Jay Dombi and Lamont Robinson share how the AmerisourceBergen Marketplace can help pharmacies and why having diverse suppliers is important.
Jay Dombi: Hi, my name is Jay Dombi. I'm the Vice President of Services & Solutions at AmerisourceBergen. I work to better connect our suppliers and our customers through strategy, analytics, operations, and marketing, so that we can bring the best solutions forward for all parties.
Lamont Robinson: Hi, I'm Lamont Robinson. I'm the Director of Supplier Diversity for AmerisourceBergen. When you talk about supplier diversity, what it is, it’s a program that allows us to support and do business with companies owned by women, minorities, veterans, LGBTQ, and disabled individuals.
Drug Topics®: What are the biggest challenges for nurturing diverse suppliers?
Robinson: For us, the biggest challenge in nurturing diverse suppliers is really finding them first off. So, we invested in a tool last year that would allow us to be able to source for diverse suppliers. A lot of these diverse businesses, even if they're not small, we have to provide some development because they have to be prepared to do business with us, as well as others on a higher scale. So, for me, the hardest part is trying to get out there, get into the communities, discover who they are, convince them of doing business and partnering with us, and developing them so that they can be successful.
Drug Topics®: Why is it important to provide customers with diverse supplier options?
Robinson: So, I grew up on the west side of Chicago, I always love to tell that story. Because when you grow up in an underserved community, the independent pharmacies are the ones that you typically go to the by your products and also to congregate. For me, this is not only an opportunity from an AmerisourceBergen perspective, but it's also a mission to be able to help underserved communities to get the products that they need, to get products that would require them to go outside of the neighborhood. If we can keep it in the neighborhood for a lot of these underserved communities, it's an economic revitalization for these neighborhoods. So again, for me, I look at it as a challenge, because it's something that's new, that's different, that's innovative, but at the same time, it's an impact on those communities.
Drug Topics®: Can you give an overview of the AmerisourceBergen Marketplace?
Dombi: At the core of it, the goal of the AmerisourceBergen Marketplace is to offer a trusted location for ease of access, to multiple suppliers for our independent pharmacies. Full stop. Beyond that, we know that these customers buy a lot of products that AmerisourceBergen doesn't stock or sell through our warehouses, right? Some are bulky. Some are candy that melts. Canes take up a lot of space, whatever it might be. How can we service these customers more effectively, so that they aren't managing 15 or 20 different suppliers? So, they're not managing reams and reams of purchase orders or various credit card receipts? How do we bring all that together into a very easy solution for them that we can continue to transact with them and build a deeper, stronger relationship?
Drug Topics®: What kind of value does AmerisourceBergen Marketplace provide to independent pharmacies and the communities they serve?
Dombi: One of the key items here is convenience. Again, we know a lot of these customers buy many of these things. They're managing multiple, multiple suppliers, multiple invoices, multiple purchase orders. With our ability to funnel that through our e-commerce platform, we're able to give them a single-point solution to do that. Working with us, someone who they've worked with for a long time, we're vetting these other suppliers before they come in. The customers can trust that they're going to get the product they asked for and they're going to get the price that they need. Then they can quickly and rapidly service whatever their customers’ needs really are. It starts with convenience and the efficiency associated with that and then listening to the customer to determine what else can we bring in. Do you need new features on the website itself? What other products might interest you? And then continuing to build it from there.
Drug Topics®: How does the Marketplace support and elevate the company’s commitment to supplier diversity?
Robinson: A lot of supplier diversity programs really revolve around buying products and services from diverse businesses. But for me, supplier diversity is more than just that. It's really about revenue generation. It's about establishing an infrastructure that supports diverse businesses. It’s also about education and development of those diverse businesses. AmerisourceBergen Marketplace gives us an opportunity to create a platform that provides all those elements. It allows us to be able to help our customers generate revenues for their stores, because it provides products that are needed by the underserved communities. It's about infrastructure, in terms of helping to build a culture that better supports diverse businesses. It's about finding ways for the customer to be able to purchase products that they normally would not be able to purchase in their community. Then ultimately, the development and utilizing our ability as a corporate citizen to help these businesses grow. That's important for us to be able to have a successful and world class supplier diversity program.
Drug Topics®: Can you talk about the experience of launching the Marketplace program?
Dombi: Our pilot program has been going on for a little over a year. And for us, it's really been a great listening and learning experience. We’re getting into a new environment here. Our current platform is called ABC Order. Because it was set up as an ordering platform, a pharmacist went in, knew they needed albuterol, typed in albuterol, and bought it. Now, we need to create a browsing and shopping experience for them. So, we really spent a lot of time through this pilot, listening and learning what new features we need. We need better searchability. We need better categorization. We need the ability to shop on a page because these pharmacists now expect a more consumer-like experience in terms of shopping versus coming in to just buy something. We've had over 200 pilot participants. We've been really close with and been thankful for all the feedback they've given us. Trust me, they haven't held back. That's what we need to hear, we need to hear ‘you need to do this better, focus here'. So, we've been able to take that feedback and continue working with our IT partners, working with our supplier partners, to really try and build that to a world class offering.
