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Spread the net to maximise the opportunity of access

Aside from the traditional health and wellbeing services community pharmacies offer, savvy community pharmacy owners are diversifying their business models with a variety of add-ons that enable them to give their customers something extra in store. But how do you choose something that is a good fit with community pharmacy, and isn’t going to dilute the credibility and hard-won reputation of your business?

Mike Holden at Pharmacy Complete says for pharmacy owners wanting to start with an offering closer to home, key compatible areas to consider are self care, and vaccinations.

“Pharmacies already offer self care advice for common illnesses”, he says, “but with deprescribing of treatments on the NHS and a government policy to drive the public to pharmacy for this area of healthcare through the Digital Minor Illness Referral Service [DMIRS] being trialled now, pharmacies should be gearing up their workforce capability and confidence to support this need and maximise the opportunity. In addition to traditional minor ailments, specific areas that are identified include pain management, eye health and skin health. With vaccinations, NHS flu is well established with the related competences and facilities, so pharmacies can build on this with private services for travel, occupational health and other vaccinations including chicken pox, shingles etc.”

For those who would like to reach further afield, Steve Jeffers, director of STJ Healthcare Consultancy, says: “Venturing into non-health areas is always a difficult stretch for a pharmacy not to lose its identity, but post offices are one area that many pharmacies have become involved in over the years. The demographics of the customers of both the Post Office and pharmacy are very similar, and with the shrinking PO network it may be an opportunity for the local pharmacy to save the local service when it is threatened with closure.”

In certain large estates or rural areas where many retailers have disappeared in recent years, Mr Jeffers says: “There may also be an opportunity for an adjacent general store offering, especially if the pharmacy has late opening hours, and I know of some pharmacies who have joined symbol groups such as Londis to achieve this ambition.”

Using expertise differently

Pharmacist Amish Patel is the owner of Hodgson Pharmacy in Longfield, Kent, from where he also runs the Intrigue Cosmetic Clinic, a private medical aesthetics clinic that he opened three years ago. 

Mr Patel chose aesthetics as an add-on business because he had always had a particular interest in this field, but with the popularity of medical aesthetics on the rise, he says there was another reason he was keen to get involved: “Medical aesthetics, unfortunately, is unregulated, and there are many non-medical professionals offering treatments leading to complications and disaster stories. 

“Other than Harley Street and dental practices, there are no other ‘high street’ venues which offer a clean and clinical environment in which such treatments can be carried out. With the right pharmacy premises, it was an obvious gap that could be filled, so combining my pharmacy knowledge and aesthetics skills makes me an ideal practitioner, as I am able to better explain and help clients understand how each treatment is different and how it works.”

With the regulatory hoops that a pharmacy business already has to jump through in order to be compliant, you might think that adding on an extra business strand would be a piece of cake in comparison, but there are still plenty of things to watch out for. For example, while beauty treatment rooms have long been an area of add-on business, an extension into aesthetics treatments such as botox injections is likely to require additional insurance.

Alex Buchanan, head of legal at the NPA, is keen to stress that: “Pharmacists will need to be aware that when they consider carrying out alternative business services within the pharmacy environment, these services may not be covered by their professional indemnity insurance product and further insurance cover may need to be obtained. Pharmacists can contact NPA Insurance to discuss this further.”

Some pharmacy business owners choose to develop any extra space in their premises into multiple consulting rooms to let out to other healthcare professionals, rather than running these kinds of services themselves, but this too comes with caveats. Mr Jeffers says: “The references of any prospective tenant should always be checked out as their reputation will become part of your pharmacy’s reputation as far as patients are concerned. Many leases do not allow sub-letting – although you may be able to get around this via a licence to occupy – so check with your legal representative before spending any money on fit outs.”

Research your market, then spread the word

Another question to seriously consider is whether there is a requirement or appetite in your community for the service you are intending to offer. 

