Opinion: What Chain Pharmacies Can Learn from Independents

November 25, 2019

From Pete Kreckel, why chain pharmacists have answers that chains are looking for.

Although the quote “take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins” is often attributed to the Native American culture, it in fact comes from a poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895, originally titled Judge Softly. I feel we can adapt this to our profession: “take the time to work a shift in his/her lab coat.” 

I joined my son-in law Mark for a conference in Las Vegas, where he gave three presentations for PAIN WEEK. One evening we attended a show, and we were seated next to a patron who told us she worked in marketing. She named the pharmacy chain, one of the bigger ones. 

She said her focus on marketing is the “store experience.” She described how they fit people with contact lens and glasses and send them into the store and track their eye movements. Amazingly, most eyes seemed to focus on finding a trash can! She described how they focus on signage, color, music, lighting, shelf placement, and anything that could improve the “store experience.”

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She also described how a bunch of her colleagues are traveling to London to witness how British pharmacies operate. When they get back to the U.S., they are going to implement ideas gained from watching their British counterparts in this chain’s “wellness centers.” 

Finally, the independent pharmacist couldn’t resist, I asked: "Did you ever spend a day in one of your pharmacies to see why your pharmacists are so unhappy? Did you ever see the overworked pharmacist, technicians, and cashiers answering phones, staring at computer screens, and trying to accomplish all 10 plus metrics.” I have a few colleagues that work for said chain, and they are the most unhappy healthcare professionals anywhere. I advised her to come to my pharmacy when I’m staffing, and then head down the street to their chain and see the difference.

Imagine one of the biggest drug chains spending millions of dollars, when this community pharmacist knows the obvious. I call their store for a prescription transfer, and it takes at least six minutes for a pharmacist to get to the phone. Through the wizardry of electronics and social media, I can save this chain a bundle of money so they can use that money to get more staffing. 

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First off, their CEO makes almost 23 million dollars a year. That equals 184 pharmacists’ salaries. For my pharmacist colleagues, the 23 million could hire an almost 1000 technicians, full time at $12.00 per hour. Secondly, let’s cancel your marketing staff’s trip to London. I can tell you what works to increase customer satisfaction. Third, start paying attention to your store staff, if they are too afraid to speak up, don’t be surprised. 

I told this member of your marketing team “the only reason most people go to your chain is because they are forced by your PBM.” Your chain’s pharmacists work extremely hard and get less technician hours every year. They are told to do more with less. Cancel your marketing trip to London, and come to Altoona, PA, where this 61-year-old passionate pharmacist is more than willing to help rescue the 12,000 plus careers of your pharmacists. Not that Altoona PA is an expensive place to stay, you can save even more money by staying at our house. I can accommodate four of you in one of our three empty bedrooms!

Give me a call, I can assure you the phone will be answered within 4 rings! Show up in your white lab coat and sturdy shoes, and you’ll learn so much more than you would taking a trip to London.