The pharmacy business is not an easy one to break into, nor is it one that’s friendly toward small or independent pharmacies. The big boys have moved into just about every neighborhood in America and competing is nearly impossible. Notice, I said “nearly.” The key to staying relevant in this competitive market is doing things your competition either can’t or won’t. You can also use some of their own tactics against them to give your business a leg up.
The following are seven steps you can take to make your pharmacy run more smoothly, stay relevant to your customers, and stay afloat in a sea of national chains and regional franchises.
Create a Culture of Caring
Hometown pharmacies are different than the big box drug stores because they harken back to the “good old days” when a pharmacy was there to serve its customers. Chances are you can still remember walking into Morgan’s Pharmacy and having Mr. Morgan himself welcome you by name.
That sort of dedication to actually caring about the customers – while much less common – is not something that’s been completely lost today. In fact, many local operations go out of their way to make sure their customers feel valued. They get involved with local charities and events, deliver prescriptions to the elderly, and even organize fundraisers for those in need.
These pharmacies have stayed in business (and, in some cases, even driven the national competition out) because they hold to a philosophy that customers aren’t just numbers or wallets with legs. They’re real people—friends, neighbors, and loyal patrons—with real lives and real needs.
Watch out For Dicey Personal Relationships
The natural disaster that can destroy a small pharmacy faster than tornadoes, fires or earthquakes is internal drama. Generally, pharmacies have a limited number of employees, and the chemistry of these small groups can generally go one of two ways. They can either gel well and become like a second family, or they can fracture horrifically when personal issues spill over into the workplace.
As a result, it’s good practice for pharmacy managers to keep a finger on the pulse of their employees’ relationships (both inside and outside the store) whenever possible. Your monitoring doesn’t have to be intrusive, but knowing that Employee A doesn’t get along with Employee B will allow you to mitigate any problems, as you can schedule shifts accordingly, offer advice, or simply require compliance.
The worst thing you can do is turn a blind eye and hope everything works out for the best. Employees must understand that the workplace isn’t an appropriate venue for venting personal concerns.
One way to keep employees happy is to schedule to the best of your ability. Studies have repeatedly shown that scheduling is one of the most crucial concerns that any employee has—whether they voice that concern or not. By taking into account availability, requested time off, emergency scheduling changes, and the natural ebb and flow of your customer count, you can keep the stress levels to a minimum and keep your employees smiling. But how do you do that? The easiest answer is to invest in a software program that allows you to automate a large portion of the actual work.
Choosing a scheduling program with built-in flexibility (like When I Work) allows workers to easily change shifts if something comes up, input their availability, and check their schedule via mobile device. The best systems are those that are integrated so that any changes carry across the board and notifications are automatically sent (via text) to the affected employees in order to minimize confusion.
Look on the Bright Side
It’s no secret that pharmacy work isn’t exactly stress-free. Customers are dealing with medications—something they need—while you’re dealing with private and group insurance, and state and federal plans on top of that. Then you have to handle doctors whose handwriting makes Lyrica look like Lipitor, and who try to prescribe Abilify with Fluoxetine.
In short, it’s easy to get frazzled. If you can find a way, though, it’s in your best interest to stay optimistic. Believe it or not, 75% of job-related success stories hinge on personal optimism levels. It’s worth the effort (and the investment) to de-stress your workplace as much as possible. If you can, offer fun employee-only events or interesting community-building opportunities. It doesn’t hurt to give employees (or yourself) time off either. Everyone needs to recharge his or her batteries once in a while.
Never Compete on Pricing
You just can’t compete with the larger pharmacies on pricing—so don’t even try. With discount drug programs becoming a dime a dozen, and employee benefits packages that include free or low-cost prescriptions, it’s impossible for an independent pharmacy to compete on pricing. Instead, focus on excellent customer service, community engagement, and a genuine culture of caring.
Always be Recruiting
Your employees are your number one asset. They are the glue that holds your pharmacy together and they are the reason that your customers keep coming back. As a result, it’s important that you’re constantly improving that employee pool—which means you should constantly be recruiting.
Approach local colleges, use digital job boards, and take advantage of job fairs and other events—your next great employee is out there somewhere. This isn’t to say that you should look for reasons to get rid of employees, but chances are you’ll lose some along the way. Interestingly, a study from a few years back found that the average retail employee stays in the same job for just seven years before moving on to something different (and that duration gets even shorter as the job falls from “meaningful” to “menial”).
You have to have a plan for longevity in place, and possibly even a career-track system, in order to fill those future vacancies. This allows you to have qualified employees on hand at all times, rather than having to hire the first kid with an application and half a brain.
Invest in Technology
Technology can be a lifesaver in the small business arena. It can level the playing field, increase productivity, decrease downtime, and give your customers the experience they’ve come to expect. But, it does come with a price tag. New technology (especially systems used uniquely in pharmacies) is often costly, difficult to use or at least time-consuming to learn, and is constantly being made obsolete by something newer.
Regardless, it’s essential that you do your homework and upgrade your POS and prescription-filling/customer management software as often as you need to. This decision must be weighed heavily against the overall effect on your bottom line, but the benefits will almost definitely be worth your investment.
It All Revolves Around Your Employees
You may be the owner or the manager, but your business hangs on the skills and attitudes of your employees. By surrounding yourself with dedicated individuals who aren’t just capable, but are willing and able to go the extra mile for your customers, is essential. Without these types of people, your business’s front window will likely display a “FOR RENT” sign in the not too distant future.
Once you find these employees, it’s a good idea to reward them. Keep them happy, let them know they’re valued, and invest in their fulfillment so that you can retain a quality workforce. Your employees will thank you – and your customers will too.
Pharmacy Fixes: 7 Steps to Running More Smoothly Chad Halvorson