Every week, you write up a familiar list. You gather your willpower, grab your keys, and make a trip to your local grocer. Once you arrive, you grab a basket and start your shopping — eager to get in and out as quickly as possible. If you’re a regular, you can sort through the shelves and wade through the chaos relatively quickly.

You know where your items are, how much they are, and whether or not you’re getting a good deal. In no time, you can fill up your basket, buy up your items, and exit the store unscathed.

Grocery shopping can be a hassle, but if you’re at the right store, it doesn’t have to be a chore.

Why shouldn’t shopping for your pharmacy’s supplies be the same way?

Enter the word of pharmaceutical distribution. Distributors — also known as wholesalers — function like the grocery stores of the pharmacy world. They stock all of the medications and OTC items your pharmacy needs to keep a complete inventory.

Today, more than 22,000 independent pharmacies rely on distributors every day: trusting them to stock their shelves and get patients the items they need. Distributors handle 92% of pharmaceutical sales in the United States, delivering more than four billion prescription medications every year.

But not all wholesalers are created equal. Wholesalers offer different items, at different price points, with different benefits. And with so many options on the market, it can be tricky to navigate the waters.

Learn what to look for, what to ask, and what to do to find the right distributor for your pharmacy.

What to Look for in a Pharmaceutical Distributor

As you start shopping around, you should keep a checklist for the wholesalers you’re considering. Take into account what you need in your pharmacy and what you want in a pharmacy partner.

As a general rule of thumb, wholesalers should…

1. Have the appropriate licenses

Based on strict regulations from the HHS, pharmaceutical distributors should be licensed to an authorized trading partner. For pharmacies, the FDA recommends that prescription drugs only be purchased from licensed drug distributors in the United States. Because licenses vary from state to state, a database for distributors in each state can be found here.

2. Maintain Drug Distributor Accreditation

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) created a Drug Distributor Accreditation to protect the public from the threat of counterfeit drugs. Thus, wholesalers with Drug Distributor Accreditation are licensed, in good standing with the NABP, and trusted to safely distribute prescription drugs from manufacturers to pharmacies. You should only buy from distributors with the Drug Distributor Accreditation.

3. Understand laws and regulations

The pharmaceutical supply chain is governed by many laws and regulations, which your wholesaler should not only be familiar with, but should keep you informed of. If new changes come up, your wholesaler should stay compliant and make sure you stay compliant, too.

4. Fight to give you the best price

Price isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to picking a wholesaler, but it is a critical consideration. Pick a wholesaler that gives you the best products for the best prices, without sacrificing quality in others areas. With fair wholesale prices, you can offer fair prices to your patients and see higher customer satisfaction.

5. Be transparent

Wholesalers should be open, honest, and transparent about the drugs they’re supplying you with: including where they’re sourced, how they’re priced, and how their contracts work. Lack of transparency can indicate sketchy business practices; so it’s best to stick with a supplier that’s honest.

6. Offer compliance incentives

Some wholesalers offer incentives for staying loyal to their program, including discounts and rebates in your contract. Many pharmacies split purchases between multiple wholesalers, but compliance incentives can give you reason to start (and stick with) one supplier for all of your pharmacy’s needs.

7. Share your priorities

At the end of the day, drug distribution isn’t just about the numbers. Wholesalers that share your beliefs, values, and core mission are more willing to treat you fairly. As you’re out looking, consider wholesalers that serve independent pharmacies and see if you notice a difference in the quality of service you receive.

8. Be compatible with your pharmacy software system

Some wholesalers actually integrate with your pharmacy software system: meaning that you can directly manage your inventory (and order from your wholesaler) from right within the system. Certain software systems prefer certain vendors, so ask your vendor which one they prefer to do business with. There may even be an incentive attached to doing business with a preferred vendor.

8 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Wholesaler

As you start weighing your options, feel free to reach out to wholesalers to learn more. Explain your needs, ask your questions, and get a feel for the company you’re dealing with. As you learn more about each wholesaler, take some time to reflect.

Ask yourself the following questions to find out if you’re a good match:

1. Is the wholesaler equipped to handle all of my needs?

2. Do they understand my business goals and objectives?

3. Do they share my commitment to patients?

4. How can they help me maintain my margins?

5. What are they doing to keep my costs down?

6. How can they help me, aside from providing better pricing?

7. Do they have any conflicts of interest that would make it difficult to service my pharmacy and provide what’s been promised?

8. Can they easily integrate with my pharmacy management system?

The Best Wholesalers for Independent Pharmacies

Not sure where to start with wholesalers? Look into any of the following options, from large corporations to family-owned businesses, to find the right choice for you:

1. AmerisourceBergen

As one of the largest wholesale distributors in the nation, AmerisourceBergen serves 34% of all retail pharmacies with over 50,000 managed products

2. Cardinal Health

Cardinal Health is another top distributor, serving over 29,000 pharmacies around the country. Cardinal offers 340B services, pharmaceutical tracing, generics, specialty pharmacy distribution, and more

3. Morris & Dickson Co.

Morris & Dickson offers a variety of advanced distribution services, including a generic source program and special pricing services for brand and generic Rx products, as well as DME and OTCs

4. Smith Drug Company

Smith Drug serves the eastern half of the United States with small, customer-first care, including drug distribution

5. Heartland Pharma Co.

Heartland serves 400,000 businesses nationwide with a variety of solutions, including pharmaceutical products and services

6. GeriMed

GeriMed specializes in long-term care (LTC) and home care pharmaceutical distribution, with services like network contracting, reconciliation services, and third-party services


With all of this information in mind, it’s time to start shopping. With a high-quality independent pharmacy wholesaler, you can make your inventory easier and more efficient than ever before. Get the right criteria, ask the right questions, and find the right choice for your pharmacy.