Pharmacy U

The pharmacy phoenix will rise from the COVID-19 ashes


by Mike Jaczko and Max Beairsto


Camping is a favourite childhood memory of many. Waking up in a tent, still smelling of campfire from the night before. Crawling out into the crisp morning air and kneeling to place some kindling on the still-warm embers and gently fanning a fire back to life. One could imagine that restarting our financial system once we can escape from our Netflix prisons will be a lot like gently fanning a flame.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that the global economy will experience its worst recession since the Great Depression, even surpassing that seen during the global financial crisis a decade ago[1]. It’s going to look and feel a lot different from what John Steinbeck depicted in the Grapes of Wrath, however, since it was not brought on by drought and poor fiscal policy, but a virus you can’t even see. In addition, Bay Street is going to recover far differently from our main streets. Whereas the markets will slowly recover, there will be irreparable damage at the community level. Look left and right as you leave your pharmacy tonight and consider which businesses will endure to the point where they can be brought back to life.

So, where is the hope? We are not gamblers, but when it comes to the survivors, our money is on pharmacy, and there is already much evidence to support our wager. For example, in 1918, The Druggists Circular reported that “druggists are no more immune to influenza than other people… [and are] overworked to a degree believed to be unprecedented.”[2] The word that jumped out at us is “unprecedented,” a term which we have heard in the news feeds ad nauseam describing our current situation.

Pharmacists can’t use that word. The Spanish Flu killed more than 50 million people, and during that pandemic, pharmacists, technicians, and assistants were overworked and burning out just as you are now. The other part that is not unparalleled is that pharmacists will be remembered and thanked for their professionalism and commitment to the health of the nation.

Is survival enough? What you need to remember through all of this is that pharmacy is in a unique position to come back stronger than before the pandemic. We submit that no one wants to benefit from the misfortune of others, but there is and will be many sound commercial opportunities here. We are providing a few tangible, actionable items you could act on – some for now and some for later.

  • Pay attention to the trends. People are still buying things – different things, mind you, and one needs to pay attention to the trends in what’s selling.
  • Think of those stores that have been mandated, forced, or have volunteered to close. Could you reach out to them and perhaps help them sell their stock in return for a commission?
  • Add wider delivery through third-party companies. Crowdsourced delivery companies[3] are delivering all manner of things thought to be ludicrous just months ago. With a little persuasion, perhaps you can list your front store items with these delivery companies to expand your reach.
  • Contemplate what other items you can potentially sell in light of permanent store closures in your community.
  • Carefully consider relocation. Will you relocate when your lease is up? If you had been located in a vacated drive-thru, that might have been ideal during this craziness when more and more people are buying at arm’s length.

In ancient Greek folklore, the phoenix is a long-lived bird that is reborn cyclically from its ashes. And since we’re all watching a lot of movies these days, a cinematic phoenix reference might be fitting. One, in particular, reminds us of our collective situation. The film Flight of the Phoenix depicts a crew of a downed plane in the Mongolian desert, rebuilding it to fly once again. As long as we keep our wits about us and tap into our imaginations, we, too, will rise from the ashes of this pandemic.

Mike Jaczko, BSc. Phm, RPh, CIM®, a pharmacist by background, is a portfolio manager, partner and member of KJ Harrison Investors, a Toronto-based private investment management firm servicing individuals and families across Canada. For more information on this topic, email

Max Beairsto, B.Sc. Pharm., MBA, CVA is a pharmacist and valuation analyst with Enterprise Valuators Corporation (EVCOR), an Edmonton-based business valuation firm that focuses on business valuations and sale advisory of small and mid-sized private companies. You can reach him at