Of all the definitions of marketing, the one I like for independent community pharmacy goes like this: Marketing is the sum total of everything a pharmacy does to attract, serve and retain patients. That means marketing includes deciding where your pharmacy should be located and what its exterior and interior should look like, deciding what days and hours to be open, and deciding which products and services to provide and what to charge for them. The goal of your marketing efforts is to let people know who you are, where you are and what you do that will benefit them.
That is a big job, and most independent pharmacy owners are so busy running their business that they rarely spend much time exploring ways they can be better marketers. So, to help you boost sales and profits, this list highlights 10 key steps you can take.
1) Boost Curb Appeal
We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do. That means your pharmacy’s exterior matters. Bulloch Drugis located in the historic business district of downtown Cedar City, Utah, in a building that was built in 1881. The exterior is well-maintained, but the pharmacy’s signature feature is wood-carved and colorfully painted sign. Together, the attractive storefront and exterior sign make Bullock Drug both a conversation starter and a landmark in this rapidly growing southern Utah town.
Ten years ago, Vic’s Pharmacy in Nampa, Idaho, moved into a renovated building on a busy street in the business district. The corner lot is well-groomed, but the owner went a step further and installed a large digital sign. Its frequently changing messages bring in new customers to try one or more of the enhanced services or professional-grade supplements the pharmacy features.
2) Target New Residents
There is no better time to get a new customer than when someone from outside your community moves into your trade area. But unless you make a point of letting them know about your pharmacy, the odds of them visiting your pharmacy instead of a chain drugstore are low.
One proven technique is to send the newcomer a carefully worded invitation to visit your pharmacy. Many pharmacies contract with companies that provide this service, obtaining names and mailing the information on a rigid schedule so that new residents receive an invitation as soon as possible.
That is just half the task. The bigger job is creating a mailing that will get opened, convey a message that accurately represents your pharmacy and inspire people to take advantage of your offer.
Pharmacies with traditional front-ends can include a gift certificate for a box of chocolates or some other item with general, immediate appeal. Clinically oriented pharmacies may want to provide a gift certificate to help replenish medicine cabinet essentials that were discarded in the move.
3) Romance New Customers
Whenever a first-time prescription customer comes into your pharmacy, your team should spring into action and follow a carefully thought-out plan. Questions about insurance cards and other data should be organized well and the intake process performed quickly and pleasantly. Any document the patient sees should be carefully copied and display your logo and tagline. Leave plenty of space for people to write their name and email address.
Invite the customer to take a moment to meet the owner or manager, and provide a store brochure that explains the key benefits of using your pharmacy. A few days after the visit, send the visiting customer a letter from the pharmacy, thanking them for coming in. To encourage them to come book soon, also mail a gift certificate — perhaps a health care item if the pharmacy is clinically focused or another appealing item if the pharmacy has a more traditional front end.
4) Make the Most of Customer Referrals
Every business owner knows that referrals are one of the best ways to attract new customers. To make the process more effective, create formal printed referral cards to give your patients.
These cards generally come in two parts: One section gets filled out by the person handing the card to a friend, and the other has room for the new customer’s name and address. The most effective programs do not depend on the new person bringing in a prescription but, instead, offer a reward for simply bringing in the card. A customer who presents the card to a staff member can receive a store brochure and be told in person about the benefits of transferring their prescription to the pharmacy. The new customer will also be sent a thank-you note and encouraged to return.
Finally, the referring customer should get a gift certificate in reward for their recommendation. Ideally, a thank-you note will be included. Properly done, this will be a powerful and inexpensive way to attract new customers and build loyalty.
5) Use an Employee Referral Program
Everyone has met a person at a social event and been asked, “So, what kind of work do you do?” To take advantage of this societal norm, some pharmacies provide all their employees with business cards. They say it is a good investment in the employee’s perception of their value to the company. The Medicine Shoppe in Somerset, Kentucky, takes this a step further, authorizing employees to jot a note on that turns the card into a gift certificate. On the back of the card, they write something like: “This card is worth $5 off the purchase of any [store’s private label brand] nonprescription item.” When the card is redeemed, the staff knows to provide a little extra TLC.
