This cross-country tour uncovers secrets to successful independent pharmacies

July 14, 2008

A pharmacy consultant visits 30 pharmacies in 12 states to find out what makes them tick.

That is the short version of independent pharmacy consultant Bruce Kneeland's cross-country journey from Point Pleasant, N.J., to San Francisco earlier this year. Kneeland's take away: Community pharmacy can survive and thrive despite competition and shrinking margins.

"I've been in this business for 30 years and during this trip, I saw success out there like I've never even imagined. Every successful store I saw had made at least one of three key decisions. They were doing something besides just filling scripts, they run the business rather than the business running them, they keep the premises in top condition."

AmerisourceBergen's Good Neighbor Pharmacy program sponsored the trip. "The 30 stores I visited were not all Good Neighbors or even AmerisourceBergen accounts," Kneeland said. "We made an honest effort to find the best community pharmacies, period."

Some of what he found was as familiar as a 40-seat grill or a U.S. Postal Service substation. Some stores had expanded durable medical equipment into sophisticated operations that dwarfed the pharmacy. Others had full-time herbologists or cosmeticians to boost higher-margin non-Rx sales.

Nearly a third of the pharmacies Kneeland surveyed owned their own buildings. Owning the building is an advantage for maintenance and renovations. It also lets the owner cherry pick the neighbors.

"What these guys all have in common is that they have all found a local niche and are filling it in ways the big operators can't," Kneeland said.

The second common theme is business management skills. Most pharmacists complain that the pharmacy has taken over their lives, Kneeland noted. The most successful community pharmacy owners have learned to tame the beast by hiring good pharmacists, and other pharmacists, managers, and other employees.

The third common theme is visual appeal. The successful stores he saw were more than just clean. They were modern and appealing places to visit. If your customers aren't impressed with the way your store looks, they will find other places to go," he warned.