Keeping your pharmacy in business: 7 ways to bring it into the 21st century
The ‘chemists’ is a part of every high street, and has been part of our lives for generations. But the world has moved on, and the traditional chemist shop faces some 21st-century challenges.
Some of the old moneymakers – like photography – have disappeared, while new levels of competition have come from the supermarkets and online. So what can you do to keep your pharmacy busy?
1. Become a healthcare business
Remember, customers are increasingly coming in to see the pharmacist for the answer to routine ailments, when once they would have gone to their GPs. As a healthcare business, you can profit from this huge source of extra custom.
Thinking of your pharmacy as a “healthcare business” is not a new idea – but it does help you to think about the products you stock, the services you offer and the way your staff work.
You can’t hope to compete with supermarkets on the mass market items, but you can provide quality healthcare products as long as you and your staff can help customers know what they are and how to use them. You can certainly make the extra business this will bring a major source of profit.
For example, if someone comes in for help with stopping smoking, it is not enough just to have a choice of patches and gums. Have a dedicated expert on your staff who can talk to the customer and help them decide on the best type of treatment. The chances are that their friends will be along on their recommendation.
If you have the space, you could also try hiring out one of your consultation rooms to other healthcare professionals, such as a physiotherapist. When your community starts to see your business as a source of wellness – rather than an expensive place to buy toothpaste and aspirin – you could find yourself being busier than you have ever been.
Networking may sound like something they do in the city, with no application to a pharmacy – but remember that a high proportion of your potential health-related business will come from medical professionals. Spending - or rather investing - a little time with local healthcare professionals can help them think of your business when they talk to their patients. If you have health services such as flu jabs, blood pressure or cholesterol testing, it can reduce their workload while increasing your customer numbers. Health and wellbeing boards and social services can also provide avenues for pharmacy businesses to re-establish themselves in the community.
Automated dispensing allows you to cut the time spent on routine tasks, makes your business more productive, and it provides more opportunity to use your clinical skills. Automated dispensing robots are already the norm in pharmacies across the Netherlands, and increasingly being rolled out across the rest of Europe. The benefits are clear enough.
- You can work more efficiently - routine dispensing can be completed in less time
- Human errors can be eliminated - cutting liability worries
- Productivity can be increased - a 10-15% increase in dispensed items is common with robot support
- For hospital pharmacists, the use of IT and automation has already replaced the storage of paper patient records, enabled just in time stock ordering of stock - you may be able to do the same.
There is a proven business case for pharmacies dispensing over 10,000 items per month - despite the initial costs involved. Machines can cost from £50,000-£500,000, and a monthly maintenance fee is another cost to consider. There are also space costs as robots for larger dispensaries will be the size of a car.
Despite these costs, your dispensing robot should pay for itself in around two years, through increased turnover, lowered administration workload and reduced inventory - and savings in staff costs.
4. Invest in your staff
Your staff are your most valuable asset. If they can build up a relationship with customers it will encourage them to return to your pharmacy for both advice and medications. Of course, customers will expect the pharmacist to advise on clinical issues - but a sympathetic and knowledgeable sales assistant can help people find the products they need, and provide basic advice. This can reduce your own workload - you don’t need to study for five years to know that ibuprofen can reduce inflammation while paracetamol does not. It can also mean more people come into your shop for advice and make purchases while they are there.
Training is vital in building the skills you need, and there are many courses available for staff. Ensure all members of your team are trained for the roles delegated to them, from administration to clinical care of specific patient groups such as diabetes or COPD. Ensure you allocate an adequate budget for the training and development of staff.
You may also want to look at the rates of pay you offer. Someone who knows the business and has good people skills will be worth much more than the minimum wage.
5. Use IT
The world - and your customers - are going digital, and you need to take full advantage of technology to make the most of your business. These days, there is more to this than using automated systems for administration and stock control. Modern technology lets you communicate with patients. Are you texting patients when a repeat prescription is ready? If you are not, you need to be, because the large chains are already doing so. Are you able to recommend apps to patients? Apps exist for everything from weight loss programmes to cancer support. If you can help patients find those relevant to them, they will appreciate the way that you take a proactive interest in their care.
6. Become a power retailer
The retail sector has seen some major changes in recent years, largely due to the rise of supermarkets, discount stores and pound shops selling what were traditionally lines reserved for the pharmacy and chemist shop.
You need to reclaim your market. While you may not be able to do this on price, you should be able to compete on the quality of the experience you offer. The old-style cluttered retail environment may feel familiar and comfortable, but it has to go. Customers have become used to the easy-to-navigate layouts of supermarkets and large chain stores, so naturally will have the same expectations for your pharmacy.
You may need to invest in new displays and lighting, but although the costs may be high, the increase in sales can be immediate. Look at how the large chains have designed retail areas. Their approach is scientific, designed to maximise sales. You need to follow their lead to boost your own business.
You may also need to invest in marketing. You don’t need sales gimmicks. Telling people what you do is actually the best way to promote your services in a professional manner. Patients are much more likely to access your services if they know what you provide. So ensure that information about what you offer is made available, and always take advantage of linked opportunities such as NHS health campaigns that could lead to smoking cessation, flu jabs, MUR and dietary advice.
7. Get the right financial solutions
Your pharmacy is a business, and every business needs the right finance if it is to thrive. At Rangewell we work closely with pharmacists across the county, and we understand both the challenge you face, and the financial solutions that can help you answer them.
For example, if you are looking at robotic dispensers, we can help find the most cost-effective Asset Finance solutions, to spread the cost of the investment you need.
If you are looking at refitting or refurbishing your retail area, we can source loans - and if you are thinking about supporting your cash flow for the short-term while you invest in growing your business, we can introduce you to a wide range of solutions, from Merchant Cash Advances to Asset Refinance.
Business finance can be confusing. To keep your pharmacy in business you need the right answers. You can find them all with a call to us at Rangewell.