December 20, 2019
In a crowded field, your pharmacy needs to find a way to stand out. “The sea of sameness that exists across the marketplace is troubling,” said Dave Wendland, vice president of strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group (HRG), a firm that focuses on improving results across the retail supply chain. “Consumers are left with way too many options, and they won’t be extremely loyal to any one outlet.”
Finding an area you can specialize in will make your pharmacy into more than just a place to pick up prescriptions: it will become a destination. “That differentiation can not only improve profitability but also drive recommendation, and reinforce a purpose,” Wendland said.
Whether it’s diabetes care, natural products, or compounding, having an established niche can make your pharmacy into a touchstone for your community. And it provides patients a more personalized experience they can’t get from the chains.
“Patients like the customer service aspect of independent pharmacies. They’re not going to get the personal touches or recommendations if they go to a chain pharmacy, where they’re just in the shuffle of it all,” said Colleen Volheim, category research and analysis manager at HRG. “That’s what makes an independent special, makes people want to come visit you, and sets you apart from other retailers.”
But simply stocking the right products won’t make your pharmacy’s niche service an overnight success. You have to do the research, and add in a little ingenuity, to stake your claim.
Your niche should be different than anything else that’s in your local market, so before you commit, it’s important to scope out what your competitors are providing. Wendland suggests walking through competitor chains to get a sense of what they have to offer. You can also look to your wholesaler or merchandise supplier for inspiration, seeing what they have available and what group of products you can use to cater to a specific niche.
Assess the demographics of your area—there may be an opportunity hidden there. If you have a high demographic of diabetes patients, Volheim explained, specializing in diabetes products and services will give new patients a reason to stop into your pharmacy. “It’s identifying who you want to be your next customer.”
Wendland cited Katterman’s Pharmacy, based in Seattle, Washington, which identified a particular characteristic of its demographic and capitalized on it. In a large city with massive international companies like Microsoft and Amazon, there are plenty of businesspeople taking trips abroad to places like Africa and South America. That’s where chief pharmacist Beverly Schaefer saw her opportunity: travel immunizations—specifically, offering inoculations for yellow fever.
“Most folks who give immunizations, especially yellow fever, require at least six weeks advance notice to get the inoculation in,” Wendland explained. “Katterman’s keeps it on hand so they can take a patient without an appointment, on-demand.” Because of this, they’ve become known as the place to go for travel immunizations.
Once you decide what niche you want to serve, it’s important to go all in. “The owner of the pharmacy and the staff that work there need to be passionate and committed to the niche,” Wendland said. “Once you’re in it, you really have to own it. That ownership means that you’re constantly asking yourself what more you can do for the patients that are coming in for these products.”
It’s not enough to simply stock a few ketogenic diet items on the shelves and expect to become a keto destination. “Get so deep into your niche that you provide a solution, not just a bunch of products,” Wendland said. “Provide advice and resources, not just information that’s readily available.”
To do that, you have to understand those patients and what you can do to create better solutions for them, which requires some legwork. “You have to be more than just empathetic to the individual that you’re trying to serve. You may want to interview them,” Wendland said. Ask them about the products and services they use and need but aren’t being offered in the community. Read up on websites, blogs, and other social sites to find out what people within that niche are talking about.
When you’ve established your niche, you’ll need to spread the word. Add information about your products and services to your website and any other promotional materials you produce. Within your pharmacy, carve out a separate area for your niche products so those customers can easily see all the products the store has to help them.
Marketing a niche may look a little bit different than the usual ways you market your pharmacy. Wendland remembered a pharmacist who called the local radio station to let them know about the pharmacy’s niche, which was teaching patients how to use vitamins, dietary supplements, and CBD oils in conjunction with their prescription medications. “Now this individual is on call as an expert so when something surfaces on that topic in their community, the radio station asks them to come speak to it. That’s brilliant! They’re now recognized as the neighborhood expert on that topic.”
In some cases, it makes sense to go to the places your potential patients congregate. If you are selling products for specific diets, those patients probably go to a local gym or health club. Volheim suggested, “Having a relationship with the gym or another facility would be an easy but not often thought of way to market yourself and set yourself apart.”
Why should patients go to your pharmacy for your specialty nutritional supplements when they can just order them on Amazon and get them tomorrow? It’s all about the personalization.
“If you can’t put personality into the solution you’re developing, you might as well open up a storefront online and close your door entirely,” Wendland said. “You have to become connected to the individuals you’re serving, get to know them, and invite them in.”
At Katterman’s Pharmacy, where they have found a niche administering travel vaccines, they also offer a selection of travel accessories. Even though all those products are available online, Schaefer’s patients purchase them at the pharmacy because they offer a curated selection. Instead of searching for bug repellant and getting thousands of results, patients can find the exact right bug repellant on the shelf for the location they are traveling to.
Patients are also asked to bring a bookmark back from their trip to be displayed on the pharmacy wall. “No online provider is even going to care where they’re going, let alone want to hear a story when they get back,” Wendland said.
Volheim added, “And they’ve figured out another way to get patients to come back to the store!”
And remember—as an independent pharmacy, you have the advantage of flexibility. Once you decide to commit to a niche, it doesn’t take very long to implement it once you’ve done your research. “With a chain, it takes a boardroom discussion to decide whether or not to put an endcap in, so speed is in the favor of the independent,” Wendland said. “The closeness to their community is right in front of them, so all pharmacists need to do is look around!”
An independent pharmacy with a niche service goes far beyond filling prescriptions. They have specialized services that meet the needs of specific populations in their community, making them a destination. Here’s how some pharmacies have branched out.
This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.
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