Independent Pharmacy Accounting, Pharmacy Growth

Marketing for Pharmacies with Gabe Trahan

In this episode, our hosts are joined by Gabe Trahan, marketing consultant and former senior director of store operations and marketing for NCPA. With 40+ years of pharmacy management experience, Gabe discusses marketing for pharmacies and how to make the most of it for your independent pharmacy.

While shedding light on the multifaceted nature of marketing Gabe debunks some of the myths around independent pharmacy marketing and emphasizes the importance of saying something compelling in your marketing campaigns to attract new customers. Tune in for tips on maximizing marketing for your pharmacy!

The Bottom Line Pharmacy Podcast is your regular dose of pharmacy CPA advice to fuel your bottom line, featuring pharmacists, key vendors, and other innovators.

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If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.

Scotty: Welcome everybody to The Bottom Line Pharmacy Podcast. And today, we are pleased to have Gabe Trahan, the legendary Gabe Trahan ownership workshop expert, here to talk about marketing and how to maximize that in your pharmacy. So, Gabe, we are glad to have you and welcome.

Gabe: Hey, thank you very much for having me.

Scotty: So what is marketing? Marketing, I think, is multifaceted. It is, you know, you walk into the pharmacy; that’s marketing. How does it look? How does it feel out front, the market? What else, Gabe, is marketing for a pharmacy?

Gabe: It’s nothing that we think it is, and it’s so easy to get it right. But there are a lot of myths out there. There are four types of ads, four types of marketing. But let’s talk about ad campaigns. There’s the one that flatters you and some people jump all over that. Well, let’s tell them that you’re PharmD, that you graduated fifth in your class, you’re homegrown, your mom’s the mayor.
And let’s make sure we put pictures of your kids in there. Now, I know a guy-

Kendell: Love the kids.

Scotty: Kids or the dog.

Gabe: And the dog would be great if he could wear, like, a white lab jacket.

Kendell: We have seen that before. We have seen the dog bring some people in.

Gabe: Yeah, I had this great client. God rest his soul. He called me up and he said, “You get your butt up here; I flew to his store in his office, he owned 11 stores, and he says, “You owe me $50,000.” I said, “How do you want me to pay this? Ones? Unmarked bills? I’m not giving you nothing. What did you do?”

“You let me buy a horrible campaign ad.”

“I don’t remember you even telling me about it.” Long story short, some big advertising company came into his office and saw his grandchildren’s picture on the desk, then came back, says I got it. We’re going to put you, your grandchildren, and your adult children who are all pharmacists on a series of billboards.

And we’ll do some TV. Love It. Turns out he didn’t realize nobody cared. They don’t care what his grandchildren look like, and they don’t care what his kids look like or their pharmacist. They want to know, how will you treat me when I come into your pharmacy? That’s all I want to know. So people say to me, okay, what’s my budget?

You don’t have a budget. I’d love to tell you. What can you afford? And then stop if you don’t see some growth. Or don’t stop when you do see growth. “Oh, I spent $30,000 this year. It was very successful. I’m done for the year.” No, you keep going. If it stinks, you go back and try something else.

But the big question to me is, “What should I use? Should I be on the Internet, should I be on the radio, should I do TV, should I do billboards?”

My answer was yes, do billboards, but do it smart. “But where do I go?” And the answer is, it’s not where you go. It’s what you say.

Kendell: I get that question a lot, too, is how do I make a… is it Facebook or Twitter?

Gabe: Yeah.

Kendell: Or is it a paper ad and in different techniques?

Scotty: So it doesn’t matter. So Gabe’s kind of saying it doesn’t matter what it is. You need to find what it is. And then-

Gabe: So you have to say something compelling. So you can buy an ad that flatters you and I can write them all day and then there’s the ones that inform you; they’re boring too. I’ve been a pharmacist for 23 years. I went to school in this town. Doubt it. It’s kind of flattering. It’s informing and it tells you.

You tell people what you carry, telling people what you carry makes no sense. You’re a pharmacy. We have a good idea of what you have. Tell me why I’m going to be treated better in your store. And then there’s the persuade. Can you persuade someone to make a difference?

