Struggling independent pharmacies try to adapt during COVID-19
ANN ARBOR, MI – Local retailers and restaurants on the verge of closing due to coronavirus restrictions are trying to creatively evolve to meet consumer needs.
Many offer outdoor seating, delivery or curbside pickup, while others urge customers to buy local during the holiday season by offering incentives. Among those who are struggling are the independent pharmacies. Some are gaining more patients but also losing business at the same time.
Ziad Ghamraoui, owner of Ann Arbor Pharmacy opened its boutique-style clinic at 2418 E Stadium Blvd. in January 2019 to model European apothecaries who carry more than prescriptions.
Much of his business relied on sales of “premium” skin care products, hair products, soaps, herbal medicines, and high potency nutritional supplements and vitamins. However, as soon as state-ordered restrictions were implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, business slowed and spending increased for personal protective equipment and the gallons of disinfectant they were using. to keep the space clean.
“People weren’t coming. We weren’t able to sell all these high-end creams and things like that,” Ghamraoui said. “But our pharmacy business picked up because a lot of people wanted to curbside.”
The price scam was also a hindrance. Ghamraoui needed masks earlier this year and noticed that a manufacturer was selling a box of 50 for $ 60, which he typically sold for $ 19.99 in his store.
“At the time, it was low production and rising prices. I choose my battles, ”he said.
It then moved to the curb and delivery, starting with about two deliveries a week earlier this year and making about 14 a day. Deliveries are free within three miles of the pharmacy and $ 3 within five, he added.
“The chains were charging $ 6 flat. Our service is personalized. We know what patients like, ”Ghamraoui said.
At one point, he handed out his skin care products and other inventory that he relies on for sales at no cost because they were expiring. Prescriptions are also not as cost effective as they used to be. But the number of orders matters, he added.
His pharmacy during the school year receives many orders for ADHD medication, which is part of the profit for the company. But prescriptions have dropped this year. Sometimes generic drugs make up the difference and the loss.
Clark Professional Pharmacy at 3280 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor has a slightly different model as a compounding pharmacy, where they make their own drugs. They have also been in the area, initially on Clark Road in Ypsilanti, since 1980 and have name recognition within the local community.
“You have competition from other compounding pharmacists, there is no doubt about it. Establishing a good relationship with the prescription basis is important. Providing exceptional service is important. And by employing the right people around you to be able to deliver a great customer experience. These are very basic rules for being successful as an independent pharmacy, ”said Ed Salamen, who co-owns the pharmacy with Nathan Worthing.
Chains can buy products already formulated in the pharmaceutical industry, he said. At Clark Professional Pharmacy, they personalize medications based on patient needs.
As the pandemic intensified, the demand for mail orders skyrocketed, as did the addition of curbside services, which is new for the pharmacy.
“As long as people feel uncomfortable and don’t want to come in, then we’ll provide that to them,” Salamen said. “The pandemic has brought challenges that no one anticipated or anticipated, but we are a critical business.”
He previously worked in the corporate pharmaceutical industry, but the tendency to rely on independent pharmacists above the chains is evident. He and Ghamraoui both stressed that customer service at local pharmacies is an experience that chains do not provide.
“You get more patient consultation with pharmacists. More one-on-one time with the pharmacist. Its very important. We definitely pride ourselves on providing exceptional customer service and delivering high quality products. We love what we do, ”said Salamen.
Local pharmacies are also better equipped to greet customers faster than chains, Ghamraoui added.
“We treat each person as a person and not as a transaction. We know our clients by first name, ”said Ghamraoui. “We are the ones who donate to your schools, to your churches and to your chambers of commerce. You come to my counter, walk in and out of my pharmacy in a matter of minutes.
When Dexter lost a long-standing local pharmacy, Steve Jensen enlisted the expansion of his Saline business, Jensen’s Community Pharmacy at 7067 Dexter-Ann Arbor Road in Dexter, when ordering stay at home to provide a service to residents. He immediately started with curbside pickup and delivery services.
“The PPP (loan) actually helped in that first wave because we saw a pretty big drop. People weren’t going to the doctor, so they weren’t getting new diagnoses. Prescription volume has dropped by 30%, ”Jensen said.
He struggled for a while to get personal protective equipment and things like hydrogen peroxide, adding that there were still items he couldn’t receive. The workload was also difficult to manage, especially in its Saline store, which has a more open space that required plexiglass and dividers.
“It just slowly wears you out,” Jensen said, but he still encourages patients to choose their local pharmacist over the chains.
Having worked in the corporate sector, Jensen ensures that his staff are able to greet customers for everything from prescriptions to over-the-counter supplements. He noticed that it was difficult for drugstore chains to have enough staff to devote time to patients, even to find the right vitamin.
“There is a lot that you can discover in conversations with patients. Sometimes things are missing in the doctor’s office. It can be something that we can mitigate with something over the counter. We have these opportunities to have these kinds of impacts, ”Jensen said.
He also pointed out that the local pharmacies were probably run by a member of the community who knows the needs of the area.
“We’re like any other local business. We are the ones who reinvest the money in the community. The better we do, the more we can help our community as well, ”Jensen said.