How to create a more community-driven pharmacy front end
By Tanya Mericle, John Duffy
On the retail side of your independent pharmacy, staying current with market conditions often makes the difference between long-term prosperity and falling behind the competition. Adapting your pharmacy front end to meet the needs of patients should be a key part of your retail strategy.
That's not to suggest external forces dictate how you run your business. Rather, it's essential to learn from what's going on in your community and make appropriate and innovative adjustments.
The most prominent example of this has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially cut off patients from physically entering the typical community pharmacy. Owners quickly ramped up drive-through, curbside, and delivery services. However, pharmacies with a front-end mindset took things a step further when filling a script or administering a vaccine shot. They asked their patients a simple question: “Is there anything else we can get you from our store today?"
Now, as we all continue to acclimate to a new normal, the challenge for your community pharmacy is how to preserve the conveniences your patients have come to expect while maximizing the square footage you've dedicated to front-end retail. After all, you're paying for that space; it makes sense to have a progressive plan for selling the goods on display there.
An honest appraisal of how to improve your front end begins with a bit of self-reflection. Ask yourself:
- What types of patients regularly visit my store?
- Which OTC products do they purchase?
- What do we have in the front end to complement the prescription medications they're already picking up?
- Are staff members prepared to engage with and assist patients while they're in the store?
- How can we save our patients the trouble of having to go to another store to find what they need?
Once you've formulated your general baseline, it's time to build toward specific solutions. This is where expert guidance from a business coach makes a huge difference. A business coach can steer you through POS reports to identify areas of opportunity. For instance, POS data can reveal patients who came to your pharmacy to fill a prescription but didn't purchase anything from the front end. Conversely, you could also discover patients who made a front-end purchase but didn't fill any scripts at the pharmacy counter.
A business coach can also offer expert analysis of your layout through an on-site visit and provide feedback on what's working well and what's not. The coach purposely looks at your store from the perspective of the patient and communicates that vision back to you. For example, you may come to work every day through the employee entrance and not notice clutter at the front door or that the first end cap visible to customers showcases products intended for a season that's already passed.
Beyond working with a business coach, devote time to refining situational awareness as it applies to your store. Understanding the demographics of your neighborhood and the patients who frequent your pharmacy allows you to stock products targeted toward their unique needs and preferences. For instance, if you're situated in or near a college town, you may offer logoed apparel and collectibles in support of the hometown favorite.
Finally, take notice of prescribers who serve your community. It stands to reason that a pharmacy just down the road from an orthopedic specialist should carry wrist, ankle, and knee braces, back and abdominal supports, as well as walkers and canes. The same line of thinking would apply to products for specific medical conditions (e.g., offer a full line of diabetic supplies if you're near a treatment center for patients with diabetes). Further, establish and maintain contact with area prescribers so they know you have supplies needed by your mutual patients.
Products, pricing, and promotions
Consumer product manufacturers recognize the deeply rooted connections between independent pharmacies and the communities they serve. Manufacturers invest heavily in advertising that ultimately drives traffic to independent pharmacies through timely promotions and widely viewed digital circulars.
You can benefit from this dynamic by taking advantage of low- or no-cost marketing opportunities that feature highlighted products for your front end. Talk to your wholesaler about participating in monthly programs that provide in-store posters and shelf talkers for showcased items.
Also ask about private-label products jointly subsidized by your wholesaler and manufacturers. Since they cover the acquisition cost, you can offer certain products to patients for free. A great place to start is with a multivitamin program. Private-label manufacturers have expanded no-cost offerings from children's products to a full line of prenatal, adult, and senior multivitamins. This type of program builds patient loyalty among individuals and families who otherwise might not have visited your store. What's more, in many cases, patients may make unplanned purchases of additional front-end items during their shopping trip.
Additionally, stay current with FDA approvals for new products, with knowledge that manufacturers will be targeting consumers with prominent multimedia campaigns. You'll want to have a supply of these products at your store as soon as they're available to the public. You can participate in programs that automatically ship new products to your pharmacy in concert with the manufacturer's marketing push.
Making smart decisions about what to carry, how it's priced, and where it's promoted, along with being open to the expert insights of a business coach, will drive your pharmacy toward front-end success.