Farah relishes challenges

Winner of Pharmacy Business Health & Beauty Award 2018, Farah Ali, shares her vision and experience as head of Perrigo’s Learning Pharmacy; trading as Warman-Freed in transforming a traditional pharmacy into a more relevant clinical pharmacy.

Warman-Freed Pharmacy in Golders Green has an inviting look – it’s smart, clean, neatly merchandised and very well-lit from front to back. Whilst the shopfront displays key cosmetics, perfume and skincare lines, the rear half is dedicated to healthcare products with a large selection of over the counter medicines. An engraved granite piece pays homage to Ivor Warman Freed, the man who founded the pharmacy in 1952. When you step into the pharmacy you get that ‘wow’ factor.

The refit in 2015 was overseen by general manager and superintendent, Farah Ali, who had a vision to transform a traditional pharmacy into an up-to-date clinical pharmacy. Although she did like the look of the older store, she felt it resembled a departmental store more than it did a pharmacy:

“When I first walked in, I thought where am I going to stand? The paracetamol boxes and other GSL medicines were hidden behind the counter. The consultation room was not fit for purpose. Yet this pharmacy was well known all over North London and was referred to as the fourth emergency service.

Perrigo’s Warman-Freed Learning Pharmacy: From a traditional pharmacy
into an up-to-date clinical pharmacy

“In terms of doing the refit, there were two main things: one was to incorporate technology, and the other was to elevate the pharmacy counter to the forefront of the store, to help the pharmacist have a better interaction with the patient, and not remain hidden at the back.”

Data and technology, of course, are key to Warman-Freed because it is Perrigo’s Learning Pharmacy’, the first of its kind in the UK. It aims to gather insights from its experiences with the intention of sharing those self-care learnings with the wider industry in order to achieve better patient health outcomes.

“We have heat mapping over our CCTV cameras for customer insights which provides us with a lot of data to look at performances across categories and products. We use it for merchandising, staffing and many other purposes,” she said. Year after year Warman-Freed has grown its health and beauty business in a very challenging pharmacy environment, largely because it has been clear about its identity from the start. It is the leading health and beauty pharmacy in the neighbourhood, capturing the market from the local competition.

“Our customers are central to everything we do here at the pharmacy, from the category of products we offer to the services we run, space allocation of ranges and the level of conversations we have. We train our staff in the art of great customer care and communication, ensuring each conversation has a structure to it.”

The pharmacy has also launched a paid-for blood pressure testing service. Its consultation room is already being used by a podiatrist and premium skincare brands, and may soon provide space for the public to visit a skin doctor to look for conditions, such as skin cancer. This delivers additional turnover for the pharmacy.

Farah’s aim is to try and engage with the community as much outside the pharmacy as she can inside. Finding the time to do that is probably the biggest challenge but “if you don’t invest the time you can’t get the rewards.”

“Being a Healthy Living Pharmacy we are trying to build on that side of things too – we do things like ‘apple giveaway’ on the high street to customers walking by to raise awareness that Warman-Freed is here, but also to help start a conversation about prevention and self-care.”

The impact of it was huge when Warman-Freed did a similar thing by giving away bottles of water to passersby. It allowed “the faces of the pharmacy to have those conversations and engage with the people.”

Farah says better engagement with the community is vital for independent pharmacists who need to understand the changing health needs of their patients. This will also enable them to decide on what services they can introduce and what might work for them.

“We are at a point where the next few decisions we make as a profession are really critical to our longevity in the way we know pharmacy. Decisions we make in relation to our role within the NHS Long Term Plan and the outcome of our contract negotiations are all going to be very important. In terms of the profession across the board, you have to adapt to where you are.

There are pharmacists who are going into different areas of pharmacy, whether it’s cosmetics, botox, travel clinic or newer roles. You’ve got to find the things that make you different whilst grabbing the opportunity to incentivise newer services.”

The good thing is that independent community pharmacists can do just that, while also offering more flexibility, autonomy and, hopefully, speed compared to their competitors.

Farah Ali’s top tips

  • Know your customers: we are a high street pharmacy in an area of good traffic flow and high street footfall driven by a variety of local businesses and access to local transport that serves the NW London area really well. We have niche community requirements, including a mix of ethnicities that have differing needs and shopping behaviour, and our opening hours (8:30 am to midnight) are key to the success of delivering against these needs.
  • Know your business drivers and focus on the areas that will add value to who you are and your customers rather than worrying about things out of your control. We have a real focus on category understanding and management on a regular basis. Consistent operational knowledge and execution at a high standard will ensure the right products and customer needs are met.
  • Be clear on your internal KPI’s and ensure they are driven by business goals as well as community needs. We do this consistently across health and beauty categories with great success across those ranges that meet the needs and shopping habits of our customers.
  • Supplier relationships are key to success across the health and beauty categories. Having good working relationships and frequent connections benefits regular range reviews, staff training and development, promotional activities and point of sale.
  • Training is a must. It has to be consistent, regular and tailored to the needs of your team. Maximise internal and external training opportunities, and ensure there is cross sector training, so the team can support each other to maximise sales. Training allows for better product and category knowledge, supports better conversations and ensures the team feels valued and part of the business, so they will go the extra mile for you and your business.
  • Allow time to invest in activities that are business drivers and support people development. Time investment in your business and people is critical to drive growth, recommendations, and better conversations, and has the added benefit of boosting team morale and engagement.

Q&A with Farah Ali

What’s been the most important moment of your career?

It’s got to be my current role because it’s unique. I work within Perrigo to make a difference to others in the pharmacy world through the work that we do, through the self-care insights and the learnings that we share. The journey of being an independent general manager has been the biggest learning curve in my whole life in terms of my career and definitely the most challenging and rewarding.

What motivates you?

The core of what I do as a pharmacist has motivated me for many years – whether it’s somebody that walks away with a smile or it’s somebody who walks in with something severe whom I am able to refer on. Also, I like challenges, so that could be another thing which acts as a motivator.

Does money motivate you?

Personally no, but I run a business after all, and I have to make sure that it’s viable, it’s growing and it’s getting stronger and more influential.

What does leadership mean to you?

One thing I learnt early on in my career was not to ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t be comfortable doing myself. As a leader, if you are on a level with your team in a way that they see you as part of them, you get a lot more back – connection, trust and valued relationships. I also believe in giving regular feedback to staff, otherwise they won’t know how they are doing, what areas they need to focus on in order to develop their skill-sets further.

Who do you admire?

There are snippets of different people that I admire. If I had to pick one, I think that it would be Maggie Thatcher, not her politics, but as a woman she was strong, she was extremely confident and she stuck to her guns. She really made an impression on me, a young girl growing up.

Favourite TV programme?

Television is centred around my time with the children – a time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Growing up as well, that was probably the only time we could have together as a family. Other than that, you’d find me watching TV whenever my club has a big match.

Which club?

Arsenal FC.

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