In a retail world dominated by big box stores and consolidation, one pharmacy company is standing out from the rest by maintaining the personal touch of a community-based drug store even as it keeps pace with quickly-changing technology.
Pharmasave, which launched in Ontario in 1997 with 17 stores, hit the 300-store milestone this year — its 20th anniversary — and plans to open another 100 stores by 2022. Its growth is well above the industry average: whereas the Ontario College of Pharmacists reports that community pharmacies grew in Ontario by three per cent overall in 2016, Pharmasave grew at a rate of nine per cent.
According to Pharmasave Ontario CEO Doug Sherman, the secret behind the success of the member-owned, member-governed cooperative is a unique business model supported by a strong belief that touch and technology go hand in hand, a strategy that is enabling members to continue to grow at a fast rate.
“We’re like the Cheers of pharmacy – it wouldn’t surprise me if 99 per cent of customers who walk into a Pharmasave store are known by name,” said Sherman, who joined Pharmasave in 1998. “At the same time, we are at the leading edge of technology, constantly introducing new products and services to help our members operate more efficiently,” he said.
“The result is an environment where no two Pharmasave Ontario stores look the same, yet they all feel the same,” Sherman explained. “Technology helps us to be more efficient in our processes but touch remains a critical part of our culture when it comes to caring for both our communities and our members,” he added.
Relationship-based service is the cornerstone of the Pharmasave brand, which originated in British Columbia in 1981. Nationally, the company operates more than 600 stores in nine provinces, meaning roughly half of its business is in Ontario. Pharmasave was founded with the goal to be Canada’s best community pharmacy and continues to advance the pharmacy profession through advocacy and industry-leading programs, adding 70 stores nationally over the past two years, with many more in the 2017 pipeline.
“Our strong, community first culture remains the backbone of the Ontario Region,” said Carmen Churcott, CEO of Pharmasave National, noting that the pharmacy’s role in consumer healthcare is changing as Canadian healthcare services evolve.
According to a 2016 research report from the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the role of the pharmacist is no longer just about dispensing medication. Pharmacists are increasingly called on to provide patient-centred care based on strong product knowledge and direct interaction with patients and as a consequence, Canadians are receiving more care from their local pharmacies.
“The evolution of pharmacy practice in Canada continues to present new opportunities for pharmacy services,” Churcott said. “Pharmasave pharmacists, with their trusted patient relationships, are well positioned to fulfill a significant role in the delivery of community healthcare services, providing care in areas such as medication management, injection services, diabetes care, travel health, minor ailment prescribing and a full range of patient care programs.”
Strong community focus
“While Pharmasave’s growth is notable, the goal is never to have the most stores, but rather, to ensure the company’s unique culture and business model are ingrained in every location – an outlook that is resonating with community-minded retail pharmacists,” Sherman said. He explained that Pharmasave offers the most complete programs, services and support available to independent pharmacists, with comprehensive support for dispensary-focused stores, large formats with full front store offerings and everything in between. At the same time, members are independent business owners, free to customize their products and services according to the specific needs of their clientele, with many finding unique ways to give back to their cities and towns as well.
“Our stores are found in converted houses, medical clinics, strip malls and large, stand-alone health centres, but as soon as you walk in the door you know you’re at Pharmasave because they all reflect the warmth and community values of our brand,” Sherman said, noting that store sizes range from 300 to over 20,000 square feet.
Pharmacist Nayan Patel joined the Ontario cooperative in 2000 and currently operates four stores in the Greater Toronto Area. In Stouffville, he offers specialty compounding such as special formulations for children who have difficulty swallowing pills, hormone replacement therapies for women going through menopause and vet compounding for family pets. In Scarborough, he focuses on affordable products and services such as blister packing to help customers know which pills to take and when to take them.
Patel’s additional two locations are located in hospitals in York and East York where customers typically fill prescriptions related to their hospital visits. Regardless of the differences between the four locations, customer loyalty is incredible, he said. “It goes beyond just knowing people by name,” said Patel, who has watched babies grow into teenagers. “We also get to know a little bit about who’s related to whom and form relationships that span generations.”
