GROCERY STORE PHARMACISTS: SPECIALIZING IN CUSTOMER SERVICE

Pharmacy Careers, Volume 0, 0

GROCERY STORE PHARMACIESare a relatively recent phenomenon,but it did not take long for customersto realize the advantages of havingtheir prescriptions filled in the sameplace they buy their other goods.Many customers appreciate the convenienceof having their prescriptionsfilled while they do their groceryshopping, and pharmacists are able todevelop good relationships withpatients who are also regular shoppers.Pharmacy students who want tofocus on customer service andbecome part of a strong communitywill find all that and more at theirlocal grocery chain pharmacy.

A FAMILY HISTORY OFCUSTOMER SERVICE

A grocery chain that ranks high inthe area of customer service is Wegmans.Wegmans has come a long waysince John and Walter Wegmanopened its flagship store in Rochester,NY, in 1930. Since then, the companyhas expanded to become one of thetop grocery chains in the country andone of the top 10 "Best Companies toWork For" in Fortune magazine for thepast 4 years.Wegmans first introduceda pharmacy into its Lyell Avenue storein Rochester in 1972, and today, all oftheir stores have pharmacies, many ofthem are open 24 hours. Their commitmentto pharmacy excellence wasmade evident with the donation of $5million to St. John Fisher College inRochester to open the Robert B. WegmanSchool of Pharmacy in 2005.Wegmans is known for their quality incustomer service,exceptional value,and, most importantly,commitmentto their employees.They have 71 storesin New York, Pennsylvania,New Jersey,Maryland, and Virginia,with severalmore slated to openin the next few years.

Robert Lautman,RPh, was the ownerof his own pharmacybefore he decided tojoin the new Wegmans that openedrecently in Cherry Hill, NJ. At first, hewas not sure that a large chain coulddeliver the kind of customer servicehe had been used to giving at his ownstore, but he was pleasantly surprisedby Wegmans. "Basically, your pictureof a chain pharmacy is ‘hurry up,here's your prescription, next,'but nothere. Here, everyone's friendly andtakes the time to help customers andanswer questions." Lautman said thestore offers customers workshops onhealth and nutrition, and the pharmacyis always adequately staffed, sothere is always time for personal customerservice.

Dick Standish, RPh, pharmacymanager of one of the Rochesterstores, says that beginning pharmacistsusually train at the central locationbefore getting hands-on experienceat their local Wegmans. They areassigned to a senior pharmacist, anddepending on past pharmacy experience,can expect to train for at least 2to 3 months. "They really look forpharmacists who know their stuff," he said, "and who also have goodcommunication skills—being able tocommunicate with customers, as wellas coworkers, is key." Standish alsosays that Wegmans offers continuingeducation (CE) and other educationalopportunities on-line to theirpharmacists.

The customer service does not stopat the store. Wegmans pharmacistsalso write topical articles on differenthealth care issues for the company'sWeb site, so even when patients areunable to make it to the pharmacy,the pharmacists are still able to helpthem by sharing their knowledge online.George Amendolare, PharmD,of the Ithaca, NY, store, says that theautomated system that is tied to thecentral Rochester location is able tohelp customers with minor thingssuch as prescription refills, freeingthe pharmacists up to spend moretime with patients.

REACHING OUT TO THECOMMUNITY

Another chain that prides itself oncustomer relations is the Kroger Co.Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio,Kroger is one of the nation's largestgrocery retailers, with over 2500stores in 31 states, 1443 of which featurepharmacies. They operate undernearly 2 dozen banners, all of whichshare the same belief in buildingstrong local ties and brand loyaltywith their customers. The Kroger Cointroduced the first Kroger retailfood and drug combination store in1961, and now has grown theirorganization to include a family of 9brand name stores that contain pharmaciesthroughout the nation.Kroger's new "Food & Drug" prototypeputs a mini drug store right bythe main entrance for easier customeraccess.

Kroger offers the opportunity tocombine a student's talents with thelatest in pharmacy technology to offerinnovative care and service to theirpatients. Chris Boyden, PharmD,pharmacy manager at the Lancaster,Ohio, store, tells about the kind ofpeople Kroger is looking to hire fortheir pharmacies. "They should beambitious and ready to further theirpharmacy careers. Kroger promotesfrom within, and a beginning pharmacistcan go on to becomea pharmacy manager, pharmacycoordinator, and evencorporate office positions.Our current head of merchandisingis a licensedpharmacist."

Interns train at the corporateoffice for a total of 5 to6 days at intervals, andspend their time at thepharmacy learning fromanother pharmacist on a one-on-onebasis. The stores are adequatelystaffed, so students do not feel rushedduring their training. Kroger alsooffers live CEs 4 times a year, as well asencouraging their pharmacists to availthemselves to other educationalopportunities.

Kroger is also involved in communityoutreach, offering free on-sitescreenings for their patients for bloodsugar, bone density, cholesterol levels,and blood pressure. Each Kroger pharmacistis also a licensed immunizer, sothey are able to offer patients on-site flushots as well. The store supports theefforts of their pharmacists to reach outto their communities as well, such asnursing home visits to educate patientswho may not be able to come to an onsitescreening.

The company also sponsors theKroger Patient Care Centers, whichfunction as an extension of the dispensingpharmacy. The centers providean outreach that serves the communityby providing an expandedlevel of pharmaceutical care. Thisincludes wellness and screening servicesfor diabetes, hyperlipidemia, andosteoporosis. In addition, diseasestate management programs providepharmacists the opportunity to workwith other health care professionalsto help patients better manage theirchronic diseases.