Animals and chain stores
What can your business learn from animals?
‘When the bear gets into the water with the alligator, the alligator usually wins’. My father told me this many times as we discussed how to market and operate our family business.
It is so easy for us, and for customers, to see all the advantages that the chain grocery, big box, mass merchant, or other store has over our pharmacy. It is easy because they all shout so loudly through their advertising what they can do for the customer.
Because all of these other pharmacies are shouting the same message, you would think they must have done their research and know that what they offer is truly what the customer is wanting.
If your pharmacy, the bear, were do decide to go ‘head to head’ with these businesses, you would surely lose. You cannot be open all the hours the pharmacy department of their store is. You cannot spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a drive-thru for your pharmacy. Nor can you add thousands of square feet, if not one hundred thousand square feet to your pharmacy to offer all of the items they do along with the low margins they operate on.
Part of the reason you cannot, is your not having that amount of money. Your community could not financially support another business that is similar to theirs. More importantly, it is not likely that it is your nature to operate a business in a similar format.
To succeed, you have to be yourself. Much like the t-shirt that states, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken’, this is good advice for us.
The majority of customers that leave a business do so because of the perception that the business does not care about them. As an example, the independent pharmacy this writer does business with stays in touch with their customers only by way of a newsletter that is inserted in the monthly statement they send. The newsletter is a preprint from one of the major wholesalers with only a minimal amount of personalization for the pharmacy on it.
If I do not do business with the pharmacy over the course of a month, I will not get the newsletter because there will be no statement to send to me. The prescriptions that are taken daily are refilled only when the pharmacy is called. While the competition already offers a service to automate refills, there is nothing they could offer that could compete with someone I know calling me from the pharmacy to confirm a refill or offer to call the doctor’s office when a prescription is to be renewed.
Knowing the person who is calling is another component. This writer knows these individuals only because of my efforts to exchange names. What if their staff were wearing name tags? What if this local pharmacy were to create an ongoing staff education program to teach all of the pharmacists, technicians, and front end staff how to interact with people?
The response of, ‘our people already know our customers’, is understood, but what about any new customer?
A pharmacy in another town gives their customers a number to call when they have questions outside of regular business hours. The pharmacy has a schedule of rotation among their pharmacists as to who answers the call. They even come to the pharmacy after hours to fill a new prescription for a customer having that need.
Another pharmacy gives to customers a small container of hand sanitizer with the pharmacy name and contact information on the bottle. They offer free refill year round to all customers.
The answer is that successful independent pharmacies do not compete with the chain grocery, big box, mass merchant or other store that has a pharmacy. Knowing what they cannot do that these others can do, they begin to understand, and make an action list, of what they can do that these competitors cannot do.
They stay ‘out of the water’ and stand their ground. Simply said, and with a bit of humor, this is ‘beary good’ advice for any independent pharmacy.