The Diabetic Shoppe is Tallahatchie County’s third largest employer, and that another 85 jobs are dependent upon it because they provide its supplies or supply its suppliers.
Others have also taken notice of Salmon’s and his employees’ efforts. A Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Workplace was presented to Salmon during the 2010 grand opening of the new Diabetic Shoppe, and the Mississippi Pharmacists Association, for which he served as 2008-09 president, presented its Innovative Pharmacy Practice Award to him during its 2005 convention.
A registered pharmacist for 45 years, Salmon is nationally certified to manage diabetes, asthma and lipid disease states. Upon graduating from the UM School of Pharmacy in 1967, he went to work for Charleston Drug Store, then spent seven years as the first full-time pharmacist at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
His life took a different turn in 1980, when he opened Southern Discount Drugs, and the rest is history.
Salmon chairs the Delta Coalition for Health Care and serves on several boards, including the Northwest Mississippi Community College School of Nursing, Tutwiler Clinic, Delta Strategic Compact and Mississippi’s Independent Pharmacists Association. He has been a consultant to Tallahatchie General Hospital and Extended Care Facility, and he and his employees have partnered with the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort, Delta Dawn and the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy to hold several diabetes screenings and workshops.
He is a preceptor for Ole Miss pharmacy students and has talked about proper nutrition and diabetes management to local ministers and schools.
Right now, though, he is interested in partnering with anyone who can help him and the Delta Coalition address the health, socioeconomic and cultural problems that plague his region. Among these problems are some of the nation’s highest numbers for teen pregnancy, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy and more.