BOULDER, Colo. — Mainstream drug chains seeking to enhance their vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS) presentation could learn a lot from Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy.
Herbal supplements are a pillar of Pharmaca’s integrative approach, and the products’ sales have been robust, says Don Summerfield, the chain’s co-founder and vice president of integrative medicine.
While the retailer tends to carry specialty lines as opposed to mass brands, its sales reflect trends across channels.
Hot VMS segments at Pharmaca include joint health, especially products to reduce pain and inflammation — driven primarily by the interest in turmeric. The chain has also seen a lot of growth in products for brain health (in which turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties are cited), eye health and skin care. Generally, supplements that slow down the aging process are in demand, Summerfield says, reflecting the growing number of baby boomers in their 60s.
Also burgeoning are black cohosh and maca formulas for menopause, and cranberry supplements for women’s urinary tract health. (Women make up the majority of Pharmaca’s shoppers.)
Integral to the retailer’s success with the overall category is its merchandising. The chain groups supplements by structure/function as opposed to brand. A sleep and stress section, for example, is a prime destination generating tremendous sales, notes Summerfield.
“When a customer wants to compare sleep products she can find them all together,” he says. “She doesn’t have to wander around the store looking in different areas, because our stores are not set by brand. So we’re making the shopping experience easier.”
Bolstering the merchandising is educational signage, such as that discussing enzyme CoQ10 in the cardiovascular set or the material in the sleep set on melatonin, 5-HTP and valerian.
Supplements can also be found on end-caps, with, say, turmeric formulas on one shelf, and the most popular sleep formulas on another. Educational signage may highlight the top ingredients for effective results.
And an informational kiosk allows customers and staff members to engage and get printouts on products and formulas, or sign up for emails for detailed scientific information.
Helping customers choose a supplement are Pharmaca’s licensed naturopathic doctors, herbalists and nutritionists, all of whom have graduated with a degree, certificate or diploma in their fields. Partnering with them, especially to warn customers about possible interactions of supplements and prescription drugs, are Pharmaca pharmacists.
“It’s a whole team approach,” says Summerfield. “They all work very closely together.”
That approach has fostered a customer base that is not swayed by mass media reports on the VMS industry or by government action in narrow areas. “We’re trusted not to have problems,” he comments. “Our customers don’t care what an attorney general or the FDA has to say because they’re not the experts. Our customers don’t go to the media to get information about whether a natural product is safe or effective. They make their own determination.”
He breaks down Pharmaca’s VMS shoppers into three groups: self-directed core customers who know a lot about natural medicine and what they’re looking for; regular supplement users who still want to engage with practitioners for additional information; and new supplement users who want to try something natural after being disappointed by drugs or are seeking products without side effects.
This third group is “looking for a lot of information,” Summerfield says. “They’re looking for full-on engagement with a practitioner, with product recommendations.” Staff members will engage them with the proper DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) language, or the customers can talk with a licensed naturopath who can operate under the scope of his or her license and be more directive.
Pharmaca also has on online presence for people who want to get their supplements without coming to a store, possibly because they want to buy in bulk at a discount.
“So we can be multichannel,” Summerfield remarks. “As long as customers stay loyal to our brand, we don’t mind if they’re getting a better deal online. It’s better that than they go somewhere else altogether.”