GHQ PHARMACY COUNTER
could potentially offer.”
Despite these potential advantages, Rogers says supermarkets, for the
most part, are not making any progress in claiming a higher percentage
of pharmacy market share. The drugstore chains and the discount clubs
are the ones making the gains. He adds that the supermarket pharmacy
business, with a few exceptions, is relatively flat and that some smaller
food stores are actually removing their pharmacies because of costs.
Industry observers say there are ways supermarkets can help their
pharmacies. “They seem to miss the opportunity by not advertising in
their weekly mail flier,” says Ron Mackert, vice president of Corona,
Calif.-based Uniweb. “The pharmacies don’t seem to get the same
‘front-and-center’ advertising as do other supermarket departments.”
Perhaps that is the issue here. Supermarkets are in the food business,
first and foremost. Their pharmacies are often thought of as add-ons
and more of a convenience for the customer than anything else.
Yet, pharmacists almost always command annual salaries of more
than $100,000, and a store might need more than one pharmacist. Add
in the costs of a few pharmacy technicians, software, equipment and the
drugs themselves, and suddenly the pharmacy represents a considerable
expense—one that does not take into consideration other ancillary costs.
“It has always just been something that kind of bucks the trend of
normal supermarkets, but the profit margin on pharmacy has much
greater potential than it does on a box of Cheerios—but the cost is a lot
higher, too,” says Brian Glaves, director of sales for pharmacy technol-ogy-developer ScriptPro, based in Mission, Kan. “I think it has been
tough for grocery guys to get over what pharmacy is and how it operates
very differently from the rest of the grocery store.
“How do we make these two work together? That’s been the struggle,
but the grocers who are doing it are doing it really well right now, and
they provide a nice blueprint for their peers to catch up,” adds Glaves.
ROOTED IN ROBOTICS
While “location, location, location” might be a major plus for the supermarket in its bid to gain more market share, another factor might be
even more important. That factor is time. An investment in the proper
software and robotic tools can automate at least half of the prescription
filling process. That gives the pharmacist, and staff, the time to do other
SOMETIMES, SHOPPERS WANT TO TURN A TRIP TO THE
SUPERMARKET INTO AN EXPERIENCE. They want to inhale
the bakery aromas, stroll through the floral department, chat for a
moment with the friendly supermarket pharmacist and maybe ask a
question or two.
Other times, shoppers are in a hurry. They demand convenience.
They order online, and they want to grab what they need and go.
Grocery items? Pharmaceuticals? It does not matter. The concept of
click-and-collect is here to stay.
With that in mind, perhaps it would be wise for supermarkets to
install a drive-thru window to cater to the needs of its pharmacy
customers when they are on the go.
“When we started in this market 30 years ago, there was great
concern that if pharmacies and grocery stores offered drive-thru
pharmacy, it would kill the impulse buys of what they were trying
to sell,” recalls Bill Sieber, president of Maineville, Ohio-based EF
Bavis and Associates, which manufactures drive-thru systems for the
financial, quick-service and pharmacy industries. “That argument has
all but disappeared. What’s happened is since so many stores now
Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix and H-E-B have
drive-thru windows. Yet such windows are almost nonexistent at
supermarkets in the Northeast. “We do a lot of work with grocery
chains,” says Terry Roberts, director of marketing and sales for Bavis.
“As more supermarkets continue to add pharmacy drive-thru service
for their customers, we obviously see this as an opportunity for
Although some supermarkets are situated in shopping plazas,
which makes the installation of a drive-thru window impossible
because they do not have access to an outside wall, for the majority
of locations, cost should not be a factor.
Sieber says that drive-thru service with a secure, solid window,
drawer and audio can be created for less than $5,000. Even though
most Northeast supermarkets do not have drive-thru lanes, their
drug-chain competitors do.
“Our line has a very broad price range so that we can
accommodate the smaller mom and pop grocery stores up to the
larger chains,” Roberts says. “We have a pretty good menu of items
for those organizations to choose from at various price points.” He
says one factor that sets Bavis apart is that it manufactures pharmacy-specific equipment. For example, it offers a transaction drawer that
will accommodate bulky or multiple boxes of pharmaceuticals. Some
of its supermarket clients have two-way video that offers the drive-thru customer the chance for face-to-face interaction.
“We’ve spent a ton of money developing systems specific to
pharmacy,” Sieber says. “To make things even more convenient,
every pharmacy counts steps, so we have to make it as convenient
as possible for the pharmacist to do counseling and all the other
things required of them.”