Four things large retail pharmacies should look for in a distribution partner
By Michael Amante
A healthcare distributor must constantly be at the top of its game in ensuring accurate, on-time delivery of needed medications. After all, supply chain excellence is the fundamental core of your pharmacy business and your distributor is there to support you (and, ultimately, your patients). The right distribution partner should also stand ready to rally all its resources to support your business objectives while investing in continuous improvement in its core capabilities.
In that light, it makes sense to work with a distribution partner who shines in four important areas. Look for a wholesaler who:
1. Knows the critical importance of getting pharmaceuticals to the right place at the right time
Really knows it. There are patients at the end of the pharmaceutical supply chain, and that's something the distributor should never forget. Medications and treatments must reach your door(s) in an efficient, reliable, and secure manner. The right distributor isn't merely filling orders — they are helping patients — and every associate in the warehouse knows it. Look for a distribution partner that realizes its actions, no matter how big or how small, affect your ability to deliver the best care. At your size and scale, there's no time to waste.
2. Recognizes the need to constantly improve
Practically speaking, nobody can be perfect every time, but distributors need to be as close to perfect as possible every single day. On both sides of the pharmacy-distributor relationship, there are issues that can challenge perfection — late orders, product availability, etc. Your distribution partner should always be experimenting with new ways of operating that better fit your business model and help you overcome challenges when they arise.
Ask a prospective distributor how it would help you manage through difficult scenarios. Not only should the distributor be able to explain that it forecasts, receives, and manages inventory in ways that maximize your opportunity to serve each patient, but it should be making continuous improvements in its core capabilities — constantly improving every step in the process of the complex logistics behind the pharmaceutical supply chain.
3. Adopts your objectives as their own
Successful distribution solutions focus on what you want to accomplish. In other words, the distributor should be nimble, curious about your business, and flexible enough to make decisions on the fly to help you better serve patients. Things work best when the distributor offers solutions that support your pharmacy's mission — not just in the functional element of filling scripts but also in your ability to deliver an unwavering, consistent customer experience. Your distributor should be investing in innovative, scalable solutions designed with your objectives in mind — building what you need, not what they think you need.
4. Invests time and attention to understand what matters to you and involves you in their innovation efforts
Take it as a positive sign when you learn that your distributor invests in resources dedicated to deep customer listening to ensure they understand the core of what matters most to your pharmacy. The distributor should be ready and willing to listen and really understand your greatest pain points, then work with you to explore potential improvements. The partnership should be collaborative, with each party honestly communicating contemplated decisions and the patient or business impacts and rationale behind them. Once they are grounded in what matters most to you, the distributor should anticipate customer needs and identify opportunities to provide attuned solutions that drive value. A case in point is recognizing how pandemic-driven patient behavior has accelerated consumers toward virtual care and proactively coming to you to work together on how you might get ahead of this trend.
The bottom line? The core of any distributor relationship should be a partner who truly cares about people — whether they are customers, patients, or team members. When your distribution partner's focus is on making the best decisions for the people you serve while working with you to meet your business goals, you've found the right partner.