Pharmacists’ dirty little secret

I go into hundreds of pharmacies, helping business owners fine tune their efficiencies. One of the first things I do is jump on their dispensing computer.

What do I usually see? It’s banana yellow and has tickets on itself. I mean, stickers. That’s right. The Chemist Warehouse website.

This sends a shiver down my spine.

It’s most pharmacists’ dirty little secret. After repeated interrogation, they give up their addiction and confess to me they take a sneak peek at the pharmacy juggernaut’s gaudy site several times a day. Let’s say it together. I’m a compare-aholic. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Your secret is safe with me.

Don’t reach for the low-hanging fruit

What I urge pharmacists to do is to avoid reaching for the low hanging fruit. Many business owners live in fear of the customer coming in and saying, “Well, I can get it for XYZ at Chemist Warehouse.” Here, pharmacists tend to wave their white flag and say, “OK, we’ll match it.” This drives me bananas (minus the stickers). Here you show you’ve got no confidence in what you’re charging or what you’re providing which is of value to the customer. Instead, you’ve almost become a surrogate store for Chemist Warehouse. If your customer can get it at that price with more convenience at your pharmacy and you’re not making any money from it, what’s the point of the whole transaction?

It can be tough not to become overwhelmed and grab business when it trots along. We get it. But by upskilling and being strategic, your pharmacy is far more likely to not only survive, but to thrive. Here are four simple tips.

Rehearse your elevator pitch

Once you’re really clear on your pricing policy, fine tune your elevator pitch so you can explain to customers why you charge what you charge. For instance, you could say, Chemist Warehouse is huge and can slash certain prices because they receive the product at such an enormously discounted rate. We don’t begrudge them doing it, however as a community/independent pharmacy we have a certain level of service that costs more to maintain. That’s why we charge what we charge.”

Get your pricing in the system

In the good old days, a common price was a $5 dispensing fee plus a 20% or 30% markup. Now, some guys just want to charge the dispense fee on top of the cost price. They’re all valid decisions, but you just want to make sure everyone is being charged the same. You can’t have one customer charged one thing and another pay something else; only for them to compare notes. Your reputation will quickly slither and customers will take their business elsewhere.

Nail your niche and up the customer service

At the end of the day, pharmacies who offer exceptional service will survive while the cheapest will always prevail. You must adapt your business model or perish. Here, it’s vital to have your systems and processes running as efficiently as possible, to help trim the fat and ensure the business is running cost effectively. Ensure your employees are singing off the same hymn sheet when it comes to dealing with clientele and don’t forget the simple, golden rules of customer service; every interaction with a client is important. Under promise and over deliver. Know your products. Know your customers. Smile.

We know it’s a big step. However, with these strategies behind you and a renewed confidence in just how much value you offer your community, you can go forth and click the ‘close’ button on the CW website. Perhaps, with a big breath, you could even cut the umbilical cord and block the site for good. You’ve got this.

Pasquale DeMaria is the owner & principal at Beezwax – providers of bookkeeping and payroll services to pharmacies across Australia. He is also a pharmacist with over 20 years ownership & management experience. Visit for more info.

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