Cardinal reinforces true ‘independence’

Embrace diversity. You don’t have to be Leader to be a leader.

That is Cardinal Health’s modern message to its roughly 6,300 independent pharmacy customers that aren’t members of its franchise division of Medicine Shoppe and Medicap pharmacies. In a gradual but sweeping shift in how it goes to market, the wholesale and health services giant has reduced its emphasis on the Leader store brand in favor of a new approach to the pharmacy market on behalf of its sprawling base of independent pharmacies. While not in any sense abandoning the Leader logo or its marketing and ad circular programs, Cardinal has developed a more customized and store-specific approach to its retail network that encourages each pharmacy owner-operator to fully develop his or her own brand and local market identity.

Cardinal’s customers can still participate in all Leader programs, and many do, says company spokeswoman Tara Schumacher. But independents by nature want to trade on their own brand of personal service and their own good name to build customer loyalty. Cardinal, she said, has realigned its independent pharmacy division under Steve Lawrence, SVP independent sales and marketing. The new paradigm: customer-specific flexibility in marketing, merchandising and store support.

That new, let-the-owner-decide-what’s-best approach is what greeted the roughly 2,000 independent pharmacists who swelled Cardinal’s customer ranks when the company finalized its buyout of Kinray, the nation’s largest independently owned drug wholesaler, early this year. And for those owner-operators accustomed to Kinray’s highly individualized and high-touch brand of service, the change must have been a welcomed one.

Under Cardinal’s new strategy, “if an independent pharmacy wants to market itself under what it perceives is a broader brand, but wants to be an independent pharmacy and not a franchise, they can still have all the Leader program materials — store banners, signs, circulars,” Schumacher told Drug Store News. “But instead of encouraging customers to become Leader stores, we now offer local store marketing services, where we’ll help any customer build awareness of their own store name.”

“We’re focused more on growing our independent base of customers, not necessarily on growing the number of Leader customers,” she added. “It’s about whatever makes the most sense to our customers’ businesses. So if an independent pharmacy wants to market themselves as Joe’s Pharmacy, we’ll support them in that; if they want to market themselves as Joe’s Leader Pharmacy, we’ll help them with that, too.”

The shift in approach culminated on July 23, 2010, when Cardinal unveiled a broad set of new applications designed to help independents compete far more effectively under their own hard-won marketplace identities. Cardinal called it “the industry’s first fully customizable suite of marketing tools that enable independent pharmacists to build and market their own brand within their communities — without having to tie their marketing efforts to a national banner program.”

The change was based on “extensive customer research [that] told us that an increasing number of retail pharmacies want to be able to exclusively market their own store names in their local communities,” Lawrence said. “But until now, they haven’t had easy-to-use, quality marketing tools that can help them do that in a cost-effective way.”

Now available to Cardinal’s customers:

Customized store websites that can feature a store’s full brand identity, along with online order refills integrated with a store’s pharmacy system and tie-ins with commercials, store circulars and other marketing activities;

Cardinal’s new in-store radio system, which allows for store-specific ads;

A new, customizable in-store signage and circular system;

A new outbound calling system to help pharmacies improve patient relationships and medication adherence, linked to the store’s pharmacy system for reference tracking; and

A new series of radio and TV ads that can be customized to promote an individual store’s brand, products and services.

“A lot of our customers have said, ‘we like the brand equity we have.’ So now the marketing materials can reflect just that,” Schumacher said.

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