Though their services are tailored, each Pharmasave store benefits from shared programs and tools, including a full suite of merchandising, operations, business development, marketing, human resources, private label and technology support, along with a comprehensive line of 750+ brand-name products. Leading-edge tools include MedAlign@Pharmasave – a collection of services to help with medication management, including medication reviews, blister packaging, medication synchronization and same-day refills – and eCare@Pharmasave, which provides customer access to everyday tools for managing their health in ways that are simple to set up and easy to maintain. This suite of interactive solutions enables customers to digitally engage with their pharmacy and empowers them with mobile refills, medication reminders and much more.
“You’re in business for yourself, but you’re not by yourself,” explained Pharmacist Domenic Ricciuto, one of four partners who collectively own the Pharmasave store in Ingersoll. “We get to fulfill our dream of owning and operating an independent store, but the key to our success is that we’re a cooperative, which means we have the full support of peers who have as much vested interest in our business as we do.”
Caring beyond store walls
The Ingersoll store differentiates itself by offering specialty dressings required for after-wound care, products that are in high demand but not readily available elsewhere in the area. It also carries an extensive giftware collection, including locally-sourced products such as the Jaydancin line of all-natural beauty products out of London, Ont. and handmade microwavable heating pads created by a local crafter.
“We’re personal but we’re not mom and pop operations. We have a level of sophistication that rivals any of our competitors,” Ricciuto said, noting that access to advanced technology to run his business means he has more time for face-to-face interaction with customers, beyond the four walls of his store.
Pharmasave Ingersoll hosts an annual Relay for Life barbecue in support of the Canadian Cancer Society and sponsors local sports teams. Ricciuto is also a member of the local Rotary Club and his partners are active in other service clubs. In Stouffville, Patel and his store employees host an annual charity barbecue, raising more than $12,000 for the Markham Stouffville Hospital over the past eight years.
“From the outside, you don’t know what Pharmasave is about, but when you come inside the group, you realize how well the business model works,” said Patel, noting that the sense of community is equally strong among cooperative members who routinely hold in-person meetings and attend owners’ retreats and wellness expos. “If I run out of something, I know I can run over to the next Pharmasave store and they will share their stock,” he said.
In 1998, only one Pharmasave Ontario member owned two stores, whereas today more than 60 members own multiple stores. “The cooperative model is working so well, many employees and storeowners are celebrating 10, 12 or 15-year anniversaries,” Sherman said. “We’ll end the year at 315 stores.” he explained. “Our growth is not only a reflection of who we are, but what we do – serve communities in a manner that’s best for them.”
With more than 600 stores in nine provinces, Pharmasave is one of Canada’s leading independent community pharmacies. Since being founded in 1981, Pharmasave has focused on building a national platform of community-based retail outlets designed to provide exceptional patient-centred healthcare, medication advice, drug store products and customer service. Pharmasave continues to differentiate itself through leading-edge digital solutions. Patients can access everyday tools to manage their health in ways that are simple to set up and easy to maintain with eCare @ Pharmasave. This suite of interactive solutions enables patients to digitally engage with their pharmacy and empowers them with mobile refills, medication reminders and so much more. Each Pharmasave store operates independently to serve its individual community, tailoring both programs and services to the unique needs of customers and reinforcing the commitment to help all customers live well with Pharmasave.
With more than 600 stores across the country, Pharmasave is one of Canada’s leading independent community pharmacies. Since being founded in 1981, Pharmasave has focused on building a national platform of community-based retail outlets designed to provide exceptional patient-centred healthcare, medication advice, drug store products and customer service. Pharmasave continues to differentiate itself through leading-edge digital solutions. Patients can access everyday tools to manage their health in ways that are simple to set up and easy to maintain with eCare@Pharmasave. This suite of interactive solutions enables patients to engage digitally with their pharmacy and empowers them with mobile refills, medication reminders and so much more. Each Pharmasave store operates independently to serve its individual community, tailoring both programs and services to the unique needs of customers and reinforcing the commitment to help all customers live well with Pharmasave.
For more information, contact:
Region Manager, Marketing and Merchandising
Phone: 905-477-7820 x 222
Gail Bergman or Elizabeth Glassen
Gail Bergman PR
Phone: 905-886-1340 or 905-886-4091