Laura and Graeme Carlson came to the realization that sometimes you’ve just got to get rid of the old and bring in the new.
By Talbot Boggs
Photos by Peter Kalasz
The couple purchased Pharmasave Grand Forks in 1990. The 6,000 sq. ft. store is one of the oldest Pharmasave pharmacies in British Columbia, dating back to 1981. Over the years the Carlsons had done some minor renovations, but it wasn’t until January 2015 that they undertook “the big one.” They completely ripped out the old store to the slats and built an entire new one outfitted with all the features that are now part of a modern, service-focused pharmacy-shopping destination capable of meeting the needs of the rural community of 4,500 and surrounding trading area of 10,000.
“It was a huge job,” says Laura. “We gutted it right to the walls and replaced everything from wiring, plumbing, lighting, fixtures, floors, ceilings, shelving, data cables and cash registers to make it a truly modern community pharmacy capable of providing the expanding scope of health services. The community itself hasn’t changed a lot over the years, but we had to in order to service it properly.”
They put in an entirely new 1,500 sq. ft. dispensary (50 per cent bigger than the old one) complete with drop-off and pick-up counters, semi- and private counselling areas and offices, and installed a ScriptPro automatic prescription filling machine, enabling the pharmacy to supply more than 40 customers in local long-term care and assisted living facilities.
The Carlsons have put a strategic emphasis on value-added services, offering flu shots, compression stocking fittings and a smoking cessation program, and soon plan to introduce a travel medicine practice. In January they introduced a lifestyle weight-loss program that included the Ideal Protein weight management system and became one of only a few pharmacies in the province to have a Health Tab machine capable of testing blood for up to 22 markers including electrolytes and HDL and LDL levels plus.
“These programs and services have really improved the level of care we can offer our patients,” says Laura. “The new technologies are freeing up our staff to spend more time with patients, learn about their health situations and problems, and develop solutions for them. The customers love them, and in the process they have made a real improvement in our bottom line.”
The Carlsons planned the front shop with a decided focus on cosmetics and fashion to position the store as a shopping destination. They dedicated 1,000 sq. ft. to dermatology skin care, cosmetics, fashions and accessories that features a fitting room with specialty “naturally” sourced brands catering to more environmentally-conscious consumers and a cosmetician and/or cosmetics manager on-site five days a week. Another 900 sq. ft. is dedicated to gifts, toys and crafts focusing on a niche selection of products not available anywhere else in the community. Laura periodically travels the 520 km to Vancouver to hand-pick her selection of fashions, accessories and giftware.
Part way through the renovation Canada Post approached the Carlsons about putting in a small postal outlet. They looked at the layout and quickly made the necessary changes and converted a small office into the outlet, which includes parcel pick-up. They also equipped the store with the latest in payment registers and systems to streamline the checkout and payment process.
The half-a-million-dollar renovation took place over two and a half months. Work went on at night so not to cause disruptions to daily business. The results are already worth the short-term pain. Dispensary sales for 2015 over 2014 were up 7.8 per cent and front shop sales up 26.8 per cent, including an increase of 36.6 per cent in cosmetics and fashion.
“We focused on the needs of our patients and what we felt were our strengths,” Laura says. “The time was right. People really got into the renovations – they loved to come in and see what was going on – and are really pleased with the new store and how we can help them manage their health. It’s gone from feeling like a pharmacy in a small rural town to one in a big downtown shopping mall. If you look after the customers, the business will follow.”