Is it time that independents gave up on retail and instead concentrated on the professional side of their businesses? Ross Ferguson investigates.

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Case study

Pharmacist Amish Patel, owner of Hodgson Pharmacy in Kent, decided that competing directly with close competitors wasn’t going to work, so he took the brave decision to change his retail offering.

“Over recent years, we have found retail sales to remain stagnant. Just over two years ago, I made the decision to remove any non-healthcare related products from our pharmacy, primarily beauty products and focus on medicines, healthcare and hygiene, and disability,” he told The Pharmacist.
And it looks like it has benefitted, as so far retail sales have remained steady with no loss of business, moreover, the change has clearly defined the expertise of the pharmacy and he believes this could be useful for other independents too: “I think to maintain and grow our retail sales, we should be focusing on our expertise: healthcare.

"Promote a professional image, as after all, we are professionals. I think many pharmacy managers do not take the time to walk around their retail space, and keep an eye on what sells and how quickly it sells.

"I also believe in not stocking one of every brand. Shampoo as an example. We keep one brand, but then have three variations, such as normal hair, dry hair, greasy hair.”

Patel believes that being part of a large network of pharmacies via a marketing group can help with retail success: “There are many companies that provide retail support, such as Avicenna and Alphega.

"Using planograms, and being able to offer monthly promotions on a sale or return basis helps. They allow us to compete directly with multiples, but is also a great way to experiment on whether a new product would sell or not from the pharmacy.”

[box type="shadow" ]Views from pharmacy

“It's true that shopping habits have changed for all consumables. From Internet shopping to supermarkets, people aren't shopping locally as much as before. However, I can't help feel maybe as pharmacists we've let this side of our business slip away. If we think about how much of our day we spend at the counter versus in the dispensary and consulting room, it's probably a low percentage. I feel we need to spend more time at the counter not only to drive sales, but to offer advice, promote our services and give the patient a reason to come back to our pharmacy for their OTC purchase rather than the competition.” Reena Barai, owner, SG Barai Pharmacy, Surrey

“There has been a steady erosion in front counter sales over the past 10 years in community pharmacy. There are now numerous threats facing pharmacy that weren’t as prevalent before. Online shopping for example; with the likes of Amazon and ebay it’s a lot easier for customers to order products with fast delivery, often cheaper than bricks and mortar pharmacies who just can’t compete. And with the big boys of pharmacy such as Boots and Lloyds who have millions of pounds of budget to throw at their online offering, which is now mixed in with click and collect and mobile platforms, it really is becoming very difficult to compete. “Discounters too are an issue. Post 2008 ,we had the economical crash, which saw the rise of more and more high street discounters such as Savers, B&M, Home Bargains who pile them high and sell them cheap. They have eaten into every part of the high street and communities with the big supermarkets now being affected. There are still some areas where pharmacies continue to have thriving counter sales, but these are few and far between. “In addition, there are too many manufacturers promoting their products and launching them through the multiples, in particular Boots, neglecting the power and influence of the independents. Perhaps the way forward is to promote the professional image of pharmacies and focus on the P medicines market by advertising that P sales are best carried out by healthcare professionals where sound advice from trained staff needs to be given in a community pharmacy setting.” Neeraj Salwan, owner, Reach Pharmacy, Glasgow

“When you look at the English definition of ‘worth’, it is defined as ‘having a particular value’ or ‘producing enough advantages’. The question of worth of the retail pharmacy business (and I mean P and GSL medicines, not sundries) is not linked to any financial benefit, but to the value it brings to the pharmacy teams in supporting and promoting self-care among their patients. Furthermore, the retail pharmacy sector builds on the ethos of ‘every contact counts’ bringing opportunities for pharmacy teams to make interventions supporting healthier lifestyles, better management of medicines in patients with long-term conditions and the treatment of minor ailments; all which reduce pressure on other primary/secondary care settings. “Despite the recent misapprehensions by the Department of Health, I believe patients value their local community pharmacy. Whether or not the ‘advantages’ come from clinical advice, dispensing, promoting self-care or healthy living campaigns or relieving pressures on A&E, OOHs providers or GPs; the value is clear to all but the short-sighted.” Jonathan Campbell, owner, The Old School Pharmacy, Bristol[/box]