January/February cover story examines how to customize a pharmacy’s front end to
feature selected goods and a well-trained staff that encourages customers to
come back. 

As part of the research on the article, I spoke with the National
Community Pharmacy Association’s senior director of store operations and marketing,
Gabe Trahan. Trahan spends his time visiting independent pharmacies, advising
on store layouts and best practices in inventory management.

Trahan finds when talking to pharmacists and owners about
the front end, the usual response is “it’s a computer thing.” The owner has
invested in a POS system and figures that everything is handled by the software.
Trahan says in most cases the pricing is not updated automatically. “Pharmacists
need to understand how the system works,” he advises. The software, says
Trahan, is there to help the owner and pharmacy staff manage inventory and
price changes easily and quickly — thus freeing up time to grow the pharmacy
business with new ideas and services. To see results with POS technology: understand
what it can do and make it work by reviewing over-the-counters (OTCs) that are
in the store, daily, weekly, monthly. 

Trahan suggests assigning staff to monitor the pricing data:
when it’s coming in from wholesalers; calling wholesalers to fully understand
when price changes happen; and to verify the pricing is updated in the POS and
pharmacy systems. “You want to be aware of the changes to the pricing,” he
says, both for prescriptions and OTCs. “Pricing can change daily,” he says.
“It’s not magic — run the reports!”

Understanding the specific items in the database and feeding
that data into a report to review is a habit that Jaime Cunningham
at Topeka Pharmacy talks about in the January/February
cover story
. Rather than lumping items into general categories, Cunningham
explains a process called “fine lining,” where every item is fit into a
specific category. This is all trackable, and the reports are imported to the
pharmacy accounting software.

“Think of reports as a type of research where you take the
results and investigate,” explains Trahan. An example is a store owner who ran
a report on his OTC sales that told him that 50% of the OTC items were not
selling well. His reaction was to pull 50% of his OTC off the shelf and return
them to the wholesaler. Bare shelves aren’t appealing to customers. When an
owner runs a report, he needs to analyze it for trends that can shed light on
the reasons why things are happening. Trahan says in this case with a
percentage that high, it points to the OTC’s zone retail pricing may be set to
high. Just removing the merchandize, rather than trying to figure out why the
merchandise isn’t moving, will lead to a store that customers don’t see as
valuable, and even prescription volume can drop, says Trahan. “The results may
point to a need to change zone pricing; a change in product merchandising, or a
change in category sizes,” he says. “The report might also tell you that there
is a need for signage such as ‘our pharmacist recommends’ or ‘try our store

Majoria Drugs, another pharmacy featured in the Front-End
Focus cover story
, does exactly this. According to Operations Director Mike
LcCombe, the store uses features in its ECRS POS system to track and grade its
inventory. The ECRS Gateway portal allows LaCombe to send and track orders to
vendors and he’s alerted when items have changed UPC’s or have gone up in
price. The ECRS system also grades inventory and LaCombe can run a report that
shows that maybe a slow moving, expensive item actually ends up in the basket
of a high-value shopper (giving it an A).

Pricing is dynamic. The pharmacy’s goal is to use all the
tools in the POS system to make that easy to do. Here are some tips from Trahan
to get a handle on the ebb and flow of the front end:

  • Assign a staff member to verify that the pricing
    information is updated.
  • Contact your wholesaler, verify when and how the OTC
    price changes are made available to the store POS. Then update the
  • Contact POS provider and confirm how to activate new
    pricing data.
  • Set schedule for updating OTC price changes in POS and on
    the store floor.
  • Read the reports and make corrections to the inventory as

Read more about the pharmacists featured in the ComputerTalk January/February issue by
; and if you’re interested in learning more from Gabe Trahan,  visit  Front-End Overhaul at NCPA via


Maggie Lockwood is VP
and director of production at ComputerTalk. You can reach her at