It has been roughly six months since I said goodbye to corporate work and hello – again – to community pharmacy. The transition has been more rewarding than I ever imagined.
by Tracey Phillips, pharmacist-owner, Westport Village Pharmacy, Westport, Ont.
I’m part of the rhythm of the store and the community. I’ve become engrained in the fabric of living and working here, and the community has welcomed me warmly.
The welcome is a testament to the people here and to my staff who have generously promoted me to friends, family and neighbours. My four key employees are connected to different parts of the community, and there is always someone you know when you come into the store. Introductions have been made, and I’m now a familiar face.
The community has also embraced the changes I’ve made in tandem with my staff and the local physicians. One of the first things we did was extend the pharmacy hours in the summer to 6 p.m. and opened all day until 5 p.m. on Sunday. From a community perspective, this makes a tremendous difference. If we’re not open, people may have to drive more than 30 minutes to access a drugstore.
There are times the extended hours merit the additional cost of keeping the store open longer. There are times they don’t. But being open longer means something to the community, and while it may not be good financial business, it is still good business.
We’re also offering injections. In the past, patients would have to visit their doctor for a prescription, drive to our store to pick up their vaccine or injection, then head back to the doctor’s office for its administration. You could spend a whole day getting an injection. We’ve eliminated that inconvenience and frustration through the use of direct orders with our physician partners.
We didn’t have to advertise these changes – although we certainly did for the new availability flu shots. The community talks to one another, like all small communities. In turn, people are telling us how much they appreciate what their local pharmacy is doing for them and their families.
I also changed the merchandising flow in the store, which is roughly 2,000 sq. ft. Some sections were expanded, others condensed, but regardless of the change, staff were an integral part of the process. They know the needs of the community best and are my partners.
The local grocery store does not carry baby food or diapers, for example. This is a pretty basic need, so we moved to fill the gap. Now the grocery store refers people to us for these items. In addition to local families who may need them, we have a lot of cottagers and seniors with grandkids who visit. Now they too can get what they need without a long trek.
I also expanded the cosmetic section. Previously there were only three brands on the shelves and these were not necessarily updated or well stocked. I doubled the size of the section, updated the current SKUs and added two new popular lines. Before the new merchandise was available, cosmetic sales had dropped 50 per cent over the previous year. By the end of September, they were up 68 per cent. By the end of October, sales had grown by 97 per cent. It’s not huge dollars, but it is coming along nicely. And it is about energizing the store.
Other changes will also enhance business. I have a medical directive to prescribe for common ailments with the doctor next door, which I haven’t exercised as often as I thought I would, but it’s nonetheless been important when I have. I’ve also just acquired a bone density machine and am meeting with local physicians to see how this can be used effectively in the community.
Personally, I’m growing as an individual and a pharmacist – and having a ton of fun in the process. I just got my methadone certification, for example. But ultimately, this isn’t about me. It’s about my community and how their local pharmacy can be a vital part of life here.