Times have changed for independent pharmacies.
Gone are the days of Wall Drug, in which a sleepy South Dakota pharmacy became a legendary business thanks to well-placed signs for ice water.
Now community pharmacies not only contend with massive chains like CVS and Walgreens, supermarket pharmacies like Kroger and Publix, and big-box retailers like Walmart and Costco, but also with online competitors like PillPack, the latest acquisition in Amazon’s expanding consumer empire.
This ever-growing competition, retroactive DIR fees, and declining reimbursement have taken a bite out of independent pharmacy profits; for owners, the risk has begun to seriously outweigh the reward.1 As a result, the estimated number of active independent pharmacies nationwide hovers around 21,000, and is expected to drop further over the next few years.2
Despite this forecast, there are still a lot of ways that these small businesses can differentiate themselves to remain competitive, so let’s take a look at a few.
1. Get to know your patients on a personal level
It’s one thing to offer health services, like screenings, lab testing, vaccines and immunizations, which many chain pharmacies now do. It’s another to make customers feel that they are actually receiving care from a healthcare professional, and that human touch is what can set independent pharmacies apart from the competition.
Pharmacists in independent stores can get to know customers’ health needs and have more freedom to make decisions in the moment, since they do not need to ask for permission from a corporate office or worry about fitting in with a corporate brand. Of course, building customer relationships isn’t easy, but independent pharmacies can make that process more efficient by using customer analytic software.
Investigating the data behind customers’ choices can help store owners set prices and choose products that their customers actually want.3 Data on customer patterns can not only benefit store owners in providing competitive advantage, but can also help patients by ensuring the pharmacy is meeting their needs and helping them adhere to therapy.
2. Consider adding delivery
Offering prescription delivery can boost business, as well. Customers of every industry are increasingly interested in delivery of whatever they buy, especially same-day delivery.4
For homebound pharmacy customers, delivery can ensure that they receive their prescriptions in a timely and consistent manner.
For patients who struggle with adherence to their prescription regimen, delivery can keep them on track and ultimately improve their health outcomes.5
For underserved populations, like those in rural or urban areas with few pharmacies, delivery could drive interest and help create loyal customers.
While developing a delivery program can be a tall order, small pharmacies can partner with a third party like ScriptDrop to make delivery a reality.
3. Explore additional service offerings
Differentiation can go well beyond customer relationships and delivery, however. Depending on the population it serves, a community pharmacy may want to explore durable medical equipment, specialty drugs, or even compounding, a service that chain pharmacies rarely provide.
Between the margins on compounding ingredients and the likelihood of cash payments for compounded prescriptions, this service can yield far greater profits than traditional dispensing.6
There are various costs involved in getting started with compounding — equipment, compliance systems, additional training, and more — but providing the simplest non-sterile compounded prescriptions could be enough to stand out from the crowd.
For independent pharmacies, differentiating must be strategic; owners must analyze their customers’ needs, acknowledge their own limitations, and act accordingly.
Whether it’s investing time and energy in providing a human touch, adding a delivery option, or offering specialty drugs and compounding, community pharmacies can still be successful and provide immense value to the populations they serve. That news is as refreshing as a cup of Wall Drug ice water.