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Lessons in Innovation From Pharmacy Trendsetters

Lessons in Innovation From Pharmacy Trendsetters

March 23, 2020

For the third year, representatives for the NCPA Innovation Center gathered to review the year in pharmacy and reward the independent pharmacies who have pushed boundaries and made changes to improve the overall patient experience. The best of the best are recognized by the NICE Awards. The awards fall into seven categories, from big-picture approaches like external and internal remodels to smaller endeavors that make pharmacies more patient-friendly, like marketing promotions, customer convenience, and signage.

Before 2020’s NICE Award winners were revealed, Elements caught up with judge Dave Wendland, vice president of strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group, to chat about the trends he spotted among the entries. “I’m always impressed by these innovators in the independent pharmacy community. This year was no disappointment,” he said. “The pharmacies that entered show a commitment to individualization and patient care, and it really reinforces that this segment of the market can continue to flourish for those who are thinking outside the four walls.”

Invest in community

The trending innovations in independent pharmacies take advantage of the assets they’ve always had: their community connections. “These folks reside in the same town as their patients, go to church or synagogue there, walk the streets and grocery shop there,” Wendland said. “They’re extending the reach of their marketing right into the homes of the patients who are visiting their pharmacy. It’s really awe-inspiring.”

Community-focused marketing means more than letting patients know what products and services you have available in the pharmacy. Smart independent pharmacies are making patients feel like they are a part of something bigger. One tactic Wendland suggests is making a big to-do about pharmacy milestones. “Being in business for 25, 50, or even 100 years shouldn’t go without any fanfare.” This kind of event doesn’t just celebrate the longevity of the pharmacy, it also celebrates the people who helped them make it this far. There may be multiple generations of a family that have been coming to the pharmacy for decades. Invite those figures to speak at milestone events and attest to how the pharmacy has affected their lives.

The holidays are also a great time to invest in customer loyalty. Wendland mentioned pharmacies taking food or care packages to their homebound patients and helping them celebrate the holiday. “There’s a special touch that extends beyond the homebound patient, to their family and friends and the community at large,” he said.

Your product selection can also show your community that you care. By incorporating locally made products, pharmacies demonstrate that they are a driver for the economy around them. Or pharmacies can stock items they know their patients will appreciate and create a community event surrounding it. Wendland gave an example of a pharmacy that launched its new CBD pet products with an event that included a photographic studio for pets. “Pretty innovative, when you think about the fact that one of the most important members of a patient’s household might very well be their pet,” Wendland said.


Trending Topics

At the 2020 NCPA NICE Awards, four trends emerged from the outstanding entries, according to Dave Wendland, vice president of strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group. This is what he says savvy pharmacies will be incorporating into their stores in 2020 and beyond.

Fresh and Local Products

“There is some really innovative and experiential thinking going into how to incorporate unique local products into an independent pharmacy’s front-of-the-store operation.”

Easy to Navigate Spaces

“It’s everything from new and improved drop-off and pickup areas to consultation areas to wayfinding and navigation in the aisles. There’s even some technology that has helped reinforce convenience.”

Unique Offerings

“It’s beyond the ingredients themselves. It’s the reinforcement from the pharmacist through signage and education that draws attention to these emerging products.”

Highlighting Community Commitment

Wendland says pharmacies are creating marketing promotions that “underscore the major differentiator between independent community-based pharmacies, which is a personal commitment to the community.”


Mitigate the risks

Even if a pharmacy puts all of its heart and belief into a new product or service, there’s always a chance that it won’t get off the ground. “Not every innovation, new trend, or product that is brought into the pharmacy will succeed,” Wendland said. “Failure builds additional success. You should learn from the failure, pick yourself back up, and be willing to get back into the deep end.”

As you face the potential to fail, certain moves can cushion the risks that come along with introducing something new. “You learn a lot by listening and you learn a lot by looking around,” Wendland said. “Observe what others are doing and find a gap. Then, listen closely to your customer base so you know you will have pent up demand when you bring the product or service in.”

If a pharmacist wants to bring in a specific product category like pet care, Wendland suggests asking patients questions like: If I were to bring this product in, would you be willing to give it a try? Have you tried these products before? Where do you usually buy pet care products?

Another key is to start small. Don’t convert an entire corner of your store to pet care products before you’ve proven there’s a demand for it. Instead, bring in a small display and see how it performs. If it does well, expand.

If it doesn’t do well, don’t wait too long to pull the plug. It’s crucial to recognize when an innovation is wasting shelf space, time, and energy. Wendland recommends setting a time limit and sticking to it. “Put a specific stake in the ground that says, ‘It needs to achieve success in X amount of time,’ whether that’s six months or one week. Whatever that time limit is, if it doesn’t succeed, discount it, get it out of your store, and move on.”

Wendland recalled visiting a pharmacy in the United Kingdom who committed the most valuable and prominent shelf space to a single product because of its 80-percent margin. The product sat stagnant for nine months, and the pharmacy wasn’t willing to replace it because they were excited about the margin. “Well, that no longer has 80-percent margin,” Wendland said. “Just because it carries an 80-percent margin the day you buy it, the day you sell it, that might be down to a negative number. You’ve wasted all that space and all that time, and all that commitment.”

Key to success

Whether a pharmacy is considering implementing something massive like an entire store remodel or something small like a new service or product, they need to be all-in. “If a pharmacy or pharmacist is not committed to the innovation or the trend, it will never be successful,” Wendland said. “And I usually don’t use words like never, but this is an absolute.”

This goes for all members of the team, not just the owners. Success rates increase when staff members have a special connection to a new solution or innovation. “Pharmacies that are going to make a commitment should make sure it’s a product or service that they can stand behind and recommend with confidence,” Wendland advised. If they aren’t willing to fully throw themselves into the advertising and promotion, it won’t work.

A successful innovation should also be the first of its kind in the community. The more quickly it can be implemented, the better, because the ability to introduce new services fast is one of the main advantages independent pharmacies have over chains.

“You should never be a follower, always be a leader,” Wendland said. “Leading is far more dangerous, but if you lead with conviction, you can end up with success.”


Eyes on the Horizon

Although independent pharmacies should be leading the charge, they need to be aware of the moves their competitors are making, said Dave Wendland. “Learn about what they are doing, then stick to what you’re really good at,” Wendland said, “which is innovating quickly, better serving patients, and bringing value to the community.”


CVS is currently in the process of expanding its HealthHUB service, which offers new products like durable medical equipment, digital and in-store health tools, and personalized healthcare advice.


Walgreens has partnered with the weight loss service Jenny Craig to offer new weight and health management services inside the pharmacy in 2020.


Amazon After acquiring the mail-order pharmacy PillPack, Amazon has rebranded it as PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy.

Dollar General and other discount brands

Discount retailers like Dollar General are thriving, and they’re breaking into categories like beauty and wellness that could eat at the front-end profits of independent pharmacies


From the Magazine

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.

Read more articles from the March issue:


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