Early fall is startup time for many new practitioners, including new ND’s in our area. As a result, we’ve been fielding a lot more questions lately, covering just about everything from leases to associate agreements and websites.

One topic of interest is how to start up a dispensary. We started ours when the clinic already had a substantial patient base, but Tara and I discussed what we’d do if we were starting from scratch now. Whether you’re selling supplements, natural beauty products, healthy foods or yoga gear, here are a few strategies to guide you on your way.

1. Understand You’re in a Different Business
Selling products is different from selling consults or treatments. It’s a retail business, not a service business. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a great job of it, just understand that the rules of success are a little different. The cost of doing a consult is just your time, for example, but supplements and other products have real hard costs that can sneak up on you.

The biggest thing to remember? Inventory is real money. Your goal should be to have things on the shelf for as little time as possible. You don’t want a year’s supply of anything.

2. Keep Your Opening Inventory Reasonable
The best way to keep things affordable is to do your best to only stock things you know you have a good chance of using. As you grow, you’ll be able to experiment a bit more, but for now, start with things you’re pretty confident you can sell.

To give you an example, we compiled a sample startup list for a new naturopath. Tara figured a useful number of products for a new ND might be somewhere between 20 & 30 SKU’s–enough to cover a lot of bases, but not so many that the initial cost will bury you.

Your list will vary, of course, depending on how and what you practice, but you can probably stock all these for about $1000, assuming you don’t get carried away with stocking too much of each.

  • Probiotic (adult)
  • Probiotic (child)
  • Fish oil
  • Adrenal combo
  • Iron combo
  • Detox/cleansing combo
  • Combo for UTI
  • Menopause combo
  • Thryoid support
  • BP/CVD  combo
  • Joint health combo
  • Osteoporosis combo
  • Digestive enzyme
  • Magnesium
  • Sleep (melatonin)
  • St. John’s or other mood combo
  • Gut repair combo
  • Immune boosting combo
  • Allergy remedy
  • Curcumin
  • Anti-parasite
  • Anti-candida

3. Consider Blending Virtual and In-Clinic Sales
Many new practitioners are using online services to enable online supplement ordering from their websites. Those services can be an excellent way to help with reorders and refills, and add ecommerce to your website without spending a lot.

Don’t forget, though, that it’s far easier to sell someone a product while they’re standing in your office than it is to hope they choose to order it online when they get home. For us, going solely with a virtual dispensary would be a huge loss, but there are benefits to both.

4. Don’t Be Fooled Into Overbuying
You’ll be faced with some tempting offers when you start speaking with vendors. Discounts, free shipping, bonus products, etc. The catch is that they all come with a price tag: buying more.

Don’t be fooled. And when you’re tempted? Just remember: everything in your dispensary that doesn’t sell is costing you money!

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