Think Snowflakes, Not Cookie Cutters

       Big corporations sure do obsess over equality.  In some ways they have to.  But in other areas companies need to learn that it is OK to be different. 

      I was recently talking with a pharmacy school student at work.  We were discussing the large retail pharmacy chains. 

      At some point in the discussion I made an observation about the large pharmacy chains.  I mentioned that large companies want every store they own to be a cookie cutter model of all their other locations.  They want everything to be the same at each location.

       The problem with this idea is the concept of complete equality breaks down in practice.  In reality, each pharmacy is unique.  Each customer base is individual.  No two pharmacies are exactly alike. 

       But try to teach this lesson to the average retail pharmacy chain executive and see how far it gets you.  To them, your store is just store 2137 or whatever the number might be.  The metrics they track for your store are the same ones they track at their other locations.

        Community pharmacy is a complicated beast.  Each pharmacy must meet the unique needs of the patients it serves.  A store’s inventory will be different, the staff is unique, and so are the needs of the people who shop there. 

        Pharmacy layouts may need to be modified to meet some specific need.  Procedures may require adjusting so the pharmacy operates at an optimal level.  There is no one model for success.

       But big businesses want all stores to look the same.  These companies rely on what has worked for them in the past almost to a fault.  They want consistency even at the cost of innovation. 

        Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who work in the community setting must deal with a constantly evolving dynamic at their pharmacy.  We must attempt to individualize what we do to match what our patients need at any given time. 

       I wish there was a simple cookie cutter model for community pharmacy.  Maybe such an overly simplistic view would include specific staffing guidelines?  Or maybe inventory issues might somehow be eliminated with one perfect pharmacy plan for operation?

        In reality each pharmacy is unique and should be treated as such.  One store may have customers who call their pharmacists constantly for advice while another may have an above average demand for vaccination services.   Things can even shift from year to year at the same location. 

       If I could tell the larger community pharmacy chains one thing, it would be that your cookie cutter models for community pharmacy are flawed.  It’s just too complicated and unpredictable to come up with any one model of operation for a pharmacy that works 100% of the time. 

       A community pharmacy is more like a snowflake.  No two flakes are exactly alike.  And no two pharmacies are exactly the same either. 

        Community pharmacy is more than a simple retail business.  It isn’t something to mass produce or attempt to compartmentalize into one simplified business model. 

        Pharmacies are unique because of their employees and customers.  The human element is what adds volatility to the equation. 

        So I have a message for all the pharmacy chains.  When you think of a community pharmacy business model, think snowflakes rather than cookie cutters.  When coming up with your formulas for success, leave the cookie cutters at home.  They won’t help you!

    The Redheaded Pharmacist

2 Comments to “Think Snowflakes, Not Cookie Cutters”

  1. By ichyarmpit, October 2, 2012 @ 3:28 am

    I think successful chain pharmacies must have certain aspects of their business which is consistent throughout the entire chain. The overall appearance/colorscheme is essential for brand recognition, and metrics need to be consistent because of the need to analyze your business performance, especially in the 4000 plus chains. I have, however, seen many promising changes taking place in the chain I practice for. A big emphasis on a community upper management structure, quarterly budget changes which bring into account historical services at your location such as immunization, health testing, off site clinic coverage needs, mtm expectations and a more approachable locally based vice president in our market are beginning to show some promise that they realize the importance of taking care of your front line troops. Now, don’t get me wrong, retail is still and will always be retail, but I am optimistic about some of the changes I have been seeing. If you asked me 20 years ago if I thought I would be getting paid for medication therapy mgmt (totally cognitive) at a retail setting, I would have laughed, now add in the fact that as a retail pharmacists working for a large chain, I routinely book and run off site immunization clinics under standing orders from dr’s all of which I set up on my own with out even needing my supervisors ok, I think retail has become more patient focused and dare I say ˝clinical” than hospital practise. I have “my” patients who come to me for their mtm, and immunization year after year, they see not the name of my company as their destination, but rather they come to see their pharmacists, a personal relationship. It is this that will eventually and hopefully go toe to toe with the commidization our profession had been plagued with. My chain, though far from having “arrived,” I honestly understands this, but there still must be a common recognication factor chain wide to remind patients where they are, as long as big management is willing to work within that structure to promote personalization, much of which will depend upon the practioner.


  2. By was1, October 3, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    At one time I worked for a regional grocery chain with about 50 stores. One of those stores located in an urban area did a very brisk business in the ethnic hair care area. So much so that a large 16 foot section was put in to accommodate the demand. When a new president was brought in (some say to oversee the demise of the chain) he was so impressed with the fantastic sales of these items that he wanted a 16 foot ethnic hair care section in every store. The new guy had the attitude that since he was the president, that automatically meant that he knew more than anybody else. He couldn’t imagine that the suburban areas wouldn’t have just as big a demand for ethnic hair care as the city stores. As stated above, the cookie cutter approach doesn’t work.


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