By Sara Hodon

Independent pharmacies have had to find ways to set themselves apart from their big box competitors, and many are finding that branching out into retail has given their bottom line a boost. “With changes in pharmacy and lifestyles, we are trying to offer more of a one-stop shopping experience,” said Darla Smay, buyer/supervisor for Clearfield Pharmacy in Clearfield, Pa. “We are an extension of the pharmacy, giving customers an extra reason to come into our store. In our situation, there are not a lot of gift shops in our area. That being said, it makes sense to add gifts to not only benefit our store but for the benefit of our town and clientele as well.” Smay said their staff is proud of the relationships they have built with their customers. “People love to know you. The biggest tip I would offer to boost sales is customer service. Love your customer and then show them that you love them.”
Amy Nordlund-West, owner/buyer at Pitkin Drug and Gift Shoppe in Whitehall, Mich., said that adding the gifts has been a positive experience for their operation. “For indie pharmacies, it’s very hard to compete with the chains. In order to survive as an independent, you have to have other resources to bring people in. People call us ‘The Unbelievable Pharmacy’ because we offer so much. We’re a go-to destination for birthday and wedding needs, and we offer services like gift wrap. We have regulars who come in because they know we’ll have everything ready for them.”

A view of the shop at the Clearfield Pharmacy and Gift Shoppe. The store’s staff members are proud of the relationships they have built with customers.

Pitkin Drug and Gift occupies 3,000 square feet and stocks a limited assortment of jewelry and gifts in the main pharmacy. They also have a gift boutique, Posh by Pitkin, adjacent to the main pharmacy, with a wide selection of clothing, accessories, jewelry, and gifts, which invites customers to do some additional browsing and buying.

Nordlund-West said that their biggest sellers in jewelry are silver-plated necklaces in the shape of Michigan by Beaucoup, and necklaces and bracelets by Larissa Logan that bear the coordinates and area code of Whitehall. “I think they sell well because in the summer we’re a tourist destination, so it’s showing a little piece of the area. Everyone loves to belong to Michigan. But locals love them, as well. The coordinates are really what make it ‘our’ area,” she says. “For gifts we do a huge business in resort wear—T-shirts and sweatshirts. We carry Gear shirts. One of our most popular designs is one that says ‘Lake Michigan—Unsalted and Shark-free’. That’s a big seller because we’re right on Lake Michigan, and it’s so huge, people think it should be an ocean, so that saying is sort of humorous.” Smay said that bracelets “by far outsell any of the jewelry, whether a customer buys it for themselves or for a gift. Stretch bracelets and now those with the magnetic clasp are a big hit. The new style with bling and leather has been well received. Drops of PA bracelets are a top contender as well because they fit any wrist and stay in place, plus they are beautiful and suitable for any age,” she explained. “We have a very conservative clientele, so we stock small- to-medium-sized necklaces—not chunky or long. The same is true with earrings—very simple. No long dangles or hoops.” For gifts, their biggest sellers are Carson wind chimes, Switchmats and flags from Evergreen, clothing, and purses, particularly Chala handbags—“just a mix match of everything,” Smay said. “We keep our pricing competitive so customers keep coming back. They know they can get a good quality gift item at a reasonable price and they like that.”

Clearfield Pharmacy and Gift Shoppe staff member Teresa Gallaher photographed in the boutique. The gift store gives customers an extra reason to visit the location.

Doreen Przybylski, owner of Seybridge Pharmacy Jewelry and Gifts in Seymour, Conn., said they sell a lot of Pandora and Gingersnaps jewelry lines. Both are known for their personalization, which is a big draw for customers. For gifts, Przybylski said Willow Tree figurines continue to sell well, as do Vera Bradley items. “Generally, we sell a lot of items with wine themes, and also pets. We have a baby section that’s popular, and we’re a well-known destination for weddings. If people want a quick gift, they can probably find something here. We have a wide variety,” she said. Seybridge occupies 4,000 square feet, and like other small-town pharmacies, Przybylski branched out into jewelry and gifts partially to fill a need. “We do the cross-selling mainly because I enjoy it—my husband is the pharmacist and I have the store—but also because there aren’t many gift shops in town. We have the traffic for the retail. Our customers will browse while they wait for their prescriptions, so it works very well.”

Suzanne Ray, owner/buyer at Ray’s Pharmacy in Mansfield, Texas, said their best-selling jewelry lines are Gingersnaps and earrings by Silver Forest. “For gifts, our biggest sellers are candles, which are just tried-and-true items. Melts and oils are very popular right now. I only carry two high-quality brands—Aromatique and Circle E—so the inventory can be better maintained,” she explained. “Boutique clothing is probably our second biggest seller as far as gifts because those items are trending in clothing stores.”

Darla Smay, manager, Clearfield Pharmacy and Gift Shoppe. Smay said the store strives to be a one-stop shop for customers.

Nordlund-West said that the consumer trend of social consciousness and seeking out products made from natural materials extends to jewelry, as well. “The trend is that customers are going for more of a natural look, with more mixed metals,” she explained. “Customers are more interested in what type of metals were used to make the pieces. There is still that customer who wants the costume jewelry, but we’re seeing more who are interested in really quality items.” Nordlund-West has noticed a slight decline in one gift category: “We used to sell tons of collectibles, but I think that’s going away. It seems that people are going for more utilitarian products and asking themselves ‘Is this something I can use every day?’ before buying it. We also used to sell a lot more holiday-themed items; now people want things they can use year-round. People are less frivolous and want to get more use out of an item.”

In order to drive sales of non-pharmacy products, Smay stressed the importance of advertising and in-store events. “While a lot of gift shops find it hard to budget for a lot of advertising, it’s necessary for your store,” she said, adding that Clearfield relies on essentially all forms of media to promote their events, including newspaper ads, radio spots, social media, collateral like bag stuffers, and occasionally television. “Radio works best when you do your own ads, and putting your picture in the mailings is also good if possible, too,” she said. Nordlund-West relies on good product placement to boost jewelry and gift items, particularly in the pharmacy where customers may not necessarily expect to find such products. “We have the Michigan jewelry front and center by the register,” she said. “I also encourage my employees to wear them, too. That helps—people notice it.”

Placement and organization is also key for free-standing displays. “We rearrange our gift shop every month to keep it fresh and looking new,” Smay said. “A product may have been on the shelf for a few months and someone will ultimately think it’s new because it has been moved or displayed with different product to accent it.” Another effective selling point is to show the customer how to wear or use the product. “Everyone on my staff does an excellent job of creating enticing and eye-catching displays. They show the customer many ways the product can be used and what add-on gifts would work best with it.”

Shown, from left to right, Kathy Dixon, Lynette Fulmer, Jamie Wilsoncroft and Gale Schickling, staff members at the Clearfield Pharmacy and Gift Shoppe. Gift merchandise gives pharmacies a sales boost.

Ultimately, retailers agreed that the best way to boost sales is to give customers a great experience, which will give them reason to return. Pharmacies tend to have a loyal customer base; extra retail options like jewelry and gifts mean a busy customer can not only take care of their prescriptions, but buy gifts for themselves or an upcoming holiday or other special occasion at the same time. ❖