Deliver Great Service — Right to Your Customers’ Doors
Free prescription delivery pays off with new and loyal customers
When Renny Kurup opened Halsted Health Mart Pharmacy in Chicago in July 2010, he offered free prescription delivery to grow his business. “Now it has a life of its own,” he said of the service. “I don’t have 50 locations like Walgreens and CVS, but it [delivery service] sets me apart from the big-box stores and chains.” From Halsted Health Mart’s single location in Lincoln Park, two drivers can cover north and south Chicago, averaging 50 deliveries a day.
Martella’s Pharmacy in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, has offered free prescription delivery for as long as Kathleen Martella-Zucco and her brother can remember … and their father started the business 50 years ago. At a time when independent community pharmacies are fighting to stay alive, personalized service makes a difference, said Martella-Zucco, director of operations and marketing for the business, which now has five retail pharmacies.
Convenience Is King: Bringing Your Pharmacy to Customers
Read pharmacy reviews on social media sites such as Yelp, and you will find customers raving about free delivery. “It’s almost a must right now” to offer free delivery, said Tim McDaniel, pharmacy manager at Commonwealth Family Pharmacy in Owensboro, Kentucky.
Delivery is convenient for those who don’t have a car and people who are sick or caring for others. “If you have the flu and you just came from the doctor’s office, the last thing you want to do is walk into a pharmacy,” Martella-Zucco said.
Most think elderly patients with limited transportation and homebound customers are the biggest users of delivery services. “These patients have to have the delivery service or they’re not going to get their meds,” said Jon Brunswig, who owns four Health Mart pharmacies in Western Kansas with his wife, Jena. However, many busy people also take advantage of pharmacy delivery. In fact, most of Kurup’s deliveries go to young business professionals, with more than 30% of his pharmacy’s prescription deliveries going to workplaces.
Delivery also works in rural areas. Tom Wullstein, owner of Brandon Health Mart Pharmacy in South Dakota, said he has regular orders from customers in Sioux Falls, a neighboring community, because he offers multi-dose packaging and delivery and is able to serve them every month.
Making Free Delivery Affordable and Effective
Whether they make one delivery a day or 60, independent community pharmacies have found that offering this service pays off. Here are some of the ways to make it work and some things to consider when getting started:
- Save on vehicle expenses. Owners often use their personal vehicles, so the only costs to the business are for insurance and fuel. Martella’s and the Brunswigs buy used vehicles for pharmacy deliveries. On the flip side, Kurup’s drivers provide their own vehicles and show proof they are insured. As always, it is a best practice to consult with your lawyer and insurance carrier before deciding what will work best for you.
- Provide regular drivers. Customers like to recognize the people who are knocking on their door to deliver their medications. If Martella’s hires a new driver, that person will accompany the previous driver on the route to meet regular customers first.
“My delivery drivers know our customers well enough that they know when they’re home and when they’re not in,” Brunswig said. That allows drivers to plan delivery times. For example, in one town, many of those who receive deliveries eat lunch at the community center. “That’s a big spot where we can take care of a lot of people at once,” Brunswig said.
While some pharmacies hire full- or part-time drivers, Kurup pays his drivers per delivery and pays for their gasoline. He pays his drivers well, but Kurup says it’s worth it to his business.
- Show off your brand. A delivery can be a marketing opportunity with your pharmacy’s name on the vehicle and drivers in uniforms. Kurup’s drivers place magnetic signs that say “Another Speedy Delivery by Halsted Health Mart Pharmacy” on their vehicles. A custom paint job or vehicle wrap with your pharmacy’s logo is another option. While Kurup’s drivers wear green and blue Health Mart polo shirts and hats, Martella’s drivers switch up their delivery uniform depending on the weather, wearing baseball or knit caps, winter coats, or shirts with the Martella’s Pharmacy name. The Brunswigs’ drivers simply wear name tags.
