(Photo above: ProxsysRx’s pharmacy at Terrebonne General Health System, in Houma, LA)

The Retail Component

“Dawn Dobersztyn does not get enough credit,” says ProxsysRx COO Billy Calhoun. “When you think about it, retail is the face of our pharmacies. It’s the first thing people see when they walk in the door. And here’s the thing: Everyone thinks they’re a retail expert. Everyone has opinions on what we should sell in our stores. Well, Dawn is a magician.

“Most of our hospital pharmacy sites are challenged by small spaces, so selection of every item we sell is critical. I can honestly say there is very little that Dawn (ProxsysRx Director Of Retail Operations) offers in our stores that doesn’t sell well.”

Pharmacy Retail, from concept to completion, in her own words

Dawn Dobersztyn

Implementation of a new hospital pharmacy starts for me when I get the architectural drawings. I look them over to ensure that there are no issues with the front end. Then I take the front-end area drawings, and make drawings of my own on the Mac. I use my drawings to note the number of shelves, the height and width of each fixture, and to identify space for freestanding spinners.

Once my drawings are complete, I can visualize what the store will look like. From there, I can begin laying-out where each department will go, while entertaining various hospital pharmacy workflow ideas. I normally start with OTC products, then move-on to gift and convenience items.

I share those drawings with my team members for their input, so we can proactively make changes to the retail-space layout before physical buildout starts. I also share those drawings with our rep at Cardinal Health — who handles the OTC products we’ll place in each store. That way, our partners at Cardinal can visualize the space they’ll be working with — and begin planning from their end — prior to store set-up. One reason this step is important is, OTC departments need more space in some pharmacies, and others will require slats for hanging products.

Every hospital-pharmacy’s retail space is different.

Drawings are typically set several months before we open. When we’re about two months from opening, I’ll start work on an assessment — determining the right product mix to best serve the community. Since no two spaces are exactly alike, it’s imperative to prioritize products and choose what’s needed most. Given the number of pharmacies we’ve stocked over the years, we have a pretty good handle on hospital pharmacy inventory management best practices. We know the common items that are popular at all our hospital pharmacies. At the same time, I always like to get recommendations from people in our new markets — particularly hospital employees, since they’re likeliest to be our most-regular, repeat customers. I also like to look-through other nearby retail establishments, to see what’s selling there.

Establishing a relationship with the hospital’s gift shop

Whenever a hospital has a gift shop (and most do), I’ll reach out to the people working there — to make sure that what we’re offering complements what they offer. It’s only natural that they’d be concerned our pharmacy could take-away some of their business — so one of my first jobs in establishing a good working relationship is to assure them that we will not be in competition. Gift shops can be a great revenue source for hospitals, and a great service to its patients and their families.

In my experience, some of the best gift shops are run by volunteers — who do a great job of selecting popular items for their customers — and we want to see them continue thriving. Between the pharmacy and the gift shop, it’s our goal to create a destination — both for the visitors and the employees of the health systems we serve. In the same way that a McDonald’s revenues often increase after a Wendy’s opens nearby, with two complementing stores, it’s a win-win situation that benefits both of us — and, more importantly, the hospital’s patients and employees.

Conway Medical Center in Conway, SC, is a good example of creating a destination. When the gift shop managers learned we were opening in the hospital lobby right across from their store, they were a little worried. So when we introduced ourselves, and addressed their concerns, we talked with them at length about what their focus was. Well, they concentrate on baby items, so we focused our Gift Mix on items for older age groups.

(Side Note: When hospital gift shops, like Conway’s, offer fresh flowers, we may sell Paper Cut flowers that come in pop-up cards — for patients in the ICU, and other areas that don’t allow real flowers in the rooms.)

That said, our pharmacies’ hours are usually longer than hospital gift shops’, so we’ll probably have some product overlap with them — for things like phone chargers, umbrellas, snacks and other high-demand items. Eventually, patients and employees come to recognize that they can visit our pharmacy or the gift shop, and find what they’re looking-for most of the time. At Conway, ProxsysRx’s pharmacy staffers often refer visitors to the gift shop — and vice versa.

Serving pharmacy-customer needs changes with each season

It’s a pretty simple concept: If a store opens during Christmas, your product mix should be a bit different than what you offer in the Spring. And for pharmacies in the North during Winter months, customers need products that just aren’t important in the South.

Scheduling the pharmacy-merchandising workflow

The next step in our process is finalizing the store layout. Once that’s settled, we start ordering everything that goes into a pharmacy — from displays to products and props. I like to think of filling a store as working a giant puzzle, where every piece goes into its own place. This is one of the fun parts of my job, but it also leads to the most time- and labor-intensive part: Inventory management.

Once items are ordered, they need to be entered into our point-of-sale system — which takes weeks to complete, because we normally have thousands of SKUs. At the same time, that system has to work seamlessly with our outpatient pharmacy software. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t express just how grateful I am for Shequila Bellamy — our Retail Support Specialist — who works with me to ensure that every product is in the system, prior to opening day. She’s an expert with our point-of-sale system, and knows how to work with the experts installing our outpatient pharmacy software.

