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Watch & Learn: Bob Mehr’s 6 tips to getting staff to buy in and stay in

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When it comes to staff training, pharmacy owner Bob Mehr is a firm believer in the well-worn adage: “you have to spend money to make money.’’

By Randy Ray

Since he opened his first pharmacy in British Columbia in 1999, Mehr, owner of the Pure Integrative Pharmacy chain, has consistently invested in his people by sending them to conferences and seminars, linking them to online webinars and providing in-store training.

In 2014, he plans to launch a more structured company-wide training initiative for the 160 employees who work at 15 stores that have been operating under the Pure Integrative Pharmacy banner since Oct. 1, 2012.


Tips to train

  • Seek employee input when developing training initiatives.
  • Focus training on areas of the market where improvements are relevant to your business model.
  • Offer training on site and off site to maximize expertise.
  • Train existing employees to educate, advise and monitor their fellow workers.
  • Assign each employee to a peer to develop accountability and team spirit.
  • Spend on training, but be patient: it takes time for the benefits to appear.

The chain’s focus on training means members of his dispensary, frontshop, and natural health and cosmetics teams can knowledgeably answer just about any customer query.

“All drugstores, even some food stores sell the same Tylenol, so it is essential that we have well-trained employees because they are selling knowledge as well as products,” says Mehr, Bsc Pharm, and a compounding pharmacist. “Our clients are looking for good information. … because of the Internet and the media, more than ever they are aware of the medications they are taking. They look at every ingredient in a product; they want to know what is in it or if there will be an interaction if they are taking two different medications.

“We are the first line of healthcare professionals in the country and we are accessible … so it is crucial that we are well trained and able to dispense the best possible knowledge,” adds Mehr, whose stores in Greater Vancouver, on Vancouver Island and on Salt Spring Island, range in size from 1,200 to 14,000 sq. ft.

The company’s current training regime ensures all new and existing employees are involved in training, both in-store and off-site. Sessions are conducted by suppliers, outside experts and Pure Integrative Pharmacy staff who attend seminars, then disseminate what they have learned to their fellow employees.

Topics include new medication options for illnesses such as diabetes, asthma and arthritis; use of natural remedies; different ways to boost the immune system; injection training and an examination of research findings and recent studies. Seminars on customer service and productivity will soon be added to the slate.

While suppliers deliver some training free of charge, other programs, including the cost of salaries, travel and accommodations, have cost Mehr as much as $1,200 per pharmacist and up to $20,000 per store.

This investment, and the rest of the company’s training expenditures, is paying significant dividends, he says. In several stores, sales skyrocketed by between 60 and 70 per cent after staff were thoroughly trained.

And there’s an added bonus: well-trained employees are proud of their jobs and the contribution they are making toward the company’s goals and tend to stay with the company longer.