Customer care is not rocket science but it is mightily important as Farah Ali reveals. The general manager of Warman-Freed Pharmacy talks to Neil Trainis


“It’s an unusual pharmacy,” Farah Ali says with pride as she considers how Warman-Freed Pharmacy, embedded within a plethora of businesses on a restless Golders Green Road, might be perceived by its public.

“It’s situated on a busy high street and deeply embedded in its local community and being a midnight pharmacy, it’s open 365 days a year which brings its own challenges. We have a fluctuating team of between 20, 24 staff who are spread over three shifts.”

The general manager of the