If it isn’t already difficult enough running an independent pharmacy business faced with funding cuts and changes in the way scripts and items are remunerated, so many businesses in the pharmacy sector are now actively promoting services such as flu jabs and MURs.

Make no mistake, other pharmacy businesses are in touch with your customers. Last week our chairman’s wife received a text from LloydsPharmacy inviting her to make an appointment for her flu jab at Sainsbury’s. I also received an invite, but mine came from my local GP practice.

Neither of us received a reminder from any of the local independent pharmacies. We are approaching a great quarter of the year, commercially speaking. As prescription volume ratchets up towards Christmas and with plenty of coughs and splutters in the air, how can we all make this the best season ever?

Going for growth

Last year, after completing our Pharmacy Growth Programme, one pharmacy increased the number of flu vaccinations it gave by 750 per cent. They achieved this by deciding that the simplest way was to offer an appointment to every patient who collected a prescription early in September. You’ll note that they asked everyone, not just the people who were eligible to receive the vaccination for free.

It was a simple method, but it had good thinking behind it. It’s all about the personal approach where there is a clear asking and offering. Importantly for the patient, this meant they didn’t have to queue again to make an appointment or remember to phone, so it made it easy for them to say yes.

An alternative approach is to offer the vaccine on a walk-in basis, either a complete free-for-all at any time on any day, or at a certain time several days a week. In-store posters can be supported with a text or a phone call. This can be approached in a targeted way: people who had the vaccine last year, people who are eligible, or those who have expressed an interest, for example.

An appointments approach not only helps with organisation, but is also about an emotional commitment and a personalised service. So, what are you going to do differently this year to boost your flu vaccination service?

Improved performance

Do you have a plan for this quarter to grow your pharmacy’s sales? You may not have one yet, but it is likely that the supermarkets and your competitors will. The principle of marginal gains is to do a lot of small, simple things that improve current performance dramatically.

By offering a more complete seasonal service to patients and customers you will not only improve performance this winter, you will build loyalty for next year, too. There are a number of things you can try to boost your sales.

One more thing

The tried and tested ‘one more thing’ initiative is one of the most successful elements in our Pharmacy Growth Programme. One more thing is simply looking for the things that every customer will probably buy somewhere else, and making sure they buy it from you instead.

The challenge is to determine what exactly that one more thing is for each patient who collects a script or customer who comes in to buy something. Start by picking 10 items that naturally link with a main purchase or condition, then offer one of them when the customer is collecting their prescription or buying the main item they came in for. You can create some in-store competition among pharmacy team members and set up a reward for the person who sells the most addon items that are beneficial for the customer.

It’s not about selling a product or service that people don’t need or want. Think of it from the customer’s point of view. If they have to go to another shop to buy tissues, lip balm or lozenges, then they have had an unhelpful service and you have missed out on a sale. Many customers do not buy linked items, not because they don’t need them, but because it is their habit to buy those products elsewhere. Yes, it is simply habit.

Our experience shows that you can increase your OTC sales by a minimum of 30 per cent with this initiative, so it’s certainly worthwhile implementing it. Consider the following scenarios and what the one more thing to focus on could be:

  • Cold – what about tissues, decongestants?
  • Flu – what about analgesics or throat lozenges?
  • Calpol – what about a digital thermometer?
  • Poor circulation (cold hands and feet) – what about heat packs?
  • High blood pressure – what about a blood pressure monitor or blood pressure service?
  • Winter vitamins – what about vitamin D?
  • Antimalarials – what about travel vaccinations or other travel medicines or products?

Ask the team to come up with suggestions and get them involved.

Merchandising

Once you have agreed a list of products to start off with, dual-site the one more thing product, so that it is still within its own area, but also with the main product fixture. For example, thermometers may be in the first aid section, but they can also appear next to the analgesics. Teething gel may appear in the baby section, but may also sit on the shelf next to paracetamol suspension.

Create mini sections for complete solutions for cold and flu, children’s ailments, baby care and more. Make it easier for your customers to get all the products they need in the one place. You can also use point-of-sale material to promote these products as a joint sale and perhaps offer a deal. But the crucial part is to remind every customer.

I was in a coffee shop last week. At the counter were the usual cakes and biscuits – I couldn’t miss them. Yet even when I had politely declined to trade up to that month’s specialist coffee blend (purely for my benefit as it has a great taste, I was told), I was still asked if I wanted any cakes, biscuits or anything else to eat, which was hard to resist.

Good, better, best

Look at your main product groups. Which product categories are the most successful in your pharmacy? For each of the top lines you need to offer a product that is good, better and best. You then need to merchandise them with the better product at eye level. Remember the old marketing adage: eye level is buy level.

Consumer choice is key here. By presenting a range of options, you cover all the bases: those who need the product but want to save money, those who are happy to pay more for a better product and those who aspire to the best product.

Think outside pharmacy and look at other industries. When buying an airline ticket you can buy an economy ticket (good), you can buy one with more leg room (better) or fly business class (best). Consider also when you are buying food at the supermarket: chicken, free-range chicken, free-range organic chicken. All with price tags to match. How can you use this strategy in your pharmacy?

Treats and completes

Use your available sales space to your advantage. If your retail counter area has room to display easy pick-up lines (like my friends in the coffee shop) where all customers will see them and be reminded that they need them or perhaps make an impulse purchase, don’t miss the opportunity for a last-minute sale.

Items you might like to consider could be cough sweets, tissues or wipes, but this can vary depending on the season. Create an eyecatching display (space allowing), such as a mini pyramid or something similar, but make sure it’s not cluttered.

Winter services

Consider what services you could provide to complement your existing winter offer, taking advantage of the privacy available in your consultation room, the expert professional advice available and your locality.

Perhaps you could expand your prescription delivery service during this time when it may be difficult for people to leave their homes. What about speaking to local businesses and offering flu vaccinations to their employees? What can you do that your competitors can’t or aren’t doing? What can you do better?

These are just some of the techniques and strategies that can improve your bottom line. To find out how you could make 2017 your best winter yet, get in touch, because you don’t need to do this alone. RPS has a wealth of experience in improving business performance, and our people performance system is a simple fourstep process that will improve commercial performance and build stronger, happier teams.

Should you wish to discuss how you can build a high-performing team or take your existing team to a new level, call RPS Ltd on 01344 849397.

Read more about the Pharmacy Growth Programme below.

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