Drug Topics®: Is there one key takeaway from the pilot phase?
Dombi: I'd say one of the key takeaways is continuing to evolve. This is not going to end up being a static solution. The solution will not end up being ‘one size fits all’. We need to continue to listen and learn. Our customers are in different parts of the country, serving different communities, with different types of needs. I'll give one example. We're working now with one of our suppliers who is a supplier of diverse and ethnic haircare products. We've linked them together with a group of our pharmacies that are inner city and want to have better access to those products. We've now partnered together with that supplier and those pharmacies to create a number of marketing programs, so that they can better target and service that community, as well as get access to marketing materials, planograms, upcoming products that are going to be new to market, so that each of those individual customers can better work exactly with their patients and fulfilling their needs.
Drug Topics®: What are the short- and long-term goals for the program?
Dombi: From a short-term goal standpoint, it's taking the feedback we've heard from our customers and actioning that. We need to enhance our platform. We need to bring in more products. We need to bring in more suppliers. We need to create a more customer-centric shopping experience for them. So that we can expand our program from the 200 stores now to 5000, 7000, all of our customers across all of AmerisourceBergen and continuing to set up those mechanisms to listen and learn. From a long-term goals perspective, once we've set up those mechanisms, we have the environment and we can continue to listen and learn. It's about personalization and making sure that we move from a ‘one size fits all’ approach, to be able to work with each of those various communities to get the solution that works best for them so they can get access to the diverse suppliers for the specific supplies that they need to service their unique communities. Our independent pharmacies range from rural Montana to inner city New York or Philadelphia. And those two examples right there? They have very unique needs. We need to make sure that we can service their needs and that they can go into our platform and get access to exactly what they need, exactly when they need it, to serve their diverse commercial customer base.
Drug Topics®: What is the key to creating a successful supplier diversity program?
Robinson: The key to creating a successful, world class supplier diversity program for me is more about understanding who the customers are, understanding what their needs are, and really building a supplier diversity program around those needs. And when I mentioned customers, it's not just external customers. It's also internal as well. Looking at and understanding the team members, looking at the various groups internally within the organization and how they could use supplier diversity to further their efforts, that's important to me. Having this platform gives us a chance to be able to create something that's not only innovative, but also something that allows us to be able to increase the awareness of supplier diversity internally. When that happens, you have a whole entire organization that supports the supplier diversity needs. When you try to convince the diverse suppliers, who are for profit and they understand that we're a top 10 company, in terms of revenues in the country, even if they've never heard us before, they know that there's an opportunity. With me being in supplier diversity, that my role is to support businesses that are like them, they get excited. I've always been into innovation. For me, it's always a matter of trying to find ways that we can partner together to do something that's different and impactful. You get a lot of diverse suppliers that get excited about that. Once we get connected, we let them know what our mission is, and we give them an opportunity to prove to us that they are who they say they are. Beautiful things happen because we all get a chance to get in there and be more innovative, more impactful in terms of the approach that we have with the businesses.
Drug Topics®: In what other ways is AB working to advance supplier diversity?
Robinson: To ensure our supplier diversity goals are met, one of the things that we did is establish a Supplier Diversity Council in 2021. That council allows us to be able to look at supplier diversity from different perspectives. It consists of roughly 30 members and leaders within the organization. The beautiful thing about that is that we have 4 workstreams coming from that council and those 4 workstreams have given us the chance to look at innovations that integrate supplier diversity into 4 main elements: revenue generation, infrastructure, building in, and education and development. The more that we go out and establish programs and initiatives such as this with AmerisourceBergen Marketplace, the more that it allows supplier diversity to be viewed as an innovative center within a company.
Drug Topics®: How does supplier diversity contribute to creating a more resilient pharmacy supply chain?
Robinson: There used to be a stigma that was associated with diverse businesses bringing in added costs, but that stigma does not exist today. What I've seen in the 18 years that I've been in supplier diversity is actually supply chain cost reduction through supplier diversity because you have more diverse businesses that are able to be viable competitors against their larger counterparts. Then again, you give more options and selections to the customer. For me, you're strengthening your supply chain by having a supplier diversity program and focusing on diverse businesses because you give yourself a chance to be able to buy more products and services that are different than what you've traditionally purchased. It gives you the ability to develop these businesses so that they can become better solutions and provide other products.
Drug Topics®: Any final thoughts?
Dombi: I want to again thank our independent pharmacy participants who've been so great in helping us understand their needs and shape this experience as well as our various suppliers. We've had a lot of great outreach from a variety of suppliers. The one example of this diverse ethnic haircare supplier working lean to partner with us to work more closely with this group of inner-city pharmacies. I think it's just an early example of the types of partnerships and the type of connections we can grow through working with our partners, internally at AB that drives supplier diversity, as well as our external supplier and customer base
Robinson: For an independent pharmacy to be able to support the AmerisourceBergen Marketplace, it gives them a chance to be able to help their communities in different ways, which ultimately will lead to job creation. The more jobs that are in those underserved communities, the more customers that you can have coming in and out of your door.