Now #Trending: Picking and Choosing Items to Stock the Front-End

Tapping into nostalgia is one way to guide front-end stock choices.

T'was ever thus in pharmacy retail: there are different methods of presenting goods to consumers. As times change, so do those methods—and, of course, what products or category of products are offered.I believe it's instructive to look back before looking forward to plot out strategies.

Back in the day, many pharmacies had what was known as the “shotgun” look. My great-grandfathers' (then my grandfathers’) pharmacy on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which opened in 1903 and is shown here circa 1923, is just one example Prescriptions were dispensed on the back wall of a narrow room.The shelving along the walls was clear to the ceiling, with sliding ladders to retrieve goods up high. Display cases lined both sides, with products displayed enclosed in glass. Up front, you’d often find a soda fountain on one side, with small tables down the center aisle for consumers to enjoy fountain treats.

In this modern era, pharmacies' front ends are radically different in design. OTC products are now self-serve, displayed on shelving that is accessible—not behind glass. Also missing are the high, unreachable wall shelves. A few soda fountains are still rocking in some pharmacies, bringing in traffic: A real asset in these all-too-modern times (In most modern pharmacies, they’re gone).

The nostalgia factor can, however, still be tapped, albeit less dramatically, by stocking up on products familiar to older consumers from their youth. To fill gift needs, nostalgia can fuel the sale of old-fashioned candy in a big way. Although clinic pharmacies have their own issues in retail sales for obvious reasons (think space issues), I contend that with the deft placement of specialty products, they too can work some magic in raising retail sales.

Let’s think about the days of yore, and the products that were big sellers. We can't forget patent medicines, which made outrageous—and in some cases, criminal—claims of efficacy in combating assorted ills. They were loaded with alcohol or laxatives and counted on either the buzz or a good bowel movement to satisfy a patient’s need for some relief and neglecting to address the malady they claimed to abate. With time and research, we've discovered the herbal, vitamin, and natural remedy formulas that have been proven to successfully treat many common maladies. These are great avenues for positive health results, as well as generating positive and legitimate revenue. Other modern era fads also include diet products that make grand, over the top promises of life changing weight loss. Commonly, the help they provide is found in the instructions on their labels: “Take these pills” (I call them placebos) “along with a proper diet and exercise.”


In fashion trends, low-end or costume jewelry will sell—in particular, styles that are fun, fanciful, and unique. These products will have a run of sales for a limited time, so don’t become married to them— simply become friends, while making new friends (new styles) periodically. For kids, display items like fidget spinners and Beanie Babies—another trend dipping its toe into nostalgia. Although they have come and gone, cute plush still sells, and small puzzles and toys continue to fill gift needs.

Looking ahead, to try to jump on fads or trends while they are on the way up can be filled with trepidation. Use caution, and walk before you run. Sometimes when a fad takes hold, it might already be too late by the time it hits the press! It’s better to count on trusted suppliers for “the buzz.” Also helpful is hearing chatter from customers about what’s going on in schools or in your local neighborhood. Fads tend to start regionally and travel unpredictably at various speeds. If you have a source for these types of products, jump in modestly and be prepared to jump ship. Closing out products at a discount isn’t a loss…. it’s a WIN!

Of course, every store has different customers, so the actual movement of different offerings speaks volumes… if you’re listening. There are many established winning categories to tap into: fun edibles, well-displayed, are great. Specialty hand creams, not found in chains, with a tester available, is a tried and true winning formula. They are strong sellers in winter and summer, as are unique lip balms. Lots of us crack our lips while cracking a smile! These classic categories re-worked can be a way to spark your own trends.

Maybe the hottest fad ever, with legs longer than a giraffe, is… (drum roll)… anything to do with cell phones! Every—literally every—customer walking into any store has a cell phone and they all need charging. People don’t like their cell phones; they love them. All kinds of accoutrements, from ear pods, ways to hold phones, Bluetooth speakers, and more, all retail great. But all charging cords are king!Fuel this fire! These are retail gold.

In closing, I’ll turn to 2 nostalgic admonitions: One, Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and two, You’ll never go broke underestimating the public’s taste.