December 15, 2014
Your next business opportunity might be hiding right down the street. The buy local trend has gained popularity in recent years and it has created an opportunity for independent community pharmacies to participate. Stocking locally-made products in your front end can differentiate you from the competition, provide more value for customers and show support for the community.
At D&H Drugstore, which has two locations in Columbia, Mo., stocking local products is a business model that has been successful, said Brenda Smith, front-end manager at D&H Drugstore.
“We’re always trying to improve and do something more innovative,” Smith said. “As an independent community pharmacy, you have to do things to differentiate yourself from the mass-market pharmacies. We really strive to set ourselves apart.”
Customer service is the motivating factor for stocking local products at D&H Drugstore. It’s about offering more value and personal engagement for the consumer.
“We strive here on our customer service, and so it’s exciting to be out on the floor talking to our customers, helping them find the perfect gift or the perfect item that they’re looking for,” Smith said.
Customers of the pharmacy play a big role in determining what local products make it to the front-end floor. Some of the most popular items include baby bibs, Hippie Chow (a type of granola), fused glass or custom cards from local artists and skin products made with goat’s milk.
D&H Drugstore constantly refines its local inventory by gathering input from customers on the products it stocks. Forms at each checkout counter give customers the opportunity to provide feedback and suggest new products.
The staff also personally asks customers what products they do and don’t like. “Just being in communication with the customers, you learn what to look for,” Smith said. “I’m more hands-on. I don’t just order stuff in and then look at what’s selling. I’m a real people person. So, I really do enjoy trying to find those special niches and products that are a good fit for our business.”
By offering a balance of mass-market products and local treasures, D&H Drugstore has created a profitable front end that appeals to all types of customers.
“Sure, on some of those mass-market items, you can get a better price to bring in and sell retail, but people tend to be willing to pay a little bit more for an item that’s homemade,” Smith said.
One way to keep profit margins steady is by capping the cost of local products.
“I strive to keep our price point down for the consumer. No more than $20 tops,” Smith said. “That’s been a good selling point for us.”
But the benefits of stocking local products extend beyond financial interests. In addition to improving customer relations, it can also strengthen your image as a supporter of the community. At D&H Drugstore, the consumer response to local products has been overwhelmingly positive, which has also generated excellent word-of-mouth marketing.
“People really want to support local products in the community,” Smith said. “Customers will actually remark to us, ‘I am so glad that you have local products in here.’” Stocking these items also presents an opportunity to network with other local businesses. And these connections are often mutually beneficial.
“I try to work alongside other businesses, especially if they carry similar products,” Smith said. “I try not to carry anything that someone down the street has.”
This collaborative approach fosters better relationships with local business owners, and helps Smith make unique buying choices.
“That’s the kind of thing I try to build: a relationship and rapport with other businesses,” she said. “If I decide to bring in a product, I also talk to any other store that has it to see if that would be okay. I don’t want to tread on toes, and I want to set us apart.”
In addition to customer suggestions and samples sent by local artisans themselves, Smith finds a lot of the local products the pharmacy stocks while on the road.
“My husband and I will just get in the car and go,” she said. “I love going to neighboring towns or even states. I always search out independent pharmacies to see what kind of things they’re selling.”
This front-end model with a focus on quality, local products has worked well for D&H Drugstore.
“People really like to support other local people,” Smith said. “I would recommend it highly to other independent community pharmacies.”