Sometimes you just have to think outside the community.
By Talbot Boggs
For Rob Perry, Curtis MacIntyre and Kathy Spurell, that statement is not a play on the well-known business adage “think outside the box,” it’s a reality.
The trio co-owns two Valley Drug Mart Pharmasave pharmacies in Kingston and Middleton in Nova Scotia’s rural Annapolis Valley. They wanted to expand their business but couldn’t because the population in much of rural Nova Scotia is declining. So they decided to build a brand new store from the ground up in Middle Sackville, a suburban community in the province’s Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), which is experiencing a growth in population.
“It’s really hard to increase business in a static community,” says MacIntyre. “We knew we wanted to expand so we looked for a community that was growing and had limited services. We wanted a community where we could be in front of the market.”
They selected a site in the town on which the land’s owner erected a 9,000 sq. ft. building, including a 1,250 sq. ft. medical clinic with four doctors’ offices, a Tim Hortons shop, and more than 5,000 sq. ft. for their pharmacy. The strategy from the outset was to build a modern, environmentally-friendly “cookie cutter” store that offered many of the regular pharmacy categories and services along with a strong selection of convenience items such as milk, bread, eggs, drinks and frozen food for the town’s 5,800 residents.
When MacIntyre and Spurell held a grand opening, they invested in flyers, local media advertising, road signage and Pharmasave’s national website to promote the store, which recruited its staff from the local community.
Huge energy saver
By building from the ground up, they were able to make energy savings a key focus of their operation.
In fact, the store is one of the most energy-efficient in the province. It features insulated concrete forms for the foundation and walls, as well as energy efficient, power saving LED lighting throughout the building. The two exterior signs are expected to use only $40 a year per sign in electricity and have a life span of 11 years each. The heating system features an electric heat pump backed up with a propane generator and state-of-the-art insulation. If the power goes out, the whole store, including the refrigeration system for the convenience items and the dispensary, will automatically switch to the generator.
As well, the security system will monitor temperatures in the refrigerators and report any problems or changes to appropriate store personnel on their smartphone. The building also has a number of other energy-saving features such as hands-free lighting in the washrooms and touch-free Dyson hand dryers. “The place is so well designed, built and insulated you could heat it with a candle,” says MacIntyre.
The store product mix includes OTCs, household goods, health and beauty, vitamins and supplements and convenience, an Air Miles loyalty program. The owners invested about $800,000 in the project, not including product inventory, and it took about 12 weeks to build.
It’s early days, and the store’s frontshop is performing above expectations, but the pharmacy is taking a little longer to establish itself. “In a normal greenfield situation it’s usual for the frontshop to do better than the dispensary because it’s not that easy for people to switch pharmacists,” MacIntyre says. “Pharmacists are, after all, one of the most trusted professionals, and it can take people a while to feel comfortable with a new pharmacist and make a change. But we’re confident we have a strong team, great environment and the products and services to meet the needs of the community and be successful. It just takes some time.”