Okay, so there are three types of new customers that you are fishing for. It’s the one that goes to the chain and doesn’t really hate the chain, but they don’t know it could be better. And they know you’re over there, but they think it has to be the same. So. Okay, that’s one.

And then the other one is the guy who goes by your store. He’s doing 55 in a 25 mile an hour zone. So he looks over and doesn’t really get it. He doesn’t see your curbside appeal. So he’s never heard of you, and he never even thinks about you. But he takes scripts, he takes meds. And then there’s a new third person- is young. If she’s going to look or he’s going to look for a customer, they’re going to get on the Internet.

Kendell: Yeah, I rarely go anywhere that I haven’t looked on the Internet.

Scotty: We had one pharmacist that went door to door as a startup. He went door to door throughout his whole, pretty much, city.

Gabe: Yeah.

Scotty: For months knocking on doors himself. And he’s went from zero scripts to three or four or 500 a day within two years.

Gabe: So you get these people in and they’re all good customers and you say, tell me why, why you picked our store. And they’re all going to say, great customer service. You say, okay, give me a little more. What do you mean? And they say, well, you’re good people. What makes us so good? “Well, one day I knocked on the door and it was raining, and it was closed, and I was 5 minutes late and I’m banging my key up against the door. And I didn’t expect anybody to let me in. You let me in. And that means something. That means I mean something to you. You’re good people.” That’s gold. That’s gold. Write that down.

Then the lady says, “Oh, just great customer service.” Can you give me an example? “Yeah. Whenever I come in, you ask me how my husband’s doing, and now that I know you know me, and you know my husband and you always wish us well. I just love that.”

Okay. Why do you like us, ma’am? “Y’all so sweet”. We’re all so sweet? “Yeah, well, I’m fixin’ to go to the drugstore. I love coming to your store because you’re going to say, ‘How you doing, Miss Jones? How’s the weather? Not going to make you wait long at all. Fixin’ to go home right now.’ That’s what you’re going to do.”

Kendell: The south. That was a good one, right there. I like that.

Gabe: Then you have… “You guys are on the ball. You guys know your stuff, I’m kidding you. You guys are great.”

Scotty: Get out of here!

Gabe: “You’re driving me nuts here. Yeah, I come in here and you didn’t, nobody told me I should take this statin, this stuff for CoQ, whatever.”

Scotty: You saved my life.

Gabe: “Yeah, I feel like a young man because of you guys.” So we get and just drill down then you’ll be shocked what good customer service is and then you’ll be able to write your own ad. But it takes some work. You know, people say, ‘Can I use a testimonial for my customer?’ If you promise not to touch it, don’t tweak it because you’ll screw it up.

Just if they say, Because I knocked on the door with my key and you let me in, you let them say that. But testimonials are huge. It’s gold. But you’ve got to be compelling. Not that this is what I can do for you.

Scotty: This is what we sell…

Gabe: Yeah.

Scotty: Yeah. It seems like to me what’s real important is getting into the emotions, touching the emotion of the consumer rather than, hey, I sell this or we’re great people. That doesn’t mean anything. You have to get to the emotion like, oh, man, I’m missing something here. Like you mentioned with that radio ad of, you know, 1000th customer.

So I think that’s important to that message. Would you agree to that?

Gabe: Oh, you nailed it. Absolutely.

Scotty: So once you have that message, Gabe, how do you get it out? I mean, is it a variety of methods? Do you just find a particular method that works? Is it social media? Is it the bag stuffers? Is it the signs out front? I mean, what.

Gabe: I love, I love I love direct mail. I love using, what is it, Every Door Direct Mail. I love, if I had a compelling ad and you’re not going to write one today, it’s going to take you two or three days because you’re going to write stuff that just flows, which gets ignored. I would go to the worst radio station in town, and I know saying worse because for any particular reason, maybe it’s a talk show, maybe it’s just sports and but I can hear it within five miles around my store and the ads are stupid cheap.

And then one of the staff members says to you, nobody listens to that station. Go get Rock95. First of all, I know who my customers are and I’m not going to look at statistics. Somebody is listening to their station or that had been gone and I need to repeat mine like once every hour and I can’t afford it anywhere else but here.

I’d rather shout to 100 people ten times than shout to 1000 people once.

