Pharmacy U

7 key steps to beat the competition


When Sandstone Pharmacies was founded in 2004, it accounted for only two stores in the Calgary area. Today, this group operates 17 pharmacies in Alberta with 300 employees, including some 40 pharmacists and 10 regulated technicians.

By Mike Boivin BSc.Phm.

Photography by David Watt


“Our operations have had to continually evolve as we expanded our number of stores,” explains Marco Casagrande, vice president of operations. Like many other independent pharmacy chains, Sandstone has grown through the acquisition of established pharmacies. “When we purchase pharmacies, most have a good owner who has worked hard to grow the business. The store is profitable, but many of these independents seem dated, poorly merchandised, contain old fixtures and have poor inventory management.”

Marco is able to apply his extensive retail knowledge to continually improve the operation of the stores. “Most independent pharmacies have traditionally focused on the dispensary and their prescription volume. We believe in focusing on every aspect of our business and to continually improve every detail of our retail space. This improves our client experience. Now we are becoming a destination where our clients can address all of their healthcare needs.”

Front shop
“A strong front shop has always been a focus as we believe a viable and well-designed front shop will improve the client experience and help to grow all aspects of our business. Many independent pharmacies are just giving up on their front shop. They view this as ‘dead’ space and invest all of their efforts on improving the dispensary.”

How can owners improve their front shop?
+ Look for niches in your community. “Determine the products other retailers are not providing and help to address this void. We customize each of our stores to service the unique needs of their clients.”
+ Empower your front shop managers and have them think like entrepreneurs. “Each manager is encouraged to find the unique offerings. This has worked well in identifying specialized products for our store and empowers our managers to constantly improve our retail space.”
+ Make every week a season. “Pharmacies think of their seasonal products as only the major holidays. We realized that each week we can offer something unique. For example, in the spring we have made spring cleaning a seasonal section in our pharmacies.”

Hiring for success
“The key to a well-run dispensary is your staff. We have been able to hire incredible people who want to work with us to improve patient care and grow our business.”

The management team at Sandstone is always looking for pharmacists who hope to move their practice to the next level. “We have been able to hire pharmacists who are willing to take the initiative to do what pharmacists should be doing. Our role is to empower and support them to continually grow professionally. For example, we are thrilled when our pharmacists are interested in increasing their skillset to improve the services they can offer. We will not only support them financially for the training, but also look at our operations to help them implement this skillset in their practice. Having the skills and training is one thing, but being able to do what you love every day helps our pharmacists, patients and improves our bottom line.”

As a result of this dedication, the Sandstone team is enthusiastic about delivering an increasing number of expanded services in their pharmacies. “Expanded services are what our pharmacists want to do, and we operate our stores to help to support this goal.”

How do you staff for success?
+ Always hire greatness. “We have hired pharmacists and regulated technicians who at their previous employers could not practise to their full scope. We are happy to hire people who plan on evolving and growing. We support them in creating the pharmacy practice they want to work in.”
+ Listen and empower your staff. “When your staff are engaged and empowered, they are focused on collaborating with you to continually improve your store.”
+ Remove barriers to change. “As a team we look to identify issues that could hamper our staff and the delivery of products and services, then we look for solutions to ensure everyone is able to work at their full scope of practice.”
+ Break down work silos. “Often the front and back are seen as two distinct sections of the business, but they need to look at each other as a team. Our pharmacy staff promote our front shop, and each of our front shop staff is happy to promote our incredible pharmacy services.”