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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : April 2005
complementa complementary medicine Anna Day, Communications Manager, Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia Upgrade your knowledge base to take advantage of a growing market T HE growth in sales of complemen- tary medicines continues to soar, with an increase of 15 per cent in sales in pharmacies over the past year to the end of January. However, there is a challenge for pharmacies. Supermarkets in that same time period saw a 30 per cent leap in sales. It means that pharmacists are not tak- ing full advantage of a growing market, at a time when there are threats to other front-of-shop and prescription sales. And there is a challenge to pharmacists’ long won credibility. At a Complementary Medicine Busi- ness Development Network conference recently, the figures cited for the decline in gift sales in pharmacies was 7 per cent. The market has changed, just as it did in the past when older pharmacists were horrified when baby toys were first sold by the competing pharmacy down the road, or when pharmacies began to lose their dominance of the perfume market. Pharmacies are being pressured on numerous fronts, and declining margins across the board only help to increase that pressure. Can complementary medicines make up the difference? You can be sure that we will find out because almost everything pharmacies do is watched by someone. And the knowledge is for sale. Marketers can find out what you sell based on the scanning of your products, at least two commercial data bases monitor who you are and what you sell, and that is apart from suppliers’ data bases. They know where you are positioned in relationship to the number of GPs who prescribe in your area, and which GPs prescribe what products. They know how many health food shops are in your area; they know how you access information; and what that information is. They know if and how long you will talk to a sales rep, and what you want to know. They even know who opens the mail in the store. But until now they did not know that the Complementary Healthcare Council (CHC) is trialling a generic news brief ser- vice on the latest research into comple- mentary medicine to find out what infor- mation you actually need to maintain the high standing that pharmacists hold in society. It’s no secret that pharmacists rank higher than doctors in community trust surveys. ...pharmacists will need to increase their own understanding of the products or risk damaging those long-prized assets of credibility and respect... However, I would argue that as con- sumers become increasingly interested in complementary medicines, pharmacists will need to increase their own under- standing of the products or risk damaging those long-prized assets of credibility and respect, built up by the profession over generations. That’s where we come in. A large num- ber of pharmacists have responded to the CHC offer of a Complementary Medicine Research News Brief service. The AJP editor has also agreed that we should pro- vide you with an update in this column 266 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.86 APRIL 2005 every two months. It is a win-win for all of us and, in particular, those who actu- ally use the right complementary medi- cines for their particular needs. That’s where your role as an informed adviser is crucial. Of course, one of the benefits of being informed is that you will be able to increase your sales per customer, not only the first time they buy a new supplement, but month after month when they return for their repeats, knowing that you are improving their health at the same time. For example, if you were able to sell a multivitamin and mineral product to every customer that crosses your front door every month, how many sales would you make a week? It is a worthy product to sell because you have the Harvard Medical School backing you up with advice that everybody should take such a multivitamin every day. An opportunity that also exists for phar- macists is to really tailor what you do for specific customers. If a woman is buying calcium, do you suggest they take magne- sium? What about selenium? If a customer buys multi-B vitamins, presumably they’re sending you the mes- sage they are stressed; what else do you suggest? Insomnia is the third highest rea- son for visits to a GP, so chances are you’ll be close to the mark if you offer a natural product to help them sleep, and research strongly supports valerian, along with a good cup of chamomile tea—the hippies were right as the research now strongly supports its calming effects. We know that glucosamine is selling extremely well, but do you also offer fish oil tablets to someone with arthritis? The same applies to someone buying an asthma spray. Quite likely you ask whether they are taking sufficient or the