Who is selling what to pharmacy?

The big trade show in any sector is not necessarily the most reliable source of data to illuminate what is going on in that particular trade. They are often a cross between bun fight, popularity contest, shock and awe and that’s just attempting to get some healthy food at lunchtime. After all, pretty much anyone who thinks they can sell to the assembled audience can get a spot if they can stomach the eye watering price per meter to set up shop. But this kind of event can tell us something interesting. Not about the industry itself, they are the buyers (or product if you are selling stands to exhibitors), but about the other side of the transaction and in the case of the pharmacy sector; Who is selling what to pharmacy?

Even more interesting, and this is one I ponder each year when I am stood on one of said exhibition stands, is the flow of what is being sold to pharmacy. The changing patterns over time. With enough distance and perspective (something we specialise in at DOSE) you can almost watch the changes as they happen. In slow motion. Currents of different product categories flowing in and out of the show over time before, then disappearing silently, not having been able to crack the nut of pharmacists interest. Some are pretty surprising. Coloured contact lenses flashed across the show in the mid to late teens. Vaping followed and hangs in there. And then there are some really odd ones, with just one, lone exhibitor who fancies their chances.

Curiosity becomes exploration

As is often the case, interest becomes curiosity which if left to ferment can lead to exploration. We’ve collated the number of exhibitors from each listed category at The Pharmacy Show in 2019 and compared with the same analysis from 2021. The results would be interesting between any two shows but with the pandemic year that wasn’t splitting these two data sets it is even more so.

DOSE category analysis of exhibitors at the Pharmacy Show 2019 vs 2021.

The winners, or at least those categories that have grown at the show include: OTC, Point of care diagnostics, marketing for pharmacies and automated dispensing.

Brand new categories at the show include: Food delivery, blister packaging \ monitored dosage. This last one may have been a change in the category taxonomy rather that a real new entrant.

Categories that have disappeared include: Security solutions, Animal health and Bath and body.

The losers, those categories where the number of exhibitors showing at the, well, show have decreased include: Most of them, but that is largely due to it being a much smaller, post pandemic show. The ones where the decrease exceeds what we might expect due to the pandemic include: Wholesalers and distributors, Skincare, Ear health, Professional bodies, Wright management and Telehealth.

You can pick your own insights and patterns out of the data as you may see others.

The overall patterns are not drastically altered. The pandemic reduced the number of exhibitors overall. Understandable. The number of exhibitors in many categories were broadly similar when seen through this lens. The smallest categories remained towards the smaller end. The largest categories remained towards the bigger end.

OTC moved up from 4th in 2019 to 1st in 2021.

Pharmacy software and technology remained in second place with Natural products moving from third to joint second.

Education moved from 6th to 4th.

Wholesale and distribution dropped from 1st to 5th.

Skincare dropped from 5th to 8th.

What this means for the sector and for future years is unclear. Will the show bounce back to being bigger and bigger year on year? Will any new categories come in and grow within the set? What might those categories be? Where is the innovation or is it hidden inside catch all category names? Will the professional bodies feel differently next time and be confident to return? Will they feel the need? Is there any value in it for them?

What does seem clear is that the show will continue to divide people. The largest companies will continue to invest significant sums in attending in force while smaller startups may decide their marketing budget is better spent elsewhere. Some already have. There may come a time where it isn’t critical to attend just to maintain awareness. There are other ways of course and some of them may be far more effective and deliver a better return on investment.

Whichever side you come down on it’s useful to remember that the show, in all of it’s glorious and chaotic majesty is really just a temporary pop up shop for pharmacists and their teams. It’s somewhere pharmacy people go to meet up, catch up and if they see something they like, spend up. What it isn’t is a reflection of the pharmacy profession itself. But it is interesting now and again to notice what people are trying to sell to the pharmacy profession. If only to acknowledge that pharmacists may want to look outside of that particular box and see what else they can find. If you only ever buy the same things and do the same things as everyone else then how are you going to gain competitive advantage?

Disclaimer: DOSE were there. We have a diminutive, but very striking, little stand from which we set forth to challenge peoples mindsets and explore the biggest challenges the profession faces and what a bright future looks like.