At his Eagle Creek Village pharmacy in Greater Victoria, Michael Forbes built an adjacent walk-in clinic that he leases to physicians. Just weeks after opening, it was entirely full with new patients.
By Lawrence Herzog
Photos by Lawrence Herzog
“By integrating with practitioners, I build traffic and sales,” he says. “It’s a winning formula for everybody involved.”
Over the last 11 years, he’s grown his Vancouver Island-based Forbes Pharmacy to eight stores in Greater Victoria, and one each in Queen Charlotte, B.C. and Cold Lake, Alberta. The independent locations fly I.D.A and Guardian banners. They provide a range of onsite experts for specialty services such as compounding and hormone restoration, home healthcare, addiction services, specialty footwear, cosmetics and dermatological services.
“Our locations are community pharmacies and we get to know our customers,” Forbes says. “We’re about patient-centred care, and we work closely with family physicians to ensure the efficient delivery of superior healthcare.”
Each store is oriented to fit well within the demographic needs of its particular communities – whether seniors, working families, or more affluent clients. “We have a range of locations with a range of patients across the age and income spectrums. We listen to our customers and what they want and then tailor the store to meet their needs. It’s an evolutionary process of listening and then responding.”
Many of the customers at the recently-opened Eagle Creek Village have pets, and so the pharmacy now offers veterinarian compounding with a range of oral liquid options for finicky felines and discerning dogs. Forbes Pharmacy stores also offer compounding for pediatric patients, pain management, dermatology, hormone replacement therapy and dental needs. Events such as Seniors Day, Ladies Night and Pharmacy Clinic are aimed at building connections with customers and providing a way to increase their knowledge and awareness.
Being community-centred is an approach Forbes has cultivated and grown since graduating at from UBC Pharmacy at the age of 22. “I decided I wanted to work for myself,” he explains. “My family is entrepreneurial and so that’s the direction I headed, too.” For his stores, he favours footprints of about 5,000 square-feet. “It’s a nice sweet spot for us, with enough room to comfortably provide the services we deliver.”
It’s an evolving retail landscape, and one of the biggest changes he’s seen in the last 11 years is the role front-of-store plays in driving profit and building customer satisfaction and repeat business. He’s added gluten-free and organic food to most locations, and trains his staff on the benefits of disease prevention. “Functional medicine is a lot about reducing the oxidative stress in your body and providing enough antioxidants for the body to heal itself,” he notes.
Forbes says he’s particularly invigorated by medical breakthroughs and exciting developments in functional medicine and the role it is playing in preventing disease and helping people live healthier lives. “Getting to the root of the cause rather than just treating symptoms makes a lot more sense. I really like a lot more inter-disciplinary clinic-infused pharmacy practice. Pharmacy has to integrate more and be more of a front-line provider of healthcare and not just a traditional dispensary.”
There’s more paperwork these days, he says, and meeting regulatory requirements is ever more challenging. All that computer time can impact the time his pharmacists devote to interacting with patients, so he pays particular attention to ensuring that customer service is still their primary focus. Pharmacists and other staff are given comprehensive training so they are well-equipped with the answers and expertise customers require.
“Being an independent means being on the cutting edge of trends to compete with the big guys,” he says. “What sets us apart, I feel, is the integration with physicians and other healthcare providers, like nutritionists. We’re definitely on the front line of integrated medicine. Our patients can visit with a nutritionist, a pharmacist and a doctor to get advice from all angles. We all work together to get the right outcome for the patient.”
For further growth, he’s set his sights on Vancouver and other large centres across Canada. “I would like to expand more into the integrated medicine field with more practitioners and adjunctive therapists like naturopaths and nutritionists. I really enjoy seeing results for people. Treating the body as a whole with evidence-based medicine from around the world is really the best way to go.”