Finally, the staff member who handed out the card gets a modest cash reward. Internal accounting for the discount and reward is tracked the same as a coupon.
6) Take Special Orders
One underused customer service tool involves special orders. Years ago, I visited Berthoud Drug in Colorado, which advertised that it would happily take special orders for hard-to-find health care items. When the item arrived at the pharmacy, the customer would be phoned. No big deal, right?
The program’s real magic occurred when the pharmacy called and was told that the customer had found the item elsewhere or no longer wanted it. I thought this meant significant wasted effort, until the owner told me the secret to special order success — the pharmacy’s response: “That’s wonderful! We are glad you got what you needed. Please feel free to let us help you next time you are looking for something you can’t find.” Then they returned the item. The friendly response ensured that the customer wouldn’t be embarrassed or reluctant to return to the pharmacy — and increased the likelihood that the customer would tell others about the service.
7) Offer Curbside Service
Like many pharmacies, Butt Drugs in Corydon, Indiana, has a location that makes a drive-up window impossible. Its team did a little creative thinking to provide curbside service that meets patient's needs.
The pharmacy's back entrance off the municipal parking lot has enough space to allow accommodate a car. Store signage, newsletter notices and bag clips explain that customers looking for drive-thru convenience can drive up to the back door and honk. A staff member goes out, greets the customer and either takes a script in for processing or gets and delivers a completed script.
8) Don't Overlook the Front End
Just because the front end is not typically pharmacy's sales does not mean it can be ignored. Its appearance contributes greatly to . your pharmacy's image and must be managed carefully.
Thompson Pharmacy in Altoona, Pennsylvania, helps out patients who have a hard time reading the print on product labels. Strategically placed magnifying glasses tethered to a shelf by a few feet of string allow customers to easily read the fine print and choose an item, improving front-end sales.
Duran Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, boosts health care sales with a unique shelf signage program that highlights key products in their large front end. A small sign identifies an item an recommended by the pharmacist, who is pictured, and provides a brief explanation of the product's benefit.
9) Amp Up Community Involvement
Serving on the town council, sponsoring a little league team or doing something similar offers a great way to win friends and gain customers.
Martin-Tipton Pharmacy in Amarillo, Texas, really thought outside the box: Rather than simply allowing Girl Scouts appreciate the contribution to the community.
Brewton Medical Center Pharmacy in Alabama supports Brewton Elementary and Me, a program withseveral initiatives. One part involves the pharmacy setting up in a small store in the school auditorium every nine weeks. The students can redeem tickets, earned for various accomplishments, for pharmacy-provided prizes such as yo-yos, toy cars, pencils and crayons. Participating in the program helps the children, and the pharmacy gets a boost by filling more prescriptions from parents and teachers.
10) Stay Current on Social Media
Having a presence on social media, especially Facebook, along with an up-to-date web page, is an absolute must for an independent pharmacy. Consumers use social media to do research, and if they can't find you in the cloud, then you simply don't exist to them. Worse, if the information they find is outdated, disorganized or unappealing, they will avoid your pharmacy.
That means managing your social media presence is not a job for amateurs. If you decide not to do it yourself, you should train, empower, and monitor the person on your staff who manages your digital presence.
Many pharmacies find it helpful to contract with a professional who has the tools and expertise to do it right. Plus, as they work with other pharmacies, they see what strategies succeed and can use that knowledge to improve what htey do for you. Enlisting that sort of expert could be a good move, especially if you understand that your online presence needs ot do more than generate likes—it should bring people into your pharmacy.
These are just a handful of the hundreds of ways you can market your pharmacy. Pick one of these tried-and-true tactics or try your own innovative ideas—you’re sure to attract and keep new customers.