Blogs: Redheaded Pharmacist

Think Snowflakes, Not Cookie Cutters

Published Online: Monday, October 1, 2012
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!
About
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The Redheaded Pharmacist is a popular blog about pharmacy written from the perspective of a retail pharmacist about his experiences "being a very small part of the huge United States healthcare system."
Author Bio
Through his blog, which he began writing in December of 2009, the Redheaded Pharmacist relates his thoughts, opinions, and stories on the issues that impact the world of pharmacy, from current events and legislative developments to patient safety efforts and the demands placed on pharmacists. Feedback from readers is welcome. He can be found on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Redheadedpharm.
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