Recently in the news, Caremark announced that it will be charging an extra co-pay to customers that purchase prescriptions from a pharmacy that sells cigarettes. This comes on the heels of CVS pulling cigarettes from the shelves of all of its pharmacies.
Okay, this might look a little suspicious. Caremark is the managing benefit company of CVS. So yeah, maybe this is a way to recoup a little bit of that lost profit and encourage people to shop at CVS. Regardless, Caremark is one of the biggest benefits managers in the United States, so this can’t be ignored.
But there is a silver lining. If you are an independent pharmacy that doesn’t sell cigarettes, this move could actually give you a competitive advantage. Don’t’ believe me? Here are two major ways you can benefit.
First, there is no shame in riding on the coat tails of what is actually a strategically sound move on the part of a large chain. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’ll know it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of box stores and large corporations. But this move to pull cigarettes from the shelves? I have to admit, I’m a fan. It displays a commitment to what a pharmacy should be about, the health of its customers. While ceasing the sale of cigarettes definitely means a loss of revenue, it also can be a brilliant PR move. This is the new world order for pharmacy. Where it’s not just about filling another prescription, but about managing the health and wellness of your customer base. So take advantage of the warm fuzzy feelings that people are getting watching advertisements from the pharmacy giant. They stopped selling cigarettes a month ago, but how long has it been since you sold them? Or have you ever? Remind customers that you’ve been all about the health of your community for a lot longer than any chain store. Yes, it’s a little scary that a large chain is pulling on the heart strings of America and moving in on what has previously only been independent territory. But I still have no doubt that independents can do it better. You just have to be a little more aggressive about promoting it.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, independents that don’t sell cigarettes should be able to find ways to actually earn new business when news of the extra co-pay starts to spread. How could this possibly give independent pharmacy a competetive edge and against who? That’s easy. It gives you a leg up on grocery store pharmacies and other large chain pharmacies that haven’t removed cigarettes from the shelves (and probably can't). There will likely be more than a few customers displaced from their current pharmacies as they seek to avoid extra co-pays on their prescriptions. So advertise the fact that you don’t sell cigarettes and make sure that your pharmacy is on the list that Caremark states they will publish, listing pharmacies that customers can shop at without paying extra co-pay surcharges.
While at first this new situation may seem like one more thing stacked against independent business, the savvy independent pharmacy really can benefit from Caremark’s new policy. What do you think? How will you put a positive spin on a policy ostensibly to drive business in a very specific direction?
[UPDATE] One of our customers (since 2006) mentioned in the comments below that they decided to stop carrying tobacco products 50 years ago because of the conflict with caring for patient's health. You can watch their video here.
Karen Deckard came to RMS with a background in retail and customer service, and was initially brought on board as a Sales Assistant and managed IIAS certifications for RMS's pharmacy POS customers. Today, Karen works as a Customer Success Manager, striving to provide independent and institutional pharmacies with the tools and resources they need to succeed in today's competitive pharmacy market.