Mr Jeffers says: “Straying too far from the core healthcare areas could be damaging for a pharmacy or it could enhance it. It’s all about what the local community needs, so you need to do your research thoroughly before diversifying your pharmacy-based offering to other areas.”

And even if you pick the right service for your community, running it badly will have a knock-on effect on the credibility of your pharmacy. Mr Patel says: “You must work out if you have enough staff to ensure the main pharmacy business does not operate at substandard service levels. Then there are insurance, qualifications, set up and marketing costs, and GPhC regulations to think about. The list is fairly exhaustive, but the right service can be rewarding in many ways – not just financially – such as being able to take the skills of pharmacists to the next level.” 

Of course, even if you’ve covered all bases, if no one knows about your add-on business then a lack of footfall is going to be your downfall. Mr Patel admits that “some things are easier to market than others”, and advises the best approach is to “research the costs and time it takes to market in the area of your service, and be open to all marketing avenues.”

Your local press, radio, and even your shop window are still useful ways to get the message out there, but for many, the vast capabilities and potential uses of social media remain an unexplored, or little-understood, black hole. If this is really not your area – or you are simply too busy to get involved with it – you should delegate this particular marketing avenue to someone who does understand, or at least enjoy it. 

If you want some serious support, Mr Holden says: “Talk to a marketing expert and utilise their services to effectively promote your offer. Facebook is still the most effective channel for local marketing but also Google Business and other health care professionals and users of your services can be advocates.” 

He believes that putting in the necessary time and effort is crucial for the long-term success of any new venture, adding: “Whatever a pharmacy decides to do, it requires good research into the market opportunity and what is required to be in place (e.g. training, facilities, liability and promotion) to ensure a consistently high quality service and an excellent patient experience.”

Add-on business ideas

  Post Office

Having a Post Office in your pharmacy can be a vital way to stem the tide of this key service disappearing from our most isolated communities. Seaview Pharmacy on the Isle of Wight underwent a refit last year in order to accommodate a PO counter, following the closure of the original Post Office in 2016.

The process began at the end of 2016 when a public consultation led to the Post Office agreeing to the re-opening of the branch at the pharmacy. Since last May, the Post Office counter runs alongside the pharmacy’s retail counter, with the same opening hours.

  Parcel hub

Registering your pharmacy as a parcel drop-off and collection hub is another convenient service you can offer your community, providing you have the space to hold the parcels safely and securely.

Courier service DPD has quite a few pharmacies acting as ‘DPD Local’ depots for them (dpdlocal-online.co.uk) and newer market entrant Parcelly (parcelly.com) also has a small number of pharmacy partners.

  Dry cleaning

As with Post Offices, offering a dry cleaning service can be a valuable add-on for rural or isolated pharmacies. The most common way to do this is by acting as an ‘agency’ dry cleaner, which means you take in clothes and use a third party to do the actual cleaning.

Business finance advisors Rangewell (rangewell.com/sectors/laundry-dry-cleaners) says the benefits of this are that “premises can be smaller and there may be no need to invest in expensive equipment, but location may be of even greater importance. A location in or near train stations is popular for this type of business, allowing customers to drop off and collect clothes during their daily commute.”

  Social prescribing

Social prescribing lets doctors, nurses or pharmacists write a prescription for non-medical issues that people might be struggling with, based on their individual needs. Once referred, an adviser will visit the person to find out how they can help, and work with them on a one-to-one basis to put together a self-care plan they can work through at their own pace.

NHS England estimates that approximately 60 per cent of clinical commissioning group (CCG) areas in England have social prescribing schemes. Up to now most schemes have been commissioned either by local authorities or CCGs, with delivery partners mainly in the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. Increasingly they are likely to be co-commissioned by partnerships of health and social care working with the voluntary sector, community groups and other statutory agencies.

Although not necessarily a money-making operation, offering social prescribing from your pharmacy will extend your reach and reputation in your community. The Social Prescribing Network (socialprescribingnetwork.com) provides support and shares practice on social prescribing at a local and national level. 

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