Q&A: Ascend invests in people, customer service to stand out
Ascend Labs began as a product development company working with other generics makers, growing for its first product launches under the Ascend label in 2008. After working closely with Alkem for several years, the company now is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian generics giant, with more than $200 million in revenue and 40 molecules, plus more in the pipeline.
Drug Store News spoke to John Dillaway, executive vice president at Parsippany, N.J.-based Ascend, about the company’s growth and strategy.
Drug Store News: What makes the company stand out in a crowded marketplace today?
John Dillaway: In a word, service. Ascend recognizes that there is little that it sells that cannot be purchased elsewhere. To this end, Ascend has invested in what it believes is one of the industry’s top sales teams. It has hired experienced sales executives who come with knowledge of the industry and strong relationships that can determine quickly if we have opportunity or not. We have balanced that with bright, younger individuals who can learn from their more experienced peers and offer a longevity that will serve the company and its customers well for many years.
Beyond our investments in people, Ascend also has invested in its products.We recognize that being in an in-stock position is extremely important, and we have beefed up on-hand inventory in an effort to be in a position to say yes when customers come calling.
We also have implemented an extended dating stability program, looking to move the dating on our products from the standard two years to three years and beyond. This allows us to hold more inventory on hand without fear of it going short dated, and allows customers longer times to sell through. At the end of the day, Ascend aspires to be a reliable supplier and these investments have allowed us to become just that.
DSN: How are you educating retailers and consumers about your products and their benefits?
JD: In several ways. Ascend has increased its presence at trade events and has developed a larger presence at national shows over the past few years. The company has increased the size of its trade show booths and displays, and created an image that makes customers comfortable visiting with us so we can provide ongoing education about our products. We also visit customers at their headquarters, where we can continue this process in a more private environment.
We are also very close to launching a new website, which will provide physicians, retailers and consumers much more information on our products, including allergen information, which will make getting these answers much faster with much less hassle for all. Finally, we are one of the only generic manufacturers that has an actual practicing primary care physician on our staff whose job it is is to field calls from other physicians, pharmacists and even patients, who have any questions about our products. This service is one that gets quite a bit of usage with our physicians’ response times — typically less than 30 minutes.
DSN: What does the retailer need to do to maximize sales, profits and the overall process?
JD: Ascend tries to make doing business as easy as possible. We pride ourselves on doing business the way the customer wants to. To that end, we do not offer a standard approach. If one customer wants to do things this way, we do them this way; and if another wants that way, they get that way. Again, it goes back to service, and the goal is to provide the best service in the land.
DSN: Can you give us some recent examples of your innovation?
JD: As stated, Ascend has a specific focus on standing out as a quality supplier. The past few years have introduced a situation into the market where many companies have “rationalized” their product lines, discontinuing highly competitive items to focus on newer more profitable ones. This has caused much anxiety in the markets as items that may have had 7-to-9 suppliers now only have one or two. This has led to product shortages — in some cases, very severe ones. Ascend, for its part, is moving in the other direction by not discontinuing anything despite being in many older molecules. Ascend has just completed a large physical expansion to its two existing Indian manufacturing campuses, effectively doubling its current manufacturing capacity.
Ascend is capitalizing on its commitment to stay in established items, and customers know if they make a commitment to Ascend that Ascend will stand by that. Customers can’t sell what they don’t have, and patients taking older medications continue to need these, and Ascend has made it a point to stand out in a crowded business by being that supplier that can be counted on.