A: My first pharmacy was an 800-square-foot converted gas station that I purchased in 1982. I had a steady stream of business. In 2000, I purchased a friend’s pharmacy business and had a 98 percent retention rate, which grew my 140 scripts a day to 287 scripts. I needed a new location to handle the increased business, so together with a friend of mine, an optometrist, who was also in the market for a new location, built a 10,000 square-foot-building. During the building process, I planned the flow of my pharmacy, which included only one drive-thru window. It wasn’t soon after we opened the new location that I realized I should have built two drive-up windows.
On some busy days we fill more than 900 prescriptions, and it wasn’t unusual for the drive-up window to have a line of cars out to the street. My staff would actually walk outside to service patients to try to speed up the process, but that didn’t always work, especially on bad weather days. Customers were starting to complain and we were losing business. Like many independent pharmacies, our high level of service gives us a huge advantage over our competition, but the drive-up window had slowly become the worst aspect of the customer experience at our pharmacy.
Q: What sparked the idea to use a pager system?
A: It was actually an epiphany of my wife who is the pharmacy’s store manager. We were at a restaurant one night and the hostess handed us our pager. My wife looked at me and it was like a light bulb went off. She said “Mike, why don’t we use this type of system for our drive-thru!” The very next day, we ordered the pagers from Amazon.com. They cost around $150 and have been worth every penny.
Q: How does the system work?
A: We provide patients using the drive-up window with a numbered pager that will reach anywhere in our parking lot. These patients are given the same priority as any other patients who are waiting inside the store. When a patient’s prescription(s) are ready, we activate the pager, which lights up to notify the patient to come back to the drive-up window.
Q: How did your customers react?
A: Patients were hesitant to accept a pager then go park in our parking lot to wait, especially when they didn’t perceive there was a wait due to no other cars being in line. We explained that the system reduces wait times as it allows us to collect the prescriptions and start the filling process sooner and that others were already in the parking lot waiting, which is why they didn’t see a line of cars. Customers quickly learned that the system really works and significantly reduces their wait time.
Q: How has this improved your business?
A: We received one to two complaints a day before implementing the pager system. That number has dropped to maybe one complaint a month. Patients have even started to switch to our pharmacy just to take advantage of the fastest and most efficient drive-up window in town. The number of register transactions at our drive-thru window has also increased dramatically from an average of 50 per day to more than 120.
Editor’s note: For more great ideas from pharmacy entrepreneurs, download Good Medicine: Cardinal Health’s 2015 Best Practice Guide for Independent Pharmacies.