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The Right Prescription

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From in-store clinics to expanded pharmacy services, healthcare programs have become a popular way for supermarkets to build loyalty and increase their sales. It’s a tricky proposition, however, especially in terms of marketing. You can’t promote prescriptions and over-the-counter medication the same way you would produce.

blue_cross-prescriptions-pharmacists_nfn.jpgTo help retailers set a clear strategy, representatives from two natural health stores shared their strategies at a recent seminar during Expo East in Boston. Kathleen Boehning of Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, New York, talked about the importance of interacting with customers and employing a knowledgeable staff. The natural and homeopathic remedies Honest Weight sells in particular require close consultation. After all, not everyone knows how or when to use fish oils and ginseng root.

Boehning said her store also takes special orders for medications or supplements that she doesn’t stock. “You spend a lot of time on these orders, but it really helps people feel like they’re taken care of,” she said. It’s also part of what’s helped her section garner a phenomenal $1.1 million in sales so far this year.

Jon Fiume, vice presidents of retail operations for Ritzman Natural Health Pharmacies, a nine-store chain based in Wadsworth, Ohio, also stressed the importance of customer service and interaction. He explained that his pharmacists are expected to be knowledgeable about not only what’s behind the counter, but what’s out in the aisles as well. In addition, his stores, through marketing and staff training, strive to keep an ongoing dialogue going about current medical and wellness issues.

Asked about the future of pharmacy in retail, Fiume predicted that there will be more disease management programs in integrative pharmacy. A medical plan for someone with diabetes, for example, would draw doctors as well as pharmacists together and could end up saving a person money on insurance premiums.

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