Viewpoint: How independents can beat the chains

June 19, 2006

Local pharmacies have a special place in American society. Neighborhood pharmacists provide expert medical advice and often inexpensive prescription drugs, and they add to a greater sense of community in residential areas. But, in recent years, the neighborhood drugstore has come under increasing attack by national pharmacy chains, which have gobbled up market share in many areas across the country.

To preserve their business and the role they play in their communities, local pharmacists must implement smart marketing campaigns targeting specific customers and take the initiative to further integrate themselves into their surrounding communities. As the saying goes, be distinct or go extinct. So here are some programs pharmacists can carry out to ensure their survival.

Maybe your chain competitors, too, have begun to sponsor the local high school football team. Instead of throwing your hands up in despair, there is always a way to take a marketing plan to the next level. As a way to show your support for the local team, publicize an offer that pledges to discount specific items based on the margin of the team's victory. Did your team beat their opponents by 21 points? Then pledge to discount specific items by 21% the following day. Creative marketing plans will help to show that, regardless of your competitors' corporate publicity campaigns, it is your locally owned business that truly takes interest in the community, its events, and its members.

Local pharmacists should also reach out to specific segments in their community in order to expand their customer base. One such customer segment is new movers. New movers are individuals who have recently arrived in a town and are unfamiliar with the area and its local businesses. These individuals are frequently more adventurous about trying new things than are longtime residents. Additionally, new movers typically establish routines within the first few months of arriving in a new location. By approaching these individuals before they have settled into their daily pattern, entrepreneurs can greatly increase the chance that their business will become part of the new mover's daily routine.

How about sending them a gift certificate for $20 off their next prescription purchase and your pharmacy's business card? They will make a mental note to switch their prescriptions over to your address and put your business card up on their refrigerator for future reference. This type of "hook" allows you to capture a valued repeat customer for an initial investment cost of just $20.

Another way neighborhood pharmacists can encourage repeat business is to establish a Loyal Rewards program. When customers visit your pharmacy, ask them to provide their e-mail address so that you can contact them with special offers or seasonal discounts.

Next, think about your customers' needs. Is Mother's Day coming up? E-mail your customers a special offer for greeting cards. The point is to think creatively, anticipate your customers' needs, and then reach out to the individuals with whom you have already established a relationship. Research shows that repeat customers tend to spend more than first-time customers; use a Loyal Rewards program to ensure first-time customers become repeat customers.