Pharmacy U

Watch & Learn: Omar Alasaly’s 5 top tips to get customers to buy into services


It’s not unusual for customers at Omar Alasaly’s Victoria, B.C. pharmacy to make an about face at the frontshop cash and beeline it to the dispensary for a flu shot or a medication review.

By Randy Ray

Usually, it’s because an amiable cashier has mentioned the many free services available at his 13,500-sq. ft. Shoppers Drug Mart at the Uptown Shopping Centre 10 minutes from downtown Victoria.

Encouraging staff to promote flu shots and other offerings is a key part of Alasaly’s plan to market the expertise offered by his staff and in the process strengthen customer-staff relationships and build his client base.

“Staff don’t simply say we offer flu shots … they tell customers they have had a flu shot themselves and how it has helped them,” says Alasaly, BSc (Pharm). “Customers who shy away from a needle will often head for the dispensary.”

When he took ownership of the store in 2009, Alasaly offered several services but soon recognized his bottom line would only benefit if they were known to his customers and promoted by his employees.

Top takeaways

Five top tips to market your in-store services

1. Offer a full lineup of relevant services.

2. Ensure employees and managers are fully involved by encouraging them to promote services offered in all parts of the store.

3. Train employees to offer the best quality service.

4. Use in-store signage and P.A. announcements to promote services.

5. Use community outreach, such as out-of-store clinics, to promote your offerings.

So, as his expanded services grew to include diabetes management, flu clinics and shots, comprehensive medication reviews, healthy heart programs, community outreach and consultation about cosmetics and food, he developed a marketing strategy to do just that.

As a result, he has moulded his staff into a well-oiled team that actively markets every service offered and along the way has improved long-term relationships with patients and customers and attracted many new customers and their prescriptions.

The main plank in his plan is a management team and more than 40 employees who are knowledgeable, engaged and willing promoters.  At weekly management meetings and quarterly staff gatherings, employees are informed about upcoming opportunities such as administering flu shots and encouraged to support each other’s department.

Cashiers in the frontshop inform customers about services offered in the dispensary, merchandisers let people know about expertise and promotions in cosmetics and pharmacists point customers to offerings in all areas of the store.

“If, for example the dispensary has an upcoming flu clinic, staff in all other departments realize its importance and are excited about the need to support that venture,” says Alasaly. “We work as a team.”

Staff engagement

To further engage his staff, Alasaly insists all employees have the most up-to-date training and expertise. He and his five pharmacists, for instance, are certified by the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia to administer flu shots. Certification not only ensures pharmacists can give the shots safely but also that they understand the value to patients. As a result, their knowledge and enthusiasm are passed on to both customers and fellow employees.

At staff meetings, employees are encouraged to share personal healthcare experiences. In recent months, several employees with diabetes have explained the challenges the disease poses and how sharing their knowledge with customers can introduce them to new products and build trust.

“When my staff are proud to get up and talk about their experiences, there is full engagement in the store. Staff gain a better understanding of a disease such as diabetes and recognize how diabetic customers will benefit from the services and products we offer, such as the expertise of our Certified Diabetes Educator and the latest diabetes meters,” says Alasaly.

As might be expected, customers are impressed and often shift their pharmacy business to his store.

“When frontshop customers who are not our patients learn that we offer a free 20-minute review of their prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, they think it is wonderful and we begin to develop a relationship. … the more benefits and convenience we offer means we have more loyal customers and patients to serve.”

Alasaly’s strategy has worked wonders among his staff. By enabling them to become fully involved in the promotion of the store’s services, employees feel connected to one another – rather than working in silos. The benefit is strong friendships and a positive workplace atmosphere.

Alasaly’s marketing also includes in-store signage, such as posters alerting customers to the need for a flu shot, messages on the store’s public address system, ads in the company flyer and community outreach, including visits to seniors’ homes in Victoria to encourage residents to get the flu shot.

“Pharmacies need to provide superior customer service and superior patient care. They must show value to customers and patients and offer expanded services and conveniences,” he says.  “If you don’t do that in today’s competitive retail landscape, there are lots of other places for your customers to shop.”