Hiring the hospital-pharmacy’s Front End Coordinator

During the planning phase, Bre Lemons — with our HR department — is busy finding us Front-End Coordinator (FEC) candidates for our new store. Once we have several good candidates, I work closely with Bre in selecting the person we hire.

An FEC handles our front-end day to day. She (or he) is a critical part of our team, because they often interact with our customers more than anyone else in the pharmacy — and in that regard, they can become the “face” of our pharmacy. They take responsibility for ensuring we have a clean and welcoming environment. More importantly, they’re the people who welcome our guests, answer their questions, assist them with their purchases — and, hopefully, offer that little dose of kindness that can make so much difference in a customer’s day.

Ideally, our FECs are hired and onboarded prior to set-up, so they can work with me, hands-on, during the set-up process. That way they get a much better sense of what we’re offering.

Sorting and placing hospital pharmacy merchandise

Once all our inventory is on-site, we normally have a week to take a pharmacy from Empty to Fully Stocked. That may not sound like a lot of time, but I’ve been with ProxsysRx since we opened our first pharmacy — and my team of three (myself, Shequila, and our Cardinal rep) now have everything down to a science. We often have one of ProxsysRx’s project managers on site — and, sometimes, even our pharmacists are there to assist as well.

Every product we order is shipped to us in boxes. Stacked all together, those boxes would make a pile several feet high — with roughly the footprint of two king-sized beds. We spend most of our first day onsite unpacking and sorting items by general location, which can be a real challenge — since all of our aisles are now filled with boxes. We begin by placing similar items together — inspirational in a section, bath in a section, convenience in a section, and so on — until all the boxes are unpacked, and items checked for damage.

We have to get all those boxes opened, emptied and moved-out by the end of the day, to make room for our OTC products — which are normally delivered the next day.

Preparing hospital pharmacy merchandise for sale

Once all the product is out, we price each item, and scan it at the register — to make sure it’s ready whenever the first customer arrives. For me, the next step is the really fun part: Merchandising. Which is our opportunity to make our product-mix, and presentation, genuinely appealing to customers.

If we’re lucky, everything goes exactly as planned. We’re rarely that lucky. Which is why we’ve learned to improvise. We’ve also learned to make adjustments when we see opportunities along the way. For instance, at one of our pharmacies, two important boxes didn’t show-up on time — so we created new End Caps that, as it turned-out, were even more appealing than what we’d planned.

Setup weeks are long and hard, but it’s rewarding to gradually transform an empty space into something that (we hope) will bring a little magic to each customer’s experience. By the time I’m ready to leave the store to operate without me, I’m completely confident we have all the ingredients for a successful operation.

My role as Director Of Retail Operations for hospital pharmacies

Needless to say, my job involves a lot of detail work. But it’s also my responsibility to manage people, and to make sure the work gets done. What’s more, while I’m helping open pharmacies, I’m still working closely with the FECs at all of our existing stores — making sure they’re OK, and their operations are running smoothly. For me, that’s the best part of my job — working with our FECs, and being there for them. After all, we can’t succeed without each other.

I think of my role in integrations as being a member of a Marathon relay team. Everyone on the team plays an equally important role, and we all want to do our jobs well enough to confidently pass the baton along to the next person. That’s how we work, and I love being part of a team that create great things, and winning situations, for everyone involved — particularly the patients, families and hospital employees we serve.

Opening a hospital pharmacy is just the beginning

Once a pharmacy is open, we start looking for opportunities to better meet our customers’ needs — tweaking our product mix, finding niches we can fill. We’re always working to keep the retail mix fresh. Our goal is to constantly delight our customers with new items and offerings, while always having the “essentials” in stock.

One of the ways I maintain a steady flow of new product ideas is by attending industry trade shows, where I get the chance to meet with vendors — and listen to the great stories they have to tell about the products they offer. Sharing those stories with our FECs — which they, in turn, share with our customers — enables them to better connect with the people we serve.

And here’s one of the most important things about the way we operate: We don’t train our FECs to “sell.” We teach them how to help each customer make the perfect purchase. When your pharmacy is in a hospital, it’s so important to listen — and be sensitive to what people might be going through. A lot of the customers we serve are under tremendous stress, so we teach FECs to be always inviting and kind, and to help in any way they can.

The same goes with our pharmacists. The way we see it, every person who walks into one of our pharmacies offers us an opportunity to make someone feel better when they leave than they did when they came in. When that happens, we’ve all done our jobs!

ProxsysRx is here to help, if you have questions.

There are so many ways ProxsysRx can help your health system unlock pharmacy’s potential — for better outcomes, and better incomes. To learn more, contact Howard Hall. C: 214.808.2700 | howard.hall@proxsysrx.com