In 2010, pharmacists in Ontario were reeling from the changes to generic drug pricing and professional allowances. While many pharmacy owners felt safe from the shift, Bruce Winston, president of Apex Pharmacies, realized these changes would likely set a precedent for other provincial governments.
By Mike Boivin, BSc.Phm.
Photography by David Watt
“I felt that if this pricing change occurred in Alberta, it would significantly impact the profitability and operations of each of our pharmacies.”
Bruce felt the best way to face the new reality was to develop and implement a marketing strategy not only to attract more patients but also to offer all the services his current patients needed. “We started an external and internal approach to demonstrate the role of our pharmacies to key stakeholders and to provide our team with the skills and training to capture every opportunity to showcase their role in patient care.”
Bruce’s goal for this new approach was to completely replace the loss of profit from professional allowances with the profit from new patients and maximizing expanded services.
Finding new partners in care
The pharmacist worked with his team to develop the perfect marketing strategy for the Apex chain. “A good strategy involves more than just doing what you have always done. For it to be successful, you have to step out beyond the four walls of your pharmacy and actively develop new strategic partners.”
For their external approach, Bruce and the management team did not simply jump at every potential opportunity, but analyzed their communities and core client base to determine the best groups to partner with. “One of the first steps was to market to prescribers what our pharmacies already do very well. This not included promotion of our specialized services, such as compounding and veterinary medicine, but also what our pharmacists could provide their patients through pharmacist expanded services. There were fears, myths and unknowns regarding what pharmacists could do, and by having a frank discussion with prescribers we could showcase how collaboratively working with our pharmacists would enhance the health of patients.”
Bruce also sought new strategic partners to grow the business. “We realized from looking at the demographics of our pharmacies, low-income seniors were a key and underserviced group in the community.” Apex partnered with the non-profit organization Silvera for Seniors, which provides affordable housing to more than 1,500 low-income seniors in Calgary.
The partnership has been a huge success for both Apex and Silvera. “We are able to provide our incredible service to a group of patients who are so commonly overlooked,usually people who have worked at a low-paying job their whole life or run into some difficulty at some point and now need the extra support that Silvera can provide. We love taking care of these patients and conduct important fundraising projects to ensure Silvera can continue to support these seniors.”
“Through our external marketing we were able to drive more patients to our pharmacies, but we had to ensure that our team could take advantage of every opportunity we created.”
Bruce and his management team educated staff on the changing environment and motivated them to take their practice to the next level. “We encouraged our pharmacists to acquire skills such as injection training and additional prescribing authorization to enhance the services we could provide at our pharmacies. Our staff have really stepped up to the challenge and have not only done the additional training but are actively using it in their practice.”
Developing a comprehensive marketing strategy
A good marketing approach takes something unique to differentiate a pharmacy from its competitors. Rather than relying only on flyers to market new products, Apex developed a set of goals and ensured every marketing strategy they implemented was on strategy.
“Pharmacy is very good at responding to issues that arise, but many times we overreact to a problem,” Bruce notes. “Our biggest marketing mistakes are when we have had a knee-jerk reaction to a problem and implemented strategies that would not help us reach our goals.”
Without question Bruce’s approach has been a success. This year, Apex is on track to replace 85 per cent of the income lost from the elimination of professional allowances, and the pharmacist fully expects to be able to replace all of the lost income through marketing savvy and the commitment of Apex’s most valuable asset, its team.
“By continually engaging our staff and looking for new opportunities, I feel our pharmacies are perfectly positioned to thrive in the continually changing pharmacy environment.”