Drug stores are, of course, retailers, but it might sharpen your focus on your customer’s needs if you think of your pharmacy as primarily as a healthcare business. That said, many pharmacies boost sales by diversifying into non-medical areas such as cosmetics and foodstuffs.
But if you’re buying a drug store or have just acquired one, resist making any bold changes until you’re familiarized with how the business operates.
Observe how your employees go about their job, and invite their feedback, to identify potential improvements. Notice which products sell well and which don’t, what customers often request but you don’t stock, and which parts of the store customers often dwell to help you recalibrate store layout and the products on your shelves.
Also, consider local demographics and competitors when pondering changes. If you’re considering stocking pre-packed sandwiches, for instance, then your research must extend beyond rival drug stores to convenience stores and bakeries too.
Make sure you also research the sector and stay abreast of the latest drug store trends on an ongoing basis.
Drug store differentiation
How can you differentiate yourself from the competition, which might include drug store chains like Clicks, Medi-Rite and Dis-Chem Pharmacies? Here are a few suggestions.
- Specialisation. Drug stores must always be generalists but perhaps there’s an under-served niche for, say, offering a wider range of dental products than your rivals
- Diversify into new areas, which can bring in new customers and increase existing customers’ average spend. You might offer new medical services such as immunizations or prescription delivery, or sell food, cosmetics or greeting cards
- Exceptional customer service in this business is rooted in providing tailored advice, and striking up a rapport with customers who need regular prescriptions. Customers are more likely to return if you remember their name and details of their ongoing health problems, and provide advice customised to their circumstances
- Opening times. If your competitors are all closed by 6pm then opening a little later could see you scoop up custom from those who don’t finish work early enough to beat the cut-off. But do your research: there’s no point extending opening times if the sales boost is eclipsed by the extra running costs
Drug store skills shortage
The importance of knowledgeable staff in this sector, and a chronic shortage of qualified pharmacists in South Africa, make it all the more vital to invest resources in recruitment, training and decent pay and working conditions. You can also retain valuable staff by empowering them to make suggestions and take decisions to help you drive improvements.
Life Healthcare is one reputable provider of training should you or your staff need to expand skillsets.
Drug store marketing
On the marketing front, it’s worth introducing yourself to local doctors’ offices so that they’re aware of you if patients ask them to recommend a local pharmacist or for directions to the nearest drug store.
It’s also good PR to be active in your local community, perhaps sponsoring or otherwise supporting local events and causes.
Are you maximising your space and ‘sweating your assets’? For instance, you could hire out one of your consultation rooms to other healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, to create another, recurring revenue stream.
Drug store security
Retail is of course about loss prevention as well as boosting sales. Unfortunately, with cash and prescription drugs on the premises, you’ll be an obvious target for criminals.
It’s imperative therefore to invest in high-quality security equipment, from physical protection like high-quality locks and metal shutters, to digital deterrents like CCTV and burglar alarms. Be sure to prominently advertise the security system’s presence on external and internal walls to ward off would-be thieves.
CCTV can also confirm or disprove any suspicions you might have that your own staff are stealing without the need for uncomfortable, unwarranted confrontations.