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Watson’s Pharmacy’s “back to the future” approach

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Scott Watson’s two Ottawa pharmacies take customers back in time to an era when independents ruled the retail drugstore landscape.

 

 

By Randy Ray

Located on Main Street in east Ottawa and on Wellington Street in the trendy Westboro neighbourhood a short drive west of Parliament Hill, Watson’s Pharmacy & Compounding Centres offer the personal service big box outlets don’t always provide, a wide selection of natural remedies and dispensaries a few steps inside the front door.

They also house compounding labs and have the look of a turn-of-the century pharmacy with hardwood floors, fireplaces, low shelving, crown moulding, natural lighting and soft pastel colours. The stores close at 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and are not open on Sundays.

After working for several big box pharmacies, and following a stint helping the City of Ottawa develop its biotech sector, Watson was bound and determined to launch a business that closely mirrored the pharmacies his family frequented in his home town of Pincher Creek, Alberta, as well as a popular independent compounding pharmacy in Ottawa’s quaint Glebe neighbourhood where he worked for three years.

The 4,000-sq. ft. east Ottawa outlet, which opened in 2006, and the 1,800-sq. ft. Westboro shop, from 2012, are all about healthcare. Watson, his wife and business partner Katie Lafferty, and their 17 staff, care deeply about the kinds of products they offer and take great pains to research and locate high-quality, unique lines.

An example is their comprehensive selection of high-end nutritional supplements made by Canadian companies such as Sisu of British Columbia and AOR of Calgary. At both stores these and other natural products account for 50 per cent of his front store stock.

“We believe in health,” says Watson who describes his stores as integrative pharmacies that blend the best of both western medicines and natural, nutritional therapies.

“Traditional medicines play a very important role, but we are able to offer natural suggestions when appropriate,” he says, noting he often convinces customers to use natural therapies that are complementary to the medications prescribed by their doctors. Both stores run flu clinics and offer nutritional counselling.

Creative solutions

Watson clearly loves his job, not only because he has succeeded in opening pharmacies with a small town feel, but also because his compounding labs enable him to be more creative in solving customers’ ailments in concert with the doctors who send him patients.

“I love the fact that I am not simply putting pills in vials … I am thinking and analyzing. Will my compounds be stable and for how long? Will they be the right strength? It makes my job very fulfilling. … doctors call me up to help them solve problems and ask my opinion and we work together to make solutions.”

Watson enjoys explaining how he and his wife created the unique look and feel that keeps customers coming back. During a visit to Sarasota, Florida they were inspired by the charming American store, Restoration Hardware, and with some adjustments came up with a design similar to an old New England-style apothecary.

The finishing touches inside each include portraits donated by the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame of some of Canada’s greatest leaders and innovators in health research: Roberta Bondar, Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best, to name a few. The images celebrate the stories of scientific breakthroughs by some of Canada’s most innovative individuals.

Like each of these inspiring Canadians, the Watsons’ pharmacies are earning praise in the community that is helping grow business at both outlets. At the Main Street store, sales have tripled since 2006 and the number of compounded prescriptions has jumped from 200 a year to more than 3,000 in 2013.

Word of Scott’s expertise has spread far and wide.

He has been a regular guest on Ottawa’s CTV Morning Live where he shares his vast knowledge during “Ask the Expert’’ segments. He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work as a pharmacist, and in 2013 his business was named the top integrated pharmacy in Canada at the 2013 Commitment to Care & Service Awards.

“We have received plenty of positive reaction,” he says. “People like our focus on health. … some have said we are the nicest pharmacy they have ever been to – period.”

 

Scott Watson’s top tips for success:

  • Look for ways to be different
  • Persevere. Not all days will be good days
  • Treat everyone like a friend