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So, you want to own a pharmacy, Part 5. What’s your niche?

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle to carve out a niche. Make sure your niche complements your pharmacy’s strengths and is sustainable. Your pharmacy is your passion. It’s important that what your practice does and stands for forms a key part of the community and is a reflection of you.

As pharmacists at some point or another we’ve all had the thought cross our minds. Is ownership for me? For some people the idea strikes no interest. For others it’s in their blood. They knew the day they got their pharmacy school acceptance letter that this is what they wanted to do. Then there are those in the middle who aren’t quite sure if it is or is not something that is for them. This series of articles will bring some useful concepts, considerations and decisions to help you understand if ownership, and what type of ownership is for you and answer the question: “Are you fit for ownership?”

What are your offerings? / what is your niche?

Over this series we have touched on various components of pharmacy ownership. However, one of the most important considerations is deciding what type of pharmacy you want to run. People often decide to become pharmacists because of a love of helping others, or business owners because of an entrepreneurial spirit, but how do you decide what niche and offerings you want to provide in your practice?

It’s a question we do not usually ask ourselves when going into the pharmacy business. We are taught to cast a wide net and try to ensure we cover every service and every opportunity with our patients, but is that the best sentiment?

Here are some considerations:

Identifying your patients

Whether you are starting a new pharmacy or already running your practice who your patients are is key in determining what niche you should carve out and what you should offer. It’s tempting to promote and participate in the latest new service or trend. However, this may not be what your patients are looking for; a successful pharmacy will always cater to what their patient demographic needs. Look at who your current patients are. Are they mainly acute patients with single fill prescriptions, do they have chronic medications, is there a specific disease state you see more often? Look for the gaps in your current patient pool’s healthcare and try to offer a service that meets those. Sometimes there is room to be creative and partner with other healthcare providers for disease-specific options, other times it may be something as simple as an adherence program that your patients need. Listening to what your patients need can ensure your offering is a success.

Recognizing your strengths

You and your staff are the greatest assets your pharmacy has. Recognize your team’s strengths and foster them.

  • What special designations do any of your staff have?
  • Are your staff interested in learning how to obtain designations/certificates?
  • What key skills does your practice have that aren’t seen by others? This could be something as simple as speed in filling a script, the rapport and personalized touch at your locations, etc.
  • When you work within your strengths it helps set up a niche that is sustainable.

Certain staff may have skillsets or a background in other areas. Utilize these skills to support your patient needs. For example, does one of your staff members have a passion or keen knowledge of computer science/virtual platforms? Utilize this skill to help digitize more of your pharmacy. It doesn’t have to be a large investment but even something as a simple as the website you use for marketing, patients’ appointment scheduling, or reminders for patient refills/pickups. Oftentimes we look to mimic what has worked for someone else. When setting your niche and offerings, look at your existing internal strengths.

  • There are a number of niches for pharmacy to provide offerings in, for example:

Travel health

Nutritional health

Herbal and natural health

Skin care

Pain care

A disease state specialization (such as rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, etc.)

Does the math add up?

Meeting a need has always been the mainstay of the pharmacy profession, but we must also recognize sustainability. Making a profit is often portrayed as a negative, but at the end of the day you are running a business and your pharmacy’s revenue matters. 

  • What will be my cost of goods for this service?

What products/machinery will I need to purchase to be able to provide this service per patient. An investment is not always easy to make; remember to shop around to see what options are available to you. The product will be based on more than price – it should consider price, service, ease of use and much more.

  • How much labour will be required to execute this service?

Another cost will be the staff required to provide the service. How many staff are required, can they be “general” staff, or do they need to be specialists? Also, how long will staff have to spend with the patient per typical encounter? It’s important to recognize what your labour costs will be for providing a service at your practice.

  • What is my opportunity cost?

What would happen if I did not implement this service? Sometimes our first ideas aren’t always the best ones. Review your plan with a staff member you trust or expert to ensure you have examined all viewpoints.

It is also important to consider the cost to the patient for your service. If a service is provided at no cost or too low a cost, it not only becomes unsustainable for your practice but can also be a blow to you financially.

Filling the unmet need

When assessing what your unmet need is ensure this is something both you and your patients see as a service they need. Oftentimes patients don’t know what they don’t know. Having collaboration and buy-in from other healthcare providers can also support the merit of your venture. Being able to bridge a gap or provide care that is needed by patients becomes patient care success.

We had noticed that there was a gap in care for some of the cancer patients in our Ottawa communities. Recognizing the needs of our patients and leveraging our oncology pharmacy experience, we were able to research and design our niche care delivery model to collaboratively satisfy Cancer Care Ontario’s best practice recommendations surrounding take home cancer drugs. Each day, we strive to improve our patient’s cancer medication experience and are pleased to help ensure they feel supported and receive safe and effective cancer treatments at home.”

  • Jason Wentzell Extend Pharmacy

Supporting a true patient need can be fulfilling, and will lead to a successful business. By providing a service the patients feel they already need there will be quicker adoption, increased word of mouth and overall awareness of your offering.

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle to carve out a niche. Make sure your niche complements your pharmacy’s strengths and is sustainable. Your pharmacy is your passion. It’s important that what your practice does and stands for forms a key part of the community and is a reflection of you.

Pavithra Ravi RPh MPharm LSSBB works in the Specialized Pharmacy Group at National Bank, is a practising pharmacist in Ontario and Founder of Pavithra Consulting Inc.  supporting the growth and development of pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry. 

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