- Set a schedule. Fine-tune your delivery system based on your volume and capabilities. For prescriptions received by 1:30 p.m., Halsted Pharmacy turns around and delivers them from 2 to 7 p.m. Since Wullstein’s volume is low, he asks when people need their prescriptions and often delivers them on his way home from work. One of Martella’s pharmacies is in a remote area, so that location delivers only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tim McDaniel of Commonwealth Family Pharmacy is somewhere in the middle. He offers one delivery time during the day and another at 6 p.m., when the pharmacy closes and people are arriving home from work. And, many community pharmacies make exceptions when they know their customers need a delivery even outside of regular hours or days
- Capture information. Recordkeeping options range from low-tech to high-tech. Martella’s and the Brunswigs keep paper records of the prescription number and customer signatures. Wullstein uses Rx30 software, so when he scans a prescription out for delivery it prints a receipt with the address and phone number, which he staples to the bag along with a signature sticker. Then he scans it back into the system after delivery. Kurup’s drivers have Kindle Fire mini-tablet computers that link to the pharmacy-management system. The drivers download the delivery information, collect signatures on the devices, and then upload the information to the pharmacy.
- Define payment options. Martella’s drivers can make change for cash payments or accept checks, or the pharmacy will bill the customers. The Brunswigs’ delivery logs allow drivers to circle whether the customer pays by cash, check, credit card, or billing through an account at the pharmacy. For his drivers’ safety in Chicago, Kurup collects co-payments only via credit card. “We don’t want our drivers getting mugged,” he explained.
- Expand beyond driving range. Offering delivery outside your area is another way to expand your business and retain customers. A few years ago, one of Kurup’s customers forgot to bring a medication on a vacation to Florida. He didn’t want to go to a chain, so he called Halsted Pharmacy, which shipped the medication overnight to his hotel. Now Kurup offers free FedEx delivery nationwide, taking advantage of a discount he receives on the shipping service as a Health Mart pharmacy. “That’s a significant amount of business now too,” Kurup said, both to Chicago residents who spend winters in Arizona or Florida, and to customers who use his compounding service. “That’s how our compounding really grew,” he said. The Brunswigs also offer delivery to rural customers through the U.S. Postal Service for a fee of $2.50.
- Offer more than just prescriptions. Although Martella’s free delivery is mainly for prescriptions, if customers want to add other items to the delivery order they can. Because the pharmacies also have a “quasi grocery store,” Martella-Zucco explained, a customer may ask to add aspirin, bananas or greeting cards to an order, and the business is happy to deliver those too.
The Shortest Deliveries: Drive-Through and Curbside
When Jon and Jena Brunswig opened their third Health Mart pharmacy it was the first to include a drive-through window. Jon Brunswig said the window is one of the best things he did for the busy store in Scott City, Kansas.
“I can control the workflow better,” Brunswig explained. Instead of waiting in the pharmacy for a prescription, people will come back for it later.
Because of zoning regulations, Commonwealth Family Pharmacy in Owensboro, Kentucky, couldn’t install a drive-through window. So customers pull up at the curb, honk and wave, and an employee goes out to the car. Parents with sick kids and older customers appreciate not having to leave their car, particularly in inclement weather, said Tim McDaniel, pharmacy manager.
At Martella’s pharmacies in Pennsylvania, customers call from their mobile phones and employees will bring their prescriptions out to the car.
More Than Just a Financial Return on Investment
Offering delivery takes some work, but it will make your customers’ lives easier, Kurup noted. “It’s doing those little things …. People don’t forget and slowly you will grow your business exponentially.”
Martella-Zucco’s brother recently attended a funeral of a 92-year-old customer whose wife had been homebound for months caring for him. The widow walked up to Joe Martella and said, “I couldn’t have done it without you. Your family is amazing.”
What has been your experience with delivery? What advice do you have for other pharmacy owners about offering delivery? Share your comments below.