2012 Independent Innovators

September 15, 2012
Fred Gebhart, Contributing Editor
Fred Gebhart, Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Fred Gebhart works all over the world as a freelance writer and editor, but his home base is in San Francisco.

Great ideas are everywhere. Successful community pharmacists can spot them and tailor them to meet local needs. Here are four stories of how good ideas gave rise to even better ones.

"I didn't come up with the idea of giving away free vitamins to build my customer base and sales," said Marty Bigner, PharmD, president of Thrift Drug in McComb, Miss. "I got it from another pharmacist at a conference a few years ago."

"I liked the idea of getting more patients, but I couldn't see giving bottles of vitamins to everybody who walked in the front door and hoping they'd remember me. So I took his idea and changed it around for what I though would work in my community. "

Bigner's solution was a Free Vitamin Club. Instead of giving free vitamins to anyone, the Free Vitamin Club provides a free 30-day supply of chewable children's vitamins to kids 2 to 12 years of age. Parents sign their children up, and 3 weeks later, the pharmacy sends a reminder for a free 30-day refill.

In July, the Free Vitamin Club won top honors in the annual Cardinal Health Best Practice Competition for Retail Pharmacy.

"Kids are more in need than any segment of our population," Bigner told Drug Topics. "I'm offering parents an easy way to do the right thing for their kids without spending a dime. It brings parents back to the store at least every 30 days for the next free refill. And when they need a prescription filled or an over-the-counter product in-between times, we're the store they think of."

Return on investment

The Vitamin Club isn't free for Thrift Drug. The independent pharmacy pays 89 cents per bottle for private-label vitamins. That's $10.69 per child per year, plus the cost of flyers and advertising.

Bigner also invested time writing and sending press releases to local media and giving interviews.

The effort paid off, because he appeared on the front page of the local newspaper and was featured on local radio programs. Over the past year, his pharmacy has brought in about 300 children. The typical family in McComb has two or three children.

"I've picked up more than 100 new families as regular patients at a cost of less than 90 cents per child per month," Bigner said.

"That creates new sales at the prescription counter, in OTCs, and for the front end. There are no tricks, no gimmicks, no surprises for anybody. It's as easy to explain to a cashier as it is to a parent."

Different town, different target

"I have kids in the local schools and I already support school activities, so I know how busy the teachers are," Reddish said. "When I heard that the outside provider was only offering one immunization clinic on one day for every five schools, I offered to do a clinic at each school. A week later, I was booked for all of October and the first two weeks of November."

Each school handles teacher sign-up and scheduling, he continued. He knows precisely how many doses of vaccine to order and has virtually zero no-shows. And because teachers and their dependents are all covered by the same health plan, he can prepare billing in advance and process claims for an entire school in one batch.