Consider what happens to small businesses when a big retail operation like Wal-Mart or Home Depot moves into a city. Individual mom-and-pop shops simply can’t survive against the deep-pocketed, heavy-handed tactics used by major chains. It doesn’t take long before historical main streets once lined with shops like Joe’s Hardware and Miller Family Drugs are taken over by ubiquitous clones like Starbucks and Domino’s. While independent shops slowly suffocate, patrons flock to the big chains where they can pick up medications, a new bathrobe, a birthday cake, and some potting soil.
In the past, independent pharmacies have managed to retain a small market share using the tools that inspire customer loyalty: personal service, low employee turnover, speed, and corner convenience. But with drug chains springing up like weeds on every corner, aggressive marketing campaigns promising the illusion of personal service, cut-rate prescription pricing, and big-store shopping while you wait, do independents really stand a chance?
Honestly, I can’t say, but on the flip side, we’re embroiled in a remarkable American rebellion against…well, everything. People seem to be leaning towards return to the American Dream, with 2.4 kids, a family dog, and a nice little house in the suburbs. Even station wagons have made a comeback. The Toyota Venza might look like a space shuttle from the Enterprise, but I’m not fooled. I know a station wagon when I see one. Slap wood panels on the sides and a surfboard rack on top, and it’s 1969 all over again.
My point is that I believe independents still have a niche and something to offer. Mom-and-pop shops are the ultimate in anti-outsourcing. Deep roots in the community can still have power. It’s up to the shop owner to exploit those roots for all he is worth if he expects to survive. Here’s how you can make down-hominess to work for you:
Be proactive. One thing the big chains do to retain customers is track refills. If you fill prescriptions at Target, for example, every month you get a recorded phone call informing you that your refill is ready. This is a time saver, although it may have a backlash. Customers who don’t have to wait for their prescriptions make fewer impulse buys.
Offer a special service. Many pharmacies these days offer flu shots, consultations, diabetic advice, or blood pressure screenings. These extra services are killing small independents. Keep up by offering something unique in your area. Sound advice on weight loss, diabetes, or dieting is always popular. If you know what medicines are most often prescribed to your customer and you pay attention to the OTC medications they purchase, you’ll know what area is best to offer advice.
Reach out to your customers. If you don’t have the manpower for long discussions, self-publish a newsletter. Blogs are great, but the lifeblood of your business is more likely to be elderly people than technophiles. They like information in touchable form. You might even consider offering a regular health column in the local newspaper.
Stock local products. If your store also offers convenience-type shopping, seek out local vendors and buy their products. The result is business for them and cross-promotion for you, a win-win situation with a lot of community goodwill.
The bottom line is, if you’re the corner drug store, BE the corner drug store. Make people feel special and welcome, like old friends. What ideas do you have to personalize service? Let me know.