Scotty: Well, how do you know it doesn’t work? I imagine a lot of pharmacists, pharmacy owners are not tracking if it’s working or paying attention to what they should be looking, looking at metrics in terms of whether it is working or not, other than just, you know, I have net ten new patients or something. Are you following up on where you came from, what’s that look like in terms of measuring success?

Gabe: So my good friend Boyd Ennis, he polls his new customers when they come in, and A) they go on MedSync right away. B) they have a little thing, it says, how did you hear about us? And he was on cable TV, he was in the newspaper, and he had digital signs and he had okay curb appeal. By far, digital sign.

Kendell: Oh, wow.

Scotty: The digital sign out front.

Gabe: And the digital sign, you have to use it right. You have to put time and temperature no matter. I don’t care if the time is on the watch, the temperature is on my phone, whatever time and temperature just to get people to look at it. They’re late for work. Oh, my God. It’s 87. Okay, so that has to be up there.

You make it a community board. You can just buy a calendar. Don’t be so cheap. And write in the little squares, what you’re going to put in there, don’t say, what am I going to put there? You know how many digital signs aren’t being used? A lot. Okay. So you take the calendar, and you write down different things and you let nonprofits advertise on there, legitimate, not somebody else’s business.

If it’s a nonprofit, each one of the churches gets their turn, whatever, and then you can slide in, “Get your vaccine shot!” and use nine words. Nine words. You know, my buddy Boyd’s first sign said, “Get your flu shots here. Come inside for details.” It’s too many words, it goes in your arm. Forget it. Just say get your vaccine, don’t get sick.

So you have to go nine words. That’s the most people can read in a vehicle. So don’t put your phone number, just this so.

Scotty: Straight to it.

Gabe: Straight to it.

Kendell: And one thing that as I listen to you talk, it seems like most of the people who have had success, something about what their marketing is measurable, whether it’s the steps or whether it’s how many have been delivered or all the different examples is something that’s not just intangible, something tangible that people can listen to in their niche that really compels that message forward.

Gabe: You’ve got to find out. You have to ask a customer to do it. What do people want? They don’t want to wait any longer than 20 minutes. They hate that. We did an ad once. The owners had a big, fat, ugly cat, and all it did was sleep and poop. And sometimes it did both at the same time.

So we put the cat on one of his waiting seats in his waiting area, and we took a picture of it, and we put it in the newspaper, and it said, why is Pete’s cat sleeping on the chair? And it said because Pete fills most prescriptions in 15 minutes or less. Somebody has to use the chair.

Scotty: There you go.

Gabe: Now it’s, you’ve got to-

Scotty: There you go.

Gabe: You’ve got to reach out and say, okay, your time is valuable. Got it. What else do you hate? Nobody talks to me. The other day I had to go get [my medicine], I have no more community pharmacies near me. It’s too long. It may be as much as an hour or more. So I had to go to a chain.

I said, does anybody want to tell me how to take this stuff? Oh, the consulting? Yeah, it’s in the bag. Literally, they said it’s in the bag. And there was a piece of paper there with all the bad things that were going to happen to me. I go again, get some more meds and they gave me a website to go to.

And I went, I guess that’s okay. However, what a scary sight, you know, nobody was there to calm me down and say my arm is going to fall off or whatever. So what is it your customers dislike that you do so well? And don’t say we treat you like family. Do not do that. Nobody wants to be treated like family.

Besides, we’ve heard it a million times. We wanted to be treated as someone who needs your help. Someone that you’re going to help. Keep an eye on my drugs. You’ll be the ambassador between me and my doctor. No, don’t, that worn-out term/phrase, we treat you like family.

It’s got to go.

Scotty: Well, that example you mentioned with the radio ad with Pat down in Texas saying bring in your prescriptions and let’s sit down and talk. That is, that shows treating like family. Instead of saying treat you like family.

Gabe: Well,

Scotty: It’s a different way of saying it. Communicating it.

Gabe: Absolutely.

Scotty: What about the direct mail? You said you like direct mail, Gabe. What is an effective direct mail campaign look like? Just a quick message, you know, what does that look like?

