Inside: Your independent community pharmacy has advantages that can outshine the national chains.
Big box stores and national chain pharmacies may have money on their side, but that doesn’t mean that they have all the power. Your community pharmacy has advantages that make you stand out from your giant competitors.
In order to compete, you need to be aware of what those advantages are, and learn how to use them to your best advantage.
Take a look at some of the best assets you have to help you stay ahead of the pack.
Personalize your communication
As an independent pharmacy, you have an opportunity to develop personal relationships with your patients that just aren’t possible in the big chains.
This doesn’t mean knowing the name and backstory of everyone who walks into your store. What it does mean is going the extra mile to make sure that their health needs are met and that they feel welcome in the pharmacy.
Starting with a patient’s first visit, they should be treated in a friendly and respectful manner. Take special care to listen to their needs and let them know about all of the services your pharmacy offers to create an excellent first impression. Send patients a handwritten note thanking them for choosing your pharmacy after their first visit.
When you’ve established a great rapport, it’s important to maintain the same level of service every time a patient visits. Send loyal patients a card signed by your staff on their birthdays to make them feel noticed.
In your marketing communications, add personal touches. Use real pictures of your pharmacy and incorporate testimonials from real patients to give your pharmacy a personality that your chain competitors can’t match.
Adjust your business strategy quickly
If something isn’t working for a giant corporation, making changes can be like turning the Titanic—it takes a lot of manpower (and a long time), and you might hit a fatal iceberg on the way.
As a small pharmacy, you have the advantage of being nimble. If something’s not working the way you want it to, it’s much easier to make adjustments and experiment to see if another method will work better for your business.
While you don’t want to make changes willy-nilly, they are necessary for keeping your business modern and up-to-date. You should be constantly assessing your systems to ensure that they are working for you. Areas where you can consider making improvements include:
- Changing your pharmacy’s hours
- Updating software
- Introducing new workflow procedures
- Adding new services
- Phasing out services that aren’t performing well
And, of course, having a detailed plan in place and communicating effectively with your employees about making changes can make these transitions easier.
Be a voice in the community
One of the biggest advantages you have over a chain pharmacy is that you know your community. Your patients support you in part because you support the community in return.
Make a conscious and conspicuous effort to participate in local events whenever possible.
One popular and easy move you can make is creating a “checkout charity.” This is when you put a bin for change at the checkout counter for customers to contribute to. It takes minimum effort and practically no cost, and even if customers don’t make a donation every time, they’ll see the organizations you support and feel good about shopping with you.
You should also think locally when it comes to choosing merchandise for your front end. Stock gear with the mascot of the local high mascot, and support local artisans by featuring their cards, soaps, and other small gifts.
Go above and beyond by participating in local events or volunteering for charitable causes like the food pantry or after school programs. You’ll build goodwill and gain name recognition at the same time.
Provide exemplary customer service
Instead of just getting your patients their prescriptions and getting them out of the pharmacy, strive to provide service that leaves them saying “wow.” Big box stores that rely on operating with massive volume and selling front-end goods don’t have the time to offer the personal care that your pharmacy does, which gives you an edge.
Your employees are the face of your business, so train them to provide great service for every customer.
Some rules of thumb for employees to follow include:
- Greet patients within 30 seconds of entering the pharmacy
- Let patients browse in peace, but be available in case they have questions
- Be friendly and composed, even when a patient is rude
- Be able to answer questions about common OTC products and front-end items
- Master workflow processes so services can be delivered as quickly as possible.
Even if you do your best, sometimes patients will be unhappy. When someone is dissatisfied or complains about an experience, address it right away. Hopefully, they will recognize your effort and it will strengthen your relationship in the long run.
Make thoughtful hiring decisions
Big businesses have to navigate an enormous human resources maze to get new employees on board. They also usually have more employees, so managers can’t give their direct reports as much personal attention to make sure they’re dishing out that excellent customer service that’s so crucial.
You, on the other hand, have the resources to staff your pharmacy with excellent employees.
When you have an open position, make sure you make the application process simple, so you get a high volume of quality applicants. If your application is difficult to navigate, has too many questions, or takes a really long time to complete, you could lose out on a great employee because they weren’t able to complete their application.
Take care to consult your current employees. When you have an open position, ask them to recommend people they think might be a good fit, and loop them into the hiring process. Including trusted employees in interviews can ensure that you don’t miss a big weakness or hidden strength in a candidate.
It also helps to have a good idea of what your company culture is when you’re bringing on new employees so they will fit in right off the bat.
A Member-Owned Company Serving Independent Pharmacies
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy-side of their business. Founded and owned by pharmacists, PBA Health serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, wholesaler contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, and more.
An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited secondary wholesaler with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products — offering the lowest prices in the secondary market.