By Jen Johnston, CHHC , senior marketing services account manager

In my last post, I shared the background of Ben and Heather McNabb, a pair of pharmacists in Eastland Texas that took over their local independent pharmacy in 2015, and rebranded it as Love Oak Pharmacy as a way to connect with their community on an emotional level. They combined three distinct businesses into one – a café, gift shop, and the pharmacy – in a concentrated effort to “online-proof” their business.

Love Oak Pharmacy tailors their offerings around “healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit” and a positive in-store experience that can’t be replicated by online competitors. They accomplish this through healthy meals offered in their cafe, vitamins and supplements, weight loss products, and frozen yogurt with reduced sugar and fruit toppings.

With most of their 2,500 sq. ft. warehouse space sitting unused, they are even considering adding a fitness center for their customers. Plus, they may soon use their restaurant to make meal-prep kits, or ready-made fresh or frozen meals for additional help for customers seeking weight loss or healthy eating options. Anything they can do to continue expanding their emotional and mental support as friends of the community and provide additional social support for their patients is always top of mind for Ben and Heather.

Online stores aren’t the only competition to consider. Love Oak’s competitors include Walmart, another independent pharmacy, and a Brookshire Brothers in the next town over. There are also dollar stores and mail order prescriptions. This is where the extra services and offerings are important. For example, they overhauled their gift selection and now focus on items for women and children that range from $10 to $50 and will turn at least three times per year.

They also took the old “drug store soda fountain” concept, a novelty which McNabb didn’t feel evoked the concept of “healthy,” and transformed the café to items made from scratch with a plan to focus on lower-carb menu items that emphasize protein and vegetables. And that frozen yogurt I mentioned? Love Oak is the only place in the area someone can go to get this treat – a healthier nod to the old “soda fountain” days. Love Oak has become a place where friends and family gather.

Love Oak also offers their own branded pill box service that, as McNabb describes it, “changes patients’ lives,” and gives the pharmacy a compelling way to attract new customers. They have the only machine packing pills for patients within a 100-mile radius – and McNabb recently won an award from NCPA for his adherence efforts.

Once they have those new customers, there are other services that set their pharmacy apart including in-store strep and flu testing, diabetes education, and free home delivery (delivered in their Love Oak branded car, of course). McNabb also stresses the importance of a loyalty card program and a way to retain customers and to capture email.

Why is email so important? McNabb reaches out to his customers frequently. He is also a big fan of social media, video advertising, and public appearances at special community events. Check out this amazing float they made for Rip Fest. They also throw a pretty awesome party every holiday season.

Ben McNabb is abounding with inspiration and innovation. He and Heather have done all of this in three years without marketing backgrounds and are “self-taught from Google.” When asked what advice he had for independent pharmacies that may be struggling, he had these additional tips to offer:

  • Explore ways to maximize medication adherence.
  • Keep a lean payroll.
  • Work on increasing average gross profit margin per script.
  • Use your knowledge of therapeutic interchange to find therapies that are a win for your patient and your bottom line.
  • If you’re selling too many prescriptions at a loss, use your knowledge and influence to change negative margin scripts to positive margin scripts.
  • Keep new customer acquisition top of mind.
  • Focus on your “local” advantage. Social media is all about local.
  • Mass-produced national advertising on TV has nothing on the local smiling faces of you and your staff in-store.

In a world where it’s harder to win customers with “best customer service,” “lowest prices,” and “quickest service,” McNabb says you have to do things differently to provide “better care, better health outcomes, local care, local relationships, enhanced pharmacy services, more convenience, and easier service.”

Love Oak Pharmacy has positioned themselves as an integral part of their community with distinct, relevant, evocative branding; unique specialty services; outside-the-box event planning; and strong social media. They are truly an independent innovator and I personally cannot wait to see what they do next!

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