Bridging the gap: Closing the distance between the pharmacy and front store

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Bridging the gap: Closing the distance between the pharmacy and front store

By David Orgel - 02/01/2018
For being in such close proximity, sometimes the distance between the pharmacy counter and the rest of the retail operation seems longer than it should.

That perceived distance creates complications for busy pharmacists trying to engage with teams and consumers in the front store, even as they manage their own workloads. Industry leaders say it’s imperative to improve this situation so that the entire retail operation can act as an effective, integrated health destination.

“I remember working as a pharmacist behind the counter, needing to rely on my teams in the front of the store to make sure they stocked the right items, or to actually go out and counsel patients about items out front,” said Philecia Avery, founder and principal at Cincinnati-based Philecia Dayle LLC, who was a former vice president of pharmacy at Kroger. “So bridging the gap between pharmacy and the front of store is a topic that’s very near and dear to me.”

[caption id="attachment_583823" align="alignright" width="180"]Philecia Avery Moderator Philecia Avery[/caption]

The need to bridge that gap is generating more discussion across the industry at a time of changing consumer attitudes and growing competition from a wider range of retailers — both brick-and-mortar and virtual. Industry leaders said that achieving success requires collaboration across the health ecosystem; improved consumer insights; effective technology and analytics; and a true understanding of the importance of educating consumers.

They made these points during a panel at the recent DSN Industry Issues Summit in New York City, which focused on the best ways to make progress. One of those ways is to foster a spirit of collaboration with associates, according to executives.

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“It really starts from the top down with our merchant teams,” said Craig Norman, senior vice president at San Antonio-based H-E-B. “All of our merchants are very collaborative. We’re very communicative with each other. A great example is the collaboration between my pharmacy team and our drug store and beauty teams. We know what’s going on in all of our respective areas. This presents an opportunity and an atmosphere for our pharmacy partners, who are our employees, to really play on both sides of the counter from the pharmacy and OTC, drug and beauty perspectives.”

Acting as a true health destination
At Rite Aid, collaboration is crucial to making sure the pharmacy and the rest of the store operate together as a health destination, said Tammy Royer, Rite Aid senior vice president of pharmacy operations. “We have a very collaborative relationship with our category management and merchandising teams to make sure that we’re offering products and services across the store that can assist people who want to improve their health,” she said. “It’s different for each person, and we have to try and be smart about personalizing that for them.”

Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid looks at the challenge from both sides of the store. On the one hand, Royer said, associates spend a lot of time considering how to engage the pharmacy customer with the front end.

[caption id="attachment_583824" align="alignleft" width="158"]Tammy Royer of Rite Aid Rite Aid’s Tammy Royer[/caption]

“But we also see from our loyalty information that we have a lot of people that shop only front end and often promotionally, but aren’t utilizing the pharmacy. How can we make sure they see the value of the pharmacist who is there?” Royer said.

One of Rite Aid’s solutions is its Wellness Ambassadors, whose purpose is to engage the customer base and bring it to the pharmacy.

“That wellness ambassador is key to making sure customers are visiting the pharmacy and having conversations with the pharmacist,” she said. “So when it’s flu season, for example, the ambassadors have the ability to talk to people and ask them if they want to come back and talk to the pharmacist about immunizations.”

Brian Owens, vice president at Boston-based Kantar Retail, observed that changes in the industry make it important to shrink the divide between pharmacy and the front of store. These changes include the industry’s move to more of an outcome-based system, Amazon looming into the space and younger generations bringing new attitudes about privacy and trust. He called this an exciting time to make progress, in which “there’s a huge opportunity right now for us to work with each other.”

Bringing tech to bear
Analytics and technology have important roles to play in advancing the role of the entire store as a health destination, executives said. This includes freeing up the pharmacist to help focus on health care.

[caption id="attachment_583820" align="alignright" width="176"]Cardinal Health’s John Fiacco Cardinal Health’s John Fiacco[/caption]

“It means creating programs for retail independents that are going to free them up, whether it’s inventory management, reconciliation or other things that take time,” said John Fiacco, vice president of pharmacy transition services at Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health. “This enables you to reposition the pharmacist and the pharmacy as a healthcare destination, making sure the pharmacist is out in front and promoting that.”

Having the pharmacist come out from behind the counter can leave a lasting impression on consumers, said Ben Doepke, principal of insight and strategy at Cincinnati-based IX, which leverages a range of disciplines that include psychology, anthropology, sociology and neurobiology.

“I know it’s a function of time to some extent, but it doesn’t take that much time to come around the counter,” he said. “Have you ever checked into a hotel where they come around the front, and there will be six, seven, eight people behind you in line, and this guy still comes out from behind the counter to give you the key and show you where the elevators are? It costs that guy 10, 15 seconds. And it’s worth it. It makes you feel great.”

Pharmacists can be empowered by having more personalized information, said Lari Harding, vice president of product marketing at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Inmar.

[caption id="attachment_583821" align="alignleft" width="200"]Inmar's Lari Harding Inmar's Lari Harding[/caption]

“There’s so much data that gets created, and it’s important to use that data to push out to consumers’ personalized information,” Harding said. “You want to show, ‘I know what you’re shopping for, I know what you care about, I know what’s important to you.”

Pivoting to prevention
Health professionals realize the challenges involved in serving the patient, who doesn’t yet have a chronic condition, and whose biggest need is preventing one. Avery positioned this topic in a way that underscored its importance.

“How do we bridge the gap for this person to ensure they have what they need?” she said. “So it’s not just about the chronic state, but about this holistic person who’s walking around trying to prevent hypertension or diabetes. How do we have that conversation with them when they’re not in that chronic condition state?”

Owens said the industry does a very good job “fro