Chasetown Pharmacy won last year’s Pharmacy Business Health and Beauty Awards. And for good reason, as Neil Trainis discovers…


It is a busy day for Kath Hyden at Chasetown Pharmacy but she finds time to chat about health and beauty, the pharmacy’s successes and community pharmacy’s prospects as the government seeks to wring as much revenue from it as it can.

It is little surprise given she finds time for everyone who walks into the pharmacy. Pleasant and talkative, Chasetown’s retail supervisor is unashamedly pro-health and beauty even if it does conjure up images of perfumes, skin creams and hair colourants. The types of things that might make a commissioner interested in clinical healthcare run for cover.

“That’s not a perception we have had here,” she says, refusing to accept the idea that a pharmacist who places a heavy accent on beauty might be considered a shopkeeper rather than a healthcare professional.

“Our customers know we’re up there on the medical side. We have technicians, we have pharmacists. It’s not all about that, it’s not only about health and beauty. We do household goods, babycare, convenience, we do everything.”

Winners of the Pharmacy Business health and beauty award last year, Chasetown Pharmacy care about what its customers want as much as how it is perceived as a business. If its customers want Oil of Olay, then Oil of Olay they shall get. It is not rocket science. It is about meeting a need and pharmacies are businesses at the end of the day. Profit is not a dirty word.

To those who believe pharmacy should be about clinical healthcare not beauty Kath says: “I would totally disagree. Quite a lot of people come in specifically asking ‘do you do this brand, do you do that brand?’

“We can’t keep every brand in the shop, it’s not big enough. So we offer cheaper versions. We know some people are not well-off so we stock brands they can buy.”

Health and beauty, she estimates, generates “about 15 to 20%” of Chasetown’s turnover. “We do sell quite a lot of health and beauty products,” she adds.

Her job as retail supervisor is fulfilling. “My role is to order goods in, look at promotions. I know what sells in this area, what sells in that area. You’ve got to get to know the customers and what they’re going to buy.

“I get promotions from different suppliers and I’ve got to get the stock that’s needed as well as getting the shop looking nice.”

The pharmacy has come a long way since Kath arrived in 2008. Having faced considerable competition from local discount retailers, their first instinct was to compete solely on price. As soon as it became clear that tactic was not working, attention turned to the advice their knowledgeable team give customers.

“It’s quite a deprived area but you get that in every area,” she says. “We try to take the really cheap products out and get middle-of-the-road products in, products customers like to buy, and we would explain this product’s benefit to customers. We’ve turned things around.

“I remember when I first started. The pharmacy was cluttered. There were colouring books lying around and pencils. I thought ‘this is crazy. This is a pharmacy.’ We’ve phased all that out.”

Significant space in the pharmacy has been given over to retail and that has produced enhanced sales from new and existing customers. Yet rather than pack as many products as they can on to the shelves, their secret has been to use that retail space shrewdly.

“You need to have a range but not a massive range because customers don’t know which one to go for,” Kath says. “That’s why I have one type of cheaper make-up and one type of more expensive make-up. We needed to readdress what’s going to sell in this area. It’s about knowing your customer.”

An example is pregnancy testing. They restricted that to the popular Clearblue range and, as the Pharmacy Business Awards roving judge Richard Brown noted upon his visit to the pharmacy last year, “the advice and support the team offers is superior to other local retailers and that has resulted in huge customer satisfaction.”

Pharmacies placing more emphasis on retail rather than clinical services might be forgiven for doing so given the government’s decision to slash community pharmacy funding. Kath insists Chasetown has not felt the force of the cuts yet but somewhat ominously adds “it’s early days.”

“We haven’t seen anything yet I have to say. But it’s early days. Our figures are still up. Our takings are near enough the same as last year. On the clinical side, we’re up on the prescriptions.”
Although the team at Chasetown have not suffered any ill-effects from the cuts, it must be festering on their minds.

“When we heard about it we thought ‘gosh, are we going to have to cut the numbers, what if they do this and do that? But our head office will implement (a contingency plan) I’m sure,” Kath says with no trace of panic.

There is a hint of anger at what the government is doing to community pharmacy, all in the name of austerity and efficiency. With a general election looming, it is fair to say at least one voter will not be casting for the Conservatives.

“I don’t think they value pharmacy,” Kath insists. “It’s always been the same with the Conservatives, looking after number one. I’m not really into politics but you see on the news they are looking out for themselves.

“I wouldn’t vote for the Tories. I never have.”