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Hiring strategically to embrace pharmacy change


Change has been a fact of life since the first pharmacy opened its doors many centuries ago. And it’s a challenge pharmacists and pharmacist-owners will face for years to come.

In the short term, keeping pace with change requires us to hire and retain the best staff, offer consistent, top-notch customer service, stay competitive with big box outlets and offer speedy implementation of strategies that improve revenue streams. The longer term agenda includes renovation and expansion of our stores, implementation of new technology and succession planning.

Failing to address these and other changes and challenges risks putting our businesses out of step with the marketplace, and could put pharmacies and their employees in jeopardy.

When we acquired our pharmacy in 2005, we were cognizant of the changing landscape and quick to develop a strategy that has ensured steady growth without losing sight of our goal of running a traditional pharmacy focused on excellent service and the professional and reliable delivery of prescription and OTC medications.

When it became apparent our business needed upgrading and enlarging, we erected a building that more than tripled our footprint to 6,000 sq. ft. During the planning we were careful to develop a floor plan that, as in our previous building, placed the dispensary a short distance from the entrance so we could see and greet customers as they entered the store. It was part of our strategy to offer service and a retail atmosphere the big players can’t match.

As expansion increased our staff from four to 20 employees, we were concerned workers would lose sight of our customer service vision. We crossed that hurdle by hiring an experienced human resources person (who is also our bookkeeper) to oversee all personnel matters, including the creation of staff policies on harassment and termination. We also used the Internet to train and communicate with our staff on how to best serve our customers. It’s easy and efficient and ensures consistent messages are delivered to everyone.

When many pharmacies expanded their frontshops and cosmetics counters, we took the opposite path. Rather than stocking our shelves with frozen foods, chocolates and makeup, we focused on what we do best – the professional delivery of health and wellness services. Our bottom line has responded with double-digit year-over-year growth.

In recent years, business in the dispensary has grown by 10 to 15 percent, but revenue has increased by only two to three percent, owing largely to the end of generic pricing. Although there was pressure on staffing costs to meet the added workload, we bit the bullet and added employees, including two pharmacists, to ensure we could service our patients. We’ve covered some of the higher cost of salaries by adding to the slate of professional services we offer, a move that has boosted our reputation as excellent service providers and that over time will attract new business.

We’ve also resisted the temptation to expand our product lines, in particular in the area of nutritional items. Instead of adding more vitamins and herbal products, we hired a registered holistic nutritionist who offers expert advice to our customers and orders products we don’t have in stock. She gives us an advantage by making the service experience much better than what our competitors offer.

Succession planning is not an issue many middle-aged pharmacy operators attend to. To some extent we are guilty of that thinking but not totally. In addition to the recent hiring two pharmacists from the University of Waterloo pharmacy school, we will continue our close ties to the school of pharmacy by hiring co-op students each semester. This will allow us to take advantage of fresh ideas and therapeutic knowledge, and at the same time stay connected to a pipeline of up-and-coming pharmacists, some of whom may be part of our succession plan.

A key change in the pharmacy business is added competition. But what has stayed the same is people: whether today or 20 years ago, people still want be treated with excellent care. We’ve met this challenge by expanding our footprint but more importantly by offering customers a better experience every time they visit our store. For us, that’s the ticket to survival.

Rob Parsons, BScPhm CGP and Dom Ricciuto, BScPhm have co-owned Ingersoll Pharmasave since 2005.


5 tips to keep pace with the changing landscape

.1. Develop a solid business strategy.

.2. Stay on top of trends.

.3. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain.

.4. Use outside expertise.

.5. Mentor with others in the business.



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