In addition to the routine of filling prescriptions, pharmacists must have a high-tech panache, a strong understanding of third-party programs and the ability to deliver pharmacy care consultation services.
But there is one other crucial element in pharmacy.
"The personality of the pharmacist is far and away your biggest asset -- or downfall," advises Bill Elliott, R.Ph., pharmacy specialist at Super Saver Foods, Brookfield, Wis. Elliott supervises 16 pharmacies in southeastern Wisconsin.
"My job turned out to be much more personnel than I thought when I took it," observes Elliott. He is a nine-year Super Saver pharmacist and is now in his third year as pharmacy specialist.
A pharmacist should have a strong orientation to people. This translates into dedication to serving customers and a desire to become a contributing team member of the supermarket operation.
Steven Scalzo, R.Ph., staff support coordinator at Tops Markets in the Buffalo, N.Y., area explains why the pharmacist's personality is so important. "We have to understand that the customer who comes into the store recognizes associates on duty for what they really are. Hopefully, they are accommodating, competent and service-oriented.
"We opened a store in a rural area where the pharmacy was really struggling. Our pharmacist left after nine months. Since we replaced him, growth has been 10% to 15% per week for the last eight weeks." Tops Markets is a 65-store grocery chain with pharmacies in 40 stores.
"First thing, I take the emphasis off prescriptions and place it on their [pharmacists'] willingness to build a relationship with the customer," Scalzo says. "I want every customer to understand what their medicine is for and how to take it."
Pharmacy success boils down to expectations and people. A thorough understanding of pharmacists and what to expect from a pharmacy will help solidify the food-drug store team.
If the pharmacist is a team player, he or she will try to exhibit a positive attitude in difficult situations. A store manager will appreciate a pharmacist who is interested in the success of the total store.
"Our culture is such that we look for character and positive personality traits in people," says Tom Combs, R.Ph., senior director of retail operations at D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich. "Our first question is 'how do they fit into the culture at D&W?' For example, an introverted person won't get past the first interview."
Once on board, expect training to take up to three weeks. This expensive and lengthy training period confounds many supermarket operators. Elliott explains, "People in the grocery industry don't understand why it takes so long to learn the computer." Each pharmacy has its own idiosyncrasies, he says. A different computer system, opening procedures, closing procedures, ordering methods and company cultures take time to learn and digest.
Expect new pharmacy school graduates to take longer to bring up to speed. "The problem I've found is a lack of experience," states Elliott. New graduates are heavy on theoretical and clinical experiences and short on the day-to-day routine and practice of pharmacy.
"Pharmacists find our corporate culture very desirable," Combs says. "Our key is caring for the associates. They are treated very well with pay and benefits that are pretty decent. D&W Food Centers operates 25 grocery stores, 15 with pharmacies, and two freestanding pharmacies. D&W is a lesson in niche marketing as it grew under the nose of Michigan giant, Meijer Thrifty Acres.
Says Combs, "Our niche is based upon clean, friendly service. We couldn't beat Meijer at price, but we have a very loyal customer base."
Steve Scalzo sums up the pharmacist issue by declaring, "Price is not No. 1. We're looking at service. You need quality people to deliver service."