Innovative Thinking: Tips to Improve Your Pharmacy Business with Innovation

March 21, 2016By Articles, Independent Pharmacy


Written by and published in Elements magazine, March 14, 2016

As the health care landscape changes, pharmacists have to adapt and grow. That starts with thinking differently.

“People change. So must pharmacy,” said Dave Wendland, vice president 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.

“Staying stagnant and not innovating is a death sentence,” he said.

Are you ready to think like an innovator?

Traits of innovators

Change happens all the time. Trends change. Patients change. Health care changes. Independent community pharmacies must innovate to accommodate change.

“If independent pharmacy operators aren’t reinventing, reimagining and reshaping their businesses, they’re likely receding and retreating,” Wendland said.

Wendland calls these types of businesses “establishment retailers.” Establishment retailers are the pharmacies choosing to live in the past, and they haven’t caught up to the present, he said.

Differentiating your business

Innovators are those businesses that aren’t afraid of making mistakes. They’re the ones that are always striving to push their limits, Wendland said.

Wendland believes successful innovators in pharmacy are those who bring new value to their patient base, and who refuse to surrender to the competition. Specialty pharmacies that focus on conditions such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis and respiratory conditions are one example.

“Specialty pharmacies have aspired to be different in the marketplace,” Wendland said. “They’ve transformed their approach to patient care, and they’ve reengineered their entire operation.”

Pharmacies that focus on niche areas, such as women’s health, diabetes or other chronic conditions, also provide unique experiences for patients, he said. “They’re redirecting energies to something that’s going to resonate with the population they hope to serve.”

Steps to innovation

The first step is always the most difficult. Pharmacies looking to become innovators must understand that the first step is not the final one.

“Innovation is iterative, and improvements are continual,” Wendland said. “The most important action to take when getting started is to remember the saying, ‘Think big, but start small.’”

If you don’t consider yourself to be an innovative thinker, Wendland has a few nuggets of advice. He recommends reading and continually learning.

Wendland suggests that pharmacists commit to reading one new, industry-relevant article each day, so at the end of one year they have countless ideas to consider applying to their businesses.

“Everybody can be creative,” he said. “Innovation simply means being open to new ideas.”

Wendland also advises pharmacies to look outside their four walls. Visit other pharmacies, and also visit retailers outside of your industry to gain insights.

“You could even learn from Bass Pro Shops,” he said. “Maybe you see they have a class on fly fishing and think, ‘I could offer a class that helps people learn how to care for a loved one who is bedridden.’”

Wendland said innovation should be a team effort, and suggests you give your team the freedom to brainstorm. “The good news about community pharmacy is they can try just about anything. There isn’t a corporate office where you have to run it up the flagpole,” he said. “If you want to do something new, do it.’”

Ideas into action

Once you put an idea into action, how do you determine whether it was a success?

Examining the hard numbers and how much your business profited monetarily from the new endeavor is useful in measuring success. However, Wendland recommends measuring the soft data as well.

“Don’t overlook the value in customer satisfaction and employee happiness,” he said. “To determine success, you must quantify both variables.”

Pharmacists should expect to run into a few obstacles to innovation. Wendland recommends considering your budget when deliberating ideas, but to always be open to new ideas and to overcome the initial resistance to change.

“A great idea sometimes comes with a high price tag,” Wendland said. “That’s where we go back to, ‘Think big, start small.’ If the big idea costs too much, then instead of saying, ‘Nope, we’re not going to do anything,’ the response should be, ‘What can we do, within our budget?’ That’s where real creativity can pay off.”

About the expert

Dave Wendland, vice president and member of the owners group at Hamacher Resource Group, will share more insights into thinking outside of the box during a continuing education session at the Next! 2016 PBA Health Conference & Business Seminar, June 24-26, 2016 in Kansas City, Mo.

Learn more and register to attend at

Innovation inspiration

Use these simple strategies to help you think like an innovator.

  • Take a different route to your pharmacy each morning on your commute.
  • Walk in your pharmacy as if you were a customer. Write down the first three things you see when you walk in.
  • Visit a retailer. Notice an idea that strikes you? Write that down. It could possibly work for your business.
  • Give yourself permission to dream. Never give up on the “what if’s” in life.