Fixing Your Fixtures: Tips for Selecting Pharmacy Shelving

June 21, 0205By Articles, Independent Pharmacy


Written by and published in Elements magazine, June 15, 2016

Your pharmacy’s fixtures support your front-end sales, organize your back-end workflow and influence how patients perceive the level of service and care you provide at your pharmacy.

Despite all the work your pharmacy’s shelving and fixtures do to support the success of your business, you likely spend little-to-no time thinking about them. And that’s a common issue.

“Most of the independents I see, they never change. They don’t like to change their shelving,” said Jim Deller, a health care storage specialist at Southwest Solutions Group, Inc., a distributor and supplier of innovative shelving systems to all types of businesses, including pharmacies.

Is it time to update, rearrange or completely reimagine your independent community pharmacy’s fixtures?

Time to update

If your pharmacy’s front-end fixtures haven’t been updated recently, there are a few signs that it’s time for an upgrade.

“Look for signs of bending, rust, sharp edges and worn shelves that are no longer functional to display merchandise,” said Dave Wendland, vice president, strategic relations and member of the owners group at Hamacher Resource Group, a leading partner in category management, business strategy and marketing services focused on consumer health care at retail.

Old, broken, or warped fixtures reflect poorly on your pharmacy. “We’ve all been in stores where the shelving is disheveled,” Wendland said.

Patients may associate your pharmacy’s appearance with its level of care. “If you care for your belongings and you care for your appearance, then chances are you’re going to take better care of a patient,” he said.

As you choose fixtures and shelving, it’s important to keep in mind that not all parts of a fixture will wear evenly. “The shelves themselves will likely wear and require replacement faster than the base or even the back of the fixture,” Wendland said.

Strategically planning your pharmacy’s major fixture updates has financial benefits. Roland Thomas, a pharmacy planning consultant at Pharmacy Planning Solutions, a company that helps pharmacies design layouts to maximize space, suggests conducting major fixture updates every eight to 10 years, so you can take advantage of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) depreciation schedule. “It takes a very small percentage increase in business to offset the cost,” he said.

Proper timing can help offset the costs of this major investment, and conducting regular upkeep will help fixtures last longer.

“It should be a constant endeavor,” Thomas said. “Updating includes many things, like keeping the pharmacy neat and clean, painting, replacing the floor covering and maintaining proper lighting.”

One of the most important factors in determining if your pharmacy needs new fixtures is your store’s layout and design. “Keeping the pharmacy layout and design up-to-date should be analyzed constantly and if it has been over 10 years, a total makeover is inevitable,” Thomas said.

A major investment

Replacing or updating your pharmacy’s fixtures is a large investment.

“Purchasing new store fixtures from the factory is a one-time, long-term investment for your pharmacy,” said Steven DiOrio, marketing manager at Handy Store Fixtures, Inc., a company that specializes in manufacturing and shipping factory direct retail store fixtures.

Wendland estimates that for a typical pharmacy with about 3,500 square feet, new front-end fixtures can run between $20,000 to $40,000 or more.

To make sure you get a good return on your investment, Wendland said you should keep the purpose of the investment in mind as you make fixture decisions.

“There are two primary purposes of pharmacy shelving and the investment you make answers to both,” Wendland said. “The primary purpose of a fixture or shelving is that it can house product and allows consumers to select those products themselves. The second big thing is that it forms an impression,” he said. “What is shelving saying about your store?”

Key fixture features                 

When selecting front-end shelving for your pharmacy, there are several key factors to consider, and, according to Wendland, these include functionality, flexibility and form.

Functionality is key. “If it doesn’t have functionality, you’re not going to meet your goal of what that shelving is designed to do, which is to put merchandise in front of shoppers,” he said.

Stylish fixtures, such as those made of glass and wood, and heavily slanted or deep shelves, may attract shoppers’ attention initially. However, Thomas warns they’re difficult to adapt and poorly suited to pharmacies’ front ends, where it’s essential to have fixtures that are conducive to effective merchandising.

“Overuse of angles, curved fixtures and counters may be appealing, but they’re very expensive, more difficult to merchandise, confuse customers and waste valuable space without making any contribution,” he said.

And, making the most out of the space you have is only becoming more important as the cost for space increases, he said.

Flexibility also matters. “You want to make sure that the fixtures meet not just your needs for today, but your anticipated needs down the road,” Wendland said.

Common mistakes that create inflexibility include laying carpeting after installing fixtures, selecting custom-built cabinets with shelves that can’t be moved for different-sized products, or using a design that doesn’t allow you to incorporate new features in the future, such as innovative lighting techniques. All of these create rigid, inflexible shelving.

“That’s a mistake that should be avoided at all costs,” Wendland said. “The ability to move those shelves around is really important.”

Deller said it can be tempting to choose less flexible fixtures that are also less expensive, such as casework cabinets for your back end, also known as built-in cabinets. But, in the long run, their inability to change can cost you.

“It’s cheaper, but the disadvantages are if you want to make a change, you have to get a construction permit, and you have to hire a contractor or carpenter to rip it out,” he said. “I would strongly suggest staying away from casework and choosing something that would serve into the future, and maybe spend a little more.”

Finally, you need to consider the form, or the specific physical features of the fixture or shelving, from the customer’s point-of-view. “Quite often, the customer’s anticipated reaction is ignored,” Thomas said.

The fixture has to be simple and safe for the customer to use, Wendland said. For example, locked cases don’t provide customers with good interactions, and sharp edges or difficult-to-reach shelves create potential hazards. Also, cluttered or narrow aisles can make it difficult to shop and navigate.

“Create a store design layout that will guide customers easily throughout your entire pharmacy,” DiOrio said. “From the placement of the checkout counter, to the location of the prescription department, and everything in-between, the goal of every pharmacist is to create a store atmosphere that makes customers comfortable.”

Front end vs. back end               

Your pharmacy’s front end and back end serve different purposes, and they require different kinds of fixtures. It’s essential to choose the right shelving solutions for each area of your pharmacy.

“In the back area of the pharmacy, in the prescription area, it’s all about efficiency, productivity and workflow,” Wendland said.

Deller said the back end should include a combination of high-density shelving to maximize your space, bulk rack storage for larger items, and open or slanted shelving for visibility, which Deller said is crucial to helping your staff efficiently navigate your back end. “Being able to see your inventory levels is key,” he said.

Front-end shelving is more about the fixture’s ability to merchandise and the ease of moving products.

“Ideally, we want the customer to view as much merchandise as possible without forcing them,” Thomas said.

Front-end shelving should promote the shopping experience, Wendland said. “It’s about creating an environment that encourages consumers and patients to shop the aisles, not just clear a pathway to the prescription counter,” he said.

It’s also important to plan for your front-end needs. DiOrio said your front-end fixtures and layout should be designed to work well with planograms that can help boost front-end sales.

“Planograms take into account the shelf size, gondola height, and shelf count on each section,” DiOrio said. “If your planogram is displaying oral products, you might need a 12- or 14-inch shelf, based on the size of the product. Cleaning supplies, including detergent and other similar merchandise, calls for 14- or 16-inch shelves.”

Adjustability is important, too. Being able to adjust your shelves ensures that you can properly display items, which will encourage front-end sales. And, Wendland noted that some patients won’t purchase products if they’re displayed in an unflattering manner.

“Imagine a foot care category where you wouldn’t be able to hang insoles and other foot accessories in a peg section,” he said. “If you laid them down on a shelf where they wouldn’t be easily seen, would a consumer really want to shop that category?”

New vs. used

When choosing between purchasing new or used fixtures, there’s more to consider than the initial cost.

Wendland recommends that pharmacies consider purchasing used fixtures. “Look at the secondary market,” he said. “Pharmacists might be able to find slightly used or gently used fixtures and shelving that are fit for their purpose.”

However, DiOrio warned that purchasing cheap or used shelving can create more problems than it solves. “The biggest problem with purchasing cheap or used store fixtures for a pharmacy is the overall atmosphere your pharmacy will portray to your customers,” DiOrio said.

“If you purchase used shelving, there’s a good chance you won’t be purchasing the exact sizes needed for your location,” he said. “Buying used shelving is a cheaper alternative in the short term, but the shelves will usually be ruined within a few years.”

Professional perks

When it’s time to upgrade your pharmacy’s fixtures, consider seeking outside professional help.

Wendland said consultants bring a fresh perspective, and they offer experience and objectivity. “We all work too close to the forest to see the trees, and pharmacists are no exception,” he said. “Pharmacists are always looking at the store from the prescription counter out, rather than from the front door in.”

Wendland said Hamacher’s 360° Store Assessments program can help pharmacists see their fixtures from a new point-of-view, and it provides ways to increase the functionality and utility of their current equipment.

“The overall goal of a 360° Assessment centers on the customer experience,” he said. “Our goal is to increase the merchandise-ability and the usefulness of existing fixtures.” Adjustments can include rearranging fixtures, changing the front-end configuration, eliminating common line-of-sight errors and resizing departments.

Thomas said Pharmacy Planning Solutions’ years of experience helps pharmacies create the best possible layout and experience for patients.

“I have worked with hundreds of pharmacies of all types and sizes,” he said. “We take what we have learned and pass it on to others.”

Experts, like those at Pharmacy Planning Solutions, can also help pharmacy owners understand how fixtures and layout changes affect their patients.

“I have a much better understanding about how most customers react to all aspects,” he said. “Creating the best layout and design is considering several factors at the same time, all of which should work together like a well-oiled machine.”

Professional expertise can also help you fill in knowledge gaps.

“We completely understand not understanding everything there is to know about shelving and retail store design,” DiOrio said. “Even something like taking very simple measurements of floor space can be a challenge.”

Each pharmacy’s specific features, including columns, windows, plumbing and electrical outlets, can be challenging when creating a layout, but professionals can help. Professionals can also ensure that your design meets all local and federal regulations, such as the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires aisles to be 36 inches wide, Deller said.

“Shelving providers will work hand-in-hand with the retailer to come up with the best possible layout based on all those factors,” DiOrio said.

Pharmacies can select fixtures on their own from retailers, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot, but those fixtures might not be the best option for your business.

“You get what you pay for,” Deller said. “When you go through a cheaper outlet, you may not be working with someone who understands pharmacy.”

Wendland cautioned against working with someone who isn’t familiar with the industry.

“A typical cabinet manufacturer doesn’t understand the nuances of the retail environment, durability, flexibility or even characteristics that go with the weight and movability of these fixtures,” he said.

Working with a pharmacy professional can help you translate your business’s specific needs into a layout, floor plan and fixtures that work well together, and meet your needs and your budget, Deller said.

“We can come in for a free estimate and we work with space planners and architects,” he said. “We understand pharmacy storage. We can help design the storage solution for them.”

“Working with a designer or architect who knows pharmacy layout, that’s important,” Deller said. “They need to understand the flow of how they want their pharmacy to work.”

Going it alone may be cheaper but may not work well in the long run. “Spend money to get something that provides a solution,” Deller said. “The biggest thing is making sure that you’re selecting something that’s right for you.”

Shelving terminology

When it comes to shelving options, you have a lot to choose from. Here’s a look at some common pharmacy shelving terms to help you sort through the clutter.

Casework refers to built-in cabinets. These are usually found in the back of the pharmacy. Moveable casework is a popular alternative to traditional casework today because it’s designed to be customized, modified, relocated and reused, while maintaining the look of built-in cabinets.

Double slotted uprights
This type of retail shelving is mounted onto a wall to transform the wall into a shelving unit. It accepts shelves and shelf brackets.

End caps
End caps are one-sided retail displays, usually placed on the end of a gondola or aisle. They’re used to highlight merchandise.

Freestanding displays
These self-supporting retail displays include a variety of types and sizes. A common one for pharmacies is a four-sided freestanding display. These displays are easily moveable, so you can switch them out and move them around to make sure your best-selling items are the most prominent.

Gondola shelving
Gondola shelving is a retail display unit with two sides that’s designed for merchandising the center portion of your pharmacy.

Pegboard is a standard backing unit for many retail shelves. You can display items using standard pegboard hooks, baskets or pegboard scanner hooks, which come with a clear plastic label holder. Pegboards are great for showcasing items that don’t work well placed on a shelf, such as footwear insoles, toothbrushes and compression hose.

Rx Bay Units
These are a typical back-of-store shelving unit used to house pharmaceuticals. They often have a solid back panel and are made of metal.

Slatwall panels
Slatwall panels transform walls into retail displays. They’re composed of slots that are compatible with baskets, hooks, sign holders and shelf brackets to display products in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Sources: Handy Store Fixtures, Discount Shelving & Displays, Southwest Solutions Group

What’s trending?

A look at the latest trends in pharmacy fixtures and shelving.

Growing behind-the-counter needs
An increasing number of products designated as over-the-counter (OTC) might soon be required to be stored behind the counter, said Dave Wendland, vice president, strategic relations and member of the owners group at Hamacher Resource Group, a leading partner in category management, business strategy and marketing services focused on consumer health care at retail.

“In future terms, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may require additional products to be placed behind that counter,” Wendland said. Being able to display these products that require a pharmacist interaction is a key trend to consider when selecting backend shelving. “I think that it’s going to be a growing area of need in the pharmacy side of the business,” he said.

Innovating lighting
“There’s some really dramatic things taking place right now with lighting in and around shelving,” Wendland said. Keep that in mind, and arrange your front-end fixtures to allow wiring for lighting, in case you want to add it in the future.

“In order to enhance certain merchandise, such as beauty products, many pharmacies have started to incorporate LED lights underneath the gondola shelves,” said Steven DiOrio, marketing manager at Handy Store Fixtures, Inc., a company that specializes in manufacturing and shipping factory direct retail store fixtures.

Choosing the right color
When selecting fixture colors, classic neutral colors remain popular.

“Neutral color shelving makes the space appear larger, reduces shadows and shows off colorful merchandise much better,” said Roland Thomas, a pharmacy planning consultant at Pharmacy Planning Solutions, a company that helps pharmacies design layouts to maximize space.“Since most independent pharmacies are smaller today, neutral colors in most areas are preferable.”

DiOrio said that because pharmacies are health care practices, fixtures in pharmacies are expected to reflect a sterile environment, and pharmacies should consider using a paper white color. “Bright white shelves are very easy to clean and always look brand new when taken care of,” he said.