A building sits on the street corner of a downtown suburb. It boasts a sharp exterior, an eye-catching sign, and an atmosphere that beckons you in. Open up the doors and you’ve arrived at the local independent pharmacy. Inside, you are greeted with familiar faces and friendly smiles. You notice the clean space, the organized layout, and the stocked shelves that have exactly what you’re looking for. Sure, you could do your business from the drive-thru 一 but the storefront is so appealing that you don’t mind taking a trip inside. The experience draws you in and the services make you stay.

Does this sound like something your patients would say about your pharmacy? When they walk through your front doors, do they compliment the setting, the space, and the positive experience they have each and every time they visit?

If not, it may be time to reconsider an important part of your pharmacy: the front-end.

The Key to Crafting Your Image

In Gabe Trahan’s experience, “Image is everything.” Gabe, the Senior Director of Store Operations and Marketing at NCPA, has spent the last 40 years of his career helping independent pharmacies craft their image and put it on display for patients to see. The key to a positive image, he says, is a positive front-end experience. 

Click here to see Gabe’s guest appearance on the Catalyst Pharmacy Podcast.

The front-end 一 which includes your OTC items, retail products, and promotional materials 一 sets the tone for your entire business. It’s what draws your patients in. The front-end can create a good experience, but it can just as easily create a bad one. Gabe explains, “No one wants to go into a pharmacy that looks like it’s barely hanging on... No one is going to stop for you unless your exterior is sparkling, your interior is clean, and your front-end is well-merchandised.” Your front-end is directly tied to your sales and your patient satisfaction, so it’s important to get it right.

For many pharmacies, creating a strong front-end means making some changes. This can involve simples changes 一 like reorganizing a shelf or moving some items around 一 or more time-consuming ones, like creating a new logo, buying new inventory, or designing a new store layout. Too often, though, pharmacies are resistant to change. And if there’s anything that can make a pharmacy fail, it’s a failure to embrace change.

The Fastest Way to Boil a Frog

According to Gabe, pharmacies can fall into several mindsets that keep them from changing and end up costing them success. These mindsets can be broken down into three statements:

  1. “Everybody loves us,”
  2. “Everybody knows us,” and
  3. “Everybody’s going to be loyal to us because we’re community-owned.”

As Gabe explains, when pharmacies believe that their patients are constant and their income is consistent, they have no reason to change. “When things seem to be going well, it’s easy to look the other way,” he says, “but just because you have money in the bank, and just because you’re making payroll, you can’t ignore that the pharmacy industry is changing.”

And he’s right. Change is the only thing constant in the world of pharmacy. With new research, products, and technology being introduced every day, change is happening; and when you ignore change, you suffer. Gabe offers a simple analogy to illustrate this point:

“The fastest way to boil a frog is to put it into a pot of warm water. Then, start to raise the heat 一 slowly, a little bit at a time. The frog doesn’t see it coming. Next thing you know, you’ve cooked the frog. That’s what’s going on right now, but it’s not a slow heat. In the past year, especially with the pandemic, pharmacies are getting a slap in the face. The world has told them, ‘You better be something different than you were a year ago, or even six months ago. And you better dig in.’”

If you want your pharmacy to survive 一 if you want your pharmacy to thrive 一 you have to be willing to adapt to change and change for the better. In other words, you have to invest in your front-end so that you can invest in your future.

Two Steps to Improvement

Creating a good front-end experience doesn’t have to be difficult. On the NCPA website, Gabe offers a number of helpful resources to help you 一 like his new Profit Maker newsletter, which is free to sign-up for and delivered to your inbox every other week.

To get started, though, Gabe recommends taking two steps: decide where you need to improve and then gradually make those improvements. Change doesn’t have to happen overnight, he says, but it does have to happen eventually.

When it comes to deciding where you can improve, try a few different approaches. For your layout and design, ask your staff, look at your competitors, and consider past patient comments that indicate where you may be falling short. For your merchandise, take an unbiased inventory with the help of your Point-of-Sale (POS) system. According to Gabe, your POS can help you to determine which items are most profitable and which ones are simply taking up space. As he puts it, “Find out what’s making you money. Find out what’s enhancing your image.”

When you determine what isn’t working for your pharmacy, you can start implementing changes that will. For your layout, take inspiration from other pharmacies and consider what type of look and feel will fit with your pharmacy’s mission, message, and brand. For your merchandise, think critically about the products you stock your shelves with. Gabe recommends selling products “that you can make money on, that can’t be found elsewhere, and that you are the expert on.” Compression items, high-end supplements, and wound care products are some of his favorites.

Even with the right merchandising, you have to do the right marketing to see success. Gabe suggests investing in materials to promote your merchandise and your clinical services at the same time. “Get a banner. Put a sign by the drive-thru window. All I want you to do is merchandise your store to get a conversation going,” he says. With the right products and the right promotion, your pharmacy will profit.

A Fresh Coat of Paint

Your front-end is the first thing that your patients notice. A well-designed, well-organized pharmacy can set the tone for a positive experience and turn a stranger into a loyal customer. If your pharmacy needs a fresh coat of paint, a new window display, or a shiny item on the shelves, it’s time to start making changes.

Your patients will thank you, and your profits will reward you.


For more information on how to transform your front-end, visit the NCPA website and subscribe to Gabe’s biweekly newsletter, Profit Maker.


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