That’s the ticket! Travel vaccines drive store traffic, revenue growth for Seattle pharmacy

If you ask Beverly Schaefer, RPh, at Katterman’s Pharmacy in Seattle, Wash., her secret for success, she is excited to tell you.

She puts it simply – it’s all about reinvention. Schaefer and her partner, Steve Cone, RPh, strive to reinvent their business every three years. The pharmacy’s newest reinvention is all about the adventure of travel. The pharmacy taps into a niche market; travelers looking for a quick, convenient way to receive necessary travel vaccinations. Not only do they provide the immunizations, Katterman’s offers an extensive line of travel items to further support this niche clientele. This program was recognized at Cardinal Health’s 2015 Retail Business Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a winner of the company’s 2015 Best Practice Competition for independent pharmacies. Here, we talk with Schaefer about how this program attracts new customers from far and wide, and helps to drive additional revenue to her business.

Q: How long have you been administering immunizations?

A: We were the first in the country to start doing immunizations back in 1996. I knew there was a need for patients to have easy access to the flu vaccination and I thought, why not? There was no rule that said I couldn’t administer them. So, we ordered the vaccinations and put up a sign in our window that said “flu vaccinations.” We planned for around 300 immunizations for the flu season the first year and ended up administering 1,200!

Q: What was your strategy behind expanding to travel vaccinations

A: Our strategy was really more of a progression of growth. We saw the high demand for the flu immunization and naturally went on to offer other adult immunizations. As more people travel out of the country, they need experts to advise them on how to stay healthy while traveling – everything from immunizations to malaria prevention, altitude sickness and seasickness prevention, sunburn protection and more. We knew many primary care doctors didn’t have the specific expertise to offer travel advice for specific countries. We acquired the knowledge to make specific immunization recommendations and then obtained prescriptive authority for a dozen legend drugs used by travelers to prevent or treat diseases related to travel. Many travelers don’t actively plan for the vaccinations they need until 1-2 weeks prior to their trip. It can take 4-6 weeks to get an appointment with other healthcare locations that offer travel immunizations. By offering the immunizations in our pharmacy, we are able to capture a larger number of these last-minute vaccinations, and meet an important patient need.

Q: When did you add the travel care section to your pharmacy?

A: We always carried a small line of travel sized products, toothpaste, shampoo and other cosmetic items. We quickly realized our customers loved the convenience of one stop for all their travel needs. We now have an entire travel section that includes travel medications, Eagle Creek brand packing items, compression hose, electrical adapters, travel pillows, sun hats and money belts.

Q: How do you decide what items to offer?

A: My daughter Katie and I are retailers at heart. We love the hunt for the next item that will have our customers coming back for more. We do a lot of research simply by looking at what others are selling. We stop at airport shops to see what’s new and what customers are buying. We also look to other pharmacies and learn from them. When we find an item we are interested in selling, we look at the back of the package to find the supplier information and go from there. It’s really fun and exciting for us to source new products and we get our customers excited about the products before they even hit our store.

Q: How has offering this service impacted your business?

A: It’s been great. Nine times out of ten, we are administering vaccines for two or more travelers, so we are able to generate revenue from both vaccine adminisistration and consultation fees for each travel vaccination appointment. We have travelers coming in from over an hour away to get vaccinated and we do zero marketing for this service. All of our traffic comes from word of mouth or from Google search results for those searching for a place where they can receive yellow fever vaccines. Plus we just love taking care of our community in this fun, unique way.

Editor’s note: For more great ideas from pharmacy entrepreneurs, download Good Medicine: Cardinal Health’s Best Practice Magazine for Independent Pharmacies.