Gabe: You want to know what a good campaign is? Go to, it’s USPS.com Every Door Direct Mail. Every Door Direct Mail. It’s awesome. A map pops up and it tells you where your store is, and then you jog literally to saying, this is how far l want to go with my mailing.

Okay. And then up there is telling you how much it’s going to cost.

Scotty: Wow, that is neat.

Gabe: Then you have to go. Okay, I have it. No, you don’t. You haven’t made your compelling message. And here’s the bad part. You need five of them.

Scotty: So five, five mailers.

Gabe: Five mailers.

Scotty: Over a period of time.

Gabe: And it’s every week you mail one on a Monday, you mail a second message on a Tuesday, you mail your third message on a Wednesday, four and five. Never on the same day because you don’t know what days work. And when people come in and say, I have your postcard, write it down. The only way you can judge if that works is if it works, people come in.

You don’t want to come in because they have a coupon. You want them to come in to talk to you about medication. That’s where the money is. Five times, five different days. Give it a shot. Give it a second shot. Just pay attention to how much you’re paying. Make the postcard and spend all your money and all your time finding a picture that’s compelling.

Do not put a picture of your drugstore. Do not take a picture of your staff. Because of that, there’s a thing called hand to trash. How long will it be in the hand before it goes to the trash? This is a pharmacy, right? This is a politician, too. So I look, there’s a picture, beautiful picture out there of a golden retriever, and he’s got boots on and it’s pouring rain.

It’s a real dog and he has an umbrella in his mouth. He’s waiting for the master to come home. And it says, don’t you wish pharmacies could be that loyal? We deliver in all types of weather, but you don’t say that on the front. If you have a picture of a dog holding an umbrella in his mouth and boots on raining like hell, you’d flip it over.

And it’s a message from Gabe’s Pharmacy in Georgia. I’m that much closer.

Scotty: How do I get to Gabe’s Pharmacy? I’m sold.

Kendell: Right? I like it.

Scotty: Well, Gabe we could talk for hours on here. Kendell, do you want to kind of tell Gabe how we wrap up here?

Kendell: Yes. So we finish up every episode with the bottom line. So just basically, you know, what is the key takeaway that you want the listeners and viewers to have? And we take turns on the bottom line, and since we’re kind of springing it on you, maybe I’ll go first. And if you’re ready for it, whenever you can, jump in.

And for me, the bottom line is that the message has to be compelling, and a message that cannot be used by your competition, it’s something unique to you. And at the very least, you have to get everyone’s attention. So think of a compelling message and not what medium you use, but the message itself.

Scotty: Gabe, give us a crack at your bottom line.

Gabe: Well, he stole all the good stuff.

Scotty: I know. He summed it all up right there.

Kendell: I’m sorry. I had bottom lines. I used plural.

Gabe: And I didn’t mention this, so I will now. So you can’t steal this one, customer, sorry, curbside appeal is as valuable as marketing when done right. If your store doesn’t look alive, it doesn’t look exciting, doesn’t look modern, your marketing is not going to do any good because people do not walk into a store that looks dull, uninviting, and needs some work.

Scotty: I guess my bottom line here would be that message and getting creative with it, hitting the emotions, and delivering that message. Yeah, I mean, that’s just really what it comes down to, and taking the time and effort to do it right instead of just jumping on it.

Kendell: Nice.

Scotty: Yep. Well, Gabe, we certainly appreciate you getting on and hopefully we can do this again soon because I know Bonnie is going to want to get you back on it.

Kendell: Yeah. She’s definitely upset she wasn’t able to make this one.

Scotty: Yeah, so. But thanks again, Gabe. And yeah, we’ll have to do it again.

Gabe: Okay. I’m sorry it went on for an hour. You know, just chunk it up.

Scotty: It was great. I mean, I was. Our listeners will be engaged, so we’re good.

Gabe: Hey, let me say something about this podcast. I’ve done quite a few from different places, and they’re. They’re fun. They’re all fun. All my buddies out there. Both of you subscribe to this. Yeah. This is where you’re going to get it where it’s not all candy-coated and stuff like that. Subscribe to the bottom line.

Scotty: Yes, it is all off the cuff. And all you listeners out there, don’t forget to subscribe and like our podcast.


Additional reading/videos: Do these two things before selling a pharmacy

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