Franchising Offers the Support to Satisfy the Entrepreneurial Spirit

SEPTEMBER 01, 2008
Elizabeth S. Roop

Ms. Roop is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida.

After spending more than a decade as clinical pharmacist of the Head and Chronic Pain Unit at Chelsea Community Hospital in Chelsea, Michigan, where she also served as director of pharmaceutical services, Sahar Swidan, PharmD, BCPS, knew that she had found her calling in pain management. ?We were doing such great things on the inpatient side, and I wanted to implement that same concept in the community setting since it was lacking,? said Swidan.

She was troubled by the fragmentation of pharmacy care, particularly for patients with chronic diseases or pain. Individuals often need to see multiple physicians and pharmacy specialists for pain management, medication therapy management (MTM), compounding, standard prescriptions, and vitamins. ?I wanted to shift that paradigm, because I think we can provide great clinical solutions in the community,? she said.

The result was Pharmacy Solutions, where physicians, pharmacists, and other clinicians provide a full spectrum of pharmacy care under one roof, including compounding, MTM, and patient counseling. They fill regular prescriptions, too, as well as offer a line of high-quality vitamins and supplements and conduct classes on disease state management, medication safety, etc.

Good Neighbor Pharmacy: Not a Typical Franchise

Given the highly specialized nature of Pharmacy Solutions, it may come as a surprise to learn that it also is part of Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP), an AmerisourceBergen program and one of the nation?s largest branded independent pharmacy networks.

Swidan says that her affiliation with GNP has given her access to tools and support that have helped her pharmacy thrive without sacrificing her independence. It allows her to stay competitive and provide niche care for patients who need more specialized services.

?Good Neighbor Pharmacy is more like a trademark with a certain look and feel. They nudge, but they leave the creativity and independence up to me. We offer a ton of innovative services that some of the other [franchises] might have hindered due to corporate policies and rules,? she said.

GNP is a network of nearly 3000 independently owned and operated community pharmacies. Another 1700 affiliate stores participate in the company?s GNP Provider Network, which provides access to national and regional third-party contracts.

GNP franchise pharmacies have access to a variety of programs designed to strengthen their core prescription business, including business intelligence, specialty programs for patient education, and a business coach who provides recommendations to improve business practices to maximize revenues.

?The primary differentiator between us and any other franchise program is that there are really no franchise fees or costs for participation in the program,? said Jim Grigg, AmerisourceBergen group vice president of program management for retail.

Instead, GNP stores pay a participation fee for the programs and services they use. They also have the option of being a full franchise or an affiliate, depending on the level of relationship that best suits their needs.

For example, GNP Premier bundles services offered to franchise stores and makes them available to any independent franchise. It is a way to give even nonaffiliates access to GNP programs aimed at increasing patient safety, improving workflow, and increasing the quality of services.

?We do not have a one-size-fitsall chain model franchise answer. What we have is an opportunity for you to run your local store, your local business, yet we bring to you the knowledge and expertise that we have in this industry,? said Anthony Caffentzis, group vice president for retail solutions.

The pricing benefits and programs that come with being a GNP affiliate or franchise are important, but the real value lies in the expertise and tools the company can provide to independent pharmacies.

?We can help them be successful in that endeavor. Whether it is an existing store or new store or someone trying to start out a new business, they will have the normal challenges of any new business?. But from a business coaching perspective, we can help them,? said Grigg.

In doing so, GNP can help pharmacists with an entrepreneurial spirit achieve their dreams of business ownership, with a little extra support to help them along the way.

?The beauty of our program is that we are not trying to force fit any numbers from us onto a customer. We are trying to help our customers grow in the best way for them, and flexibility should make our program fit them,? said Caffentzis.

Medicine Shoppe International

Medicine Shoppe International (MSI), a full-service franchise system with more than 850 Medicine Shoppe and Medicap Pharmacy stores, also is focused on providing its franchisees with the tools and support they need to succeed in today?s highly competitive environment.

MSI provides turnkey programs designed to enhance the ability of their franchisees to deliver higher patient care. It also is able to secure preferred vendor agreements and third-party contracts that are often out of the reach of independent pharmacies and provides franchisees with discounts and exclusive programs that reduce costs on store supplies and services, while generating new revenue streams.

Mike Myer

?To survive in today?s pharmacy industry, a franchisee must do more than dispense medications. A successful franchisee must dedicate time and energy into other revenue-generating programs, and MSI has several niche programs that will assist franchisees in generating sales,? said Mike Meyer, vice president of franchise development for MSI. ?Typically, the strongest franchisees understand and utilize the entire franchise system?from the marketing support and direction to operational systems and guidance to purchasing advantages and contracting?while continuing to take pride and satisfaction in servicing their customers.?

Some MSI programs are customer-facing, designed to enhance the franchisees? personalized business approach or community presence. Others are back-office support programs to help them operate more efficiently and effectively.

For example, each franchisee is provided with a designated franchise business consultant, who is responsible for guiding franchisees in their efforts to maintain and grow their business, increase top-line sales, maximize profitability, and control expenses.

?We offer the complete package, whether a franchisee requires assistance with business issues, such as training or managing third-party reimbursements, or they are looking for a turnkey clinical program to help differentiate from the competition,? said Meyer. ??Many of our franchisees are not business people, and that is why they became a franchisee, to receive the business support so they can concentrate on taking care of their customers. They want to be known as the health care expert in their local communities.?

To that end, MSI is working to strengthen existing stores by providing niche programs for immunizations, diabetes, and compounding. MSI also is focusing on individualized store business plans, combining market-specific opportunities with the business and personal goals of franchisees.

That type of tailored business support is something any potential franchisee should consider when determining whether to purchase a franchise, along with their own past work experiences and financial positions.

?MSI does provide business guidance and expertise to assist our franchisees in operating the pharmacy,? said Meyer. ?Therefore, they need less business experience than if they were to operate an independent pharmacy. We tell our franchisees that they are ?in business for themselves, but not by themselves.??

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