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Independent pharmacy: past, present and future

Independents need to step up and make their retail space the best it can be

Having recently celebrated its 3,000th member milestone, Numark’s director of marketing Mandeep Mudhar reflects on how community pharmacy has developed over the years and discusses what lies ahead

The pharmacy landscape looked entirely different 10 years ago. Large chains were dominating the industry, making a name for themselves and growing their presence on the high street through acquisitions. This, in addition to the introduction of category M in 2005, made it a challenging market for independents.

However, community pharmacies have overcome these hurdles in recent years and are now stronger than ever. In fact, there has been an 18 per cent increase in community pharmacy numbers since 2005, bringing the total up to 11,674. These numbers tell us there is a clear demand for independents and it’s still a successful, profitable industry to be in.

Despite possible changes to funding on the horizon, there are significant growth opportunities for independents. Gaining accreditations, such as Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) status, for example, can give independents a real competitive edge when competing against large pharmacy chains for new services.

Equally, focusing on other areas of your offering, such as retail and online presence, while also factoring in new ways of working, presents an exciting opportunity for pharmacies both today and in the coming years.

Stepping up the retail space

While it’s undeniable that the retail sector has seen some significant changes over the years, largely due to the rise of supermarkets, discount stores and pound shops, there are still plenty of opportunities for independents to take advantage of this space in their market.

Historically, retail customers base decisions on accessibility, but they’ve become much savvier and shop around to find the best deal. Nowadays, from a customer’s point of view, a good retail environment is a given. We’re used to the easy-to-navigate layout in supermarkets and large chain stories, so naturally have the same expectations for pharmacies too.

This means that, in order to remain competitive, independents need to step up and make their retail space the best it can be.

Delivering a complete healthcare package – consisting of products, services, advice and prescriptions – is something that the grocery competition can’t compete with, and this provides a real competitive advantage.

Online opportunities

Over recent years, technology has really taken off across the majority of sectors, and pharmacy is no exception. Not only does having the most up-to-date IT equipment help independents increase efficiencies in purchasing and managing prescriptions, it can also be beneficial for staff training.

This goes for online services as well. Despite issues such as privacy and validation, online pharmacies have really taken off over the past few years and new services, such as NHS 111, are being perceived as a fast and convenient alternative to traditional methods.

However, with so much medical information available at the touch of a button, it’s easy for patients to be misled and make their own assumptions without proper guidance.

When it comes to healthcare issues, there is nothing more reassuring than receiving advice from someone you know and trust. From a customer’s perspective, this is something that these online services simply can’t replace.

Building up a relationship with customers will encourage them to return to your pharmacy for both advice and medications.

Communicating the business

As customers nowadays, we have much more information to hand about the products we buy and the stores we shop at. This, in turn, means we’re able to be much more selective about our choices.

The first step for any business is to make sure your customer knows who you are and why they should choose you. With that in mind, putting yourself out there and marketing your business well is crucial for growth and to boost profits.

The recent announcement that funding cuts will be delayed could make a big difference to the future of pharmacy. It opens doors for independents to provide more of a supportive role to patients,

but first they must be looking at ways to improve efficiencies through training, developing relationships within the community and making effective use of marketing techniques.

Facing the challenge

All in all, independent community pharmacy is still a great business to be in. There’s a real opportunity for independents to grow and become the trusted healthcare hub – both on and offline – within local communities.

Tackling this needn’t be something pharmacies do alone – organisations like Numark are on hand to provide members with support and guidance to make the most of, and promote, the services on offer to increase their customer base within their local communities.

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