By his own admission, pharmacist Ernest Stefanson’s Pharmasave in Gimli, MB was badly in need of major change as his pharmacy was maxed out in retail space.
By Talbot Boggs
Photography by Steve Salnikowski
The store has been a landmark in the community of 5,000 since 1969, moving to its current location in 1984 and becoming part of Pharmasave in 1990. “We were so overcrowded we simply couldn’t offer our customers the products and services they can get virtually anywhere else,” says Stefanson. “There was no way we could grow the business and provide the expertise and service that customers now are accustomed to and expect from their neighbourhood pharmacy.”
Stefanson spent about $850,000 to essentially rebuild the business. He took over 2,500 sq. ft. of space from a local optometrist, which immediately increased his size to 7,500 sq. ft., and then over a year ending in January 2014 completely renovated the inside and outside of the store in sections. “There’s a lot that goes into making this kind of decision such as estimated growth, consumer expectations and staying current with your business demographic,” Stefanson says.
The new store plan completely reconfigured electrical, plumbing, HVAC and other services. It included all new lighting, flooring, shelving, spacious five-and-a-half foot aisles and now is completely wheelchair accessible. Stefanson tripled the size of the old dispensary and increased the area given to compounding, blister and compliance packaging, improved work flow and efficiencies, separate drop off and pick up stations, waiting areas, semi and private consultation areas and rooms and enough space to add automation technology in the future.
“Our primary business is pharmacy, and a large part of that is over-the-counter drugs,” Stefanson says. “The expansion has allowed us to remerchandise these departments with a greater focus on the dispensary and to increase the level of patient-pharmacist interaction through the introduction of semi and private consultation areas. Our goal was better patient care and customer service and we’ve been able to do both. Even though we recently lost out on a contract to supply an 80-bed nursing home, we still have seen a five-per-cent increase in the dispensary business.”
Many of the changes have come through consultation. Stefanson conducted a series of focus groups and found that customers wanted a greater emphasis on cosmetics, home healthcare and vitamins in the new store. He expanded and improved his cosmetic and home healthcare sections with more space, better lighting, an expanded line of products and a greater emphasis on popular brands. Cosmetics increased to 800 sq. ft. from 650 sq. ft., resulting in a 9.8-per-cent increase in sales. The home healthcare section doubled to 56 linear feet and is stocked with a greater selection of braces, mobility and other products, resulting in an increase in sales of almost 23 per cent. “Our vitamin section in linear footage is about the same and sales are flat,” Stefanson admits. “The section is not as prominently placed as it was, but with the improved merchandising of all of our OTCs, which include vitamins, sales have increased 16.86 per cent in that area.”
Not all of the changes were inside the store. The exterior of the building received a new, modern façade using latex stucco painted in a current colour scheme and automatic doors to both the entrance and exit vestibules and a newly-paved parking lot.
“This project took just over a year because we had to wait for winter and spring thaw to finish the exterior of the building and pave the parking lot,” Stefanson says. “Our customers are really happy now that it’s done because when they visit us they can get the same products and services that they can get anywhere else. If you’ve never done a project like this this, you probably can’t really appreciate its magnitude. This is a long-term investment and commitment in our customers and the business.”