Ryan Feist and Andy Belzer were teammates on the Chewelah Cougars basketball teams throughout their years in high school. It worked for them, as the Cougs won a state championship in 2001, placed sixth in 2002 and took third in 2003 while Feist and Belzer were out on the court.
And now they’re going to be teammates again, although this time in the business arena.
Both have their doctorates of pharmacy and, after graduating from Washington State University, both work in Spokane-area pharmacies. While going through the process to become pharmacists, they both heard about this skin care product called ProKera.
The product had a small, loyal customer base, and both took notice of it. Turns out, ProKera was a company ran by the owner in Nine Mile Falls. The product was made by a pharmacist and dermatologist and what started out as something of a hobby for the owner, turned into a big hobby. The owner sold the product for several years but wanted to retire and spend more time with family.
When Feist heard that the owner of ProKera was thinking about hanging it up, he jokingly said he’d like to buy the company. The owner heard about it through the grapevine and called him up asking if he was serious about buying the company to which Feist replied “it depends if I can afford it!”
That’s when he made a phone call to his former teammate.
“We talked about owning our own pharmacy and when we looked into that, we got nervous with all the healthcare changes,” Feist said.
“It got to a point where financially a lot of small family pharmacies weren’t making enough and struggling to survive,” Belzer added.
Buying ProKera was something the two could do out of pocket while still being able to be full-time pharmacists. Belzer is married with three kids and Feist is soon to be married so it was something they felt they could handle.
What they felt they inherited was a quality product that almost sold itself to a loyal customer base. According to the product’s website, ProKera helps with dry skin, chapped hands, cracking heels along with skin that is itchy and flaking. Feist and Belzer said the product is high-end and when people see how it works, they don’t mind the little extra cost.
“We can hit a wide range of people,” Feist said. “Whether it’s a woman with just dry skin or the guy in construction that has cracked hands. Since it’s unscented, people like that. If you have an allergy, it being scented could also cause a reaction.”
Once the two former Cougars acquired the product, they had to form their own business which they call – naturally – CougarDerm. What didn’t come naturally was the amount of paperwork, business licenses and everything else that comes with having your own company.
While they both work their full-time jobs in the pharmacy, they now make the product in a warehouse and Belzer does the mailing for orders from the online website. Phone calls between the two are plentiful and they can usually wrap up with their second business at around 10 p.m. on workdays.
What they said they’re hoping to do is have a bigger push online to people. Already the product ships all over the country and even internationally, but they want to have a more streamlined website and a stronger presence in social media. Along with that, they’re trying to get the product in stores.
It’s already in seven Yoke’s in the Spokane area, along with Rite-Aid in Coeur d’Alene and the north end of Spokane. They also contacted Kevin Herda of Valley Drug and ProKera will be in his three store locations in Chewelah, Kettle Falls and Lakeside.
“We’re looking to get into vendors and Kevin just seemed like a natural fit since we know him,” Feist said. “We graduated with his brother Kris.”
Having graduated from Chewelah, they still remember the big crowds for basketball games and Belzer still uses Dr. Boone as his doctor. They both said they enjoy the drive back up to Chewelah to deliver the product.
They hope to grow the business and get it on more store shelves. People interested can check out ProKera.com and on store shelves at Valley Drug. If you see it there, remember two Chewelah alumni are behind the label.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff