Emma Charlesworth, head of marketing at Numark, urges independents to adopt the mantra of adaptability to ensure success. If, as you read this, you feel apprehensive about the future of independent community pharmacy, then perhaps you have realised that change isn’t coming, it has arrived.

The future of community pharmacy will
be linked to the clinical advancement of pharmacy. It’s a future where pharmacists are seen as a provider of healthcare, alongside the role of dispensing medicines and managing patient conditions. It’s a future where there’ll be a greater role in public health and above all, pharmacists will earn income from these activities. The money will follow the patient... So why shouldn’t you be responding to the change by integrating your pharmacy into the patient journey?

Business plans

A precursor to all of this is to start by developing a business plan. Business plans don’t have to be complicated, in fact, the simpler they are, the easier they are to achieve. Regardless of the country you operate in, there are five core principles that, when pieced together, underpin continued business growth in a changing and challenging environment.

No one has a crystal ball. However, you need to understand and adapt your business now in order to meet the changes for the future. The sector has to try to anticipate change and the direction that change will take it in. Use your team to proactively understand future legislative changes, technological advances and service delivery opportunities to enable you to plan how you will grow your business. Investing time in researching the political, local, economic and technical environment will pay dividends and give you the insights and capability to develop your business and mitigate any surprises that may be around the corner.

Retain patients by adding value to every visit they make to your pharmacy, be it through advice, intervention or service provision to ensure your prescription volume is protected. Identifying ways of enhancing
your patient’s experience will not only drive customer satisfaction but also increase loyalty. Consider delivering a service that is accessible locally, or branch out into new areas of clinical treatment such as Botox or speciality allergy testing. Ensure you are stocking own label alternatives to the brand leader. Consider an exclusive range or a brand that isn’t stocked in competitor retailers. (You can use Numark to access manufacturer partnership schemes that allow continuity of supply for your patients.)

Invest in staff

Enhance the performance of your team by developing their attitude, skills and knowledge to assume wider responsibility within your business. Having a well-trained team can significantly help to free up your time to look at other areas of the business, whether that is service delivery, local marketing, dispensing/purchasing, new and innovative IT solutions or enhanced clinical care. Your team can be your biggest asset and learning to relinquish control and delegate appropriately is key to business management.

To enable you to compete locally, increase OTC sales and meet the needs of your customers, you need a collaborative approach to enhancing your retail environment. Your retail environment is a direct reflection of you and the perception customers have of your business. There are a number of elements to consider, including but not limited to:

  • your range, which should comprise of best selling brands and an own label alternative • space allocation that reflects the market;
  • effective merchandising and display;
  • a monthly promotional programme;
  • marketing materials including point of sale • window displays and signage.

It is essential that where you can, you maximise NHS funding to drive income. That said, it is also important to look at other ways of driving income opportunities, such as participating in commercial schemes which help maximise margin. Develop a range of private services such as travel or flu vaccination services for business owners, or specialise in exclusive ranges such as clinical skincare.

You should also consider where processes can be improved to deliver cost savings or where short-term investment will lead to long-term financial growth. The elements critical to this will depend specifically on your business model and prescription volumes, as well as the ways you look to manage and optimise purchasing, dispensing and infrastructure, retail aesthetics, equipment and cost savings on pharmacy essentials. Paying attention to these will all help increase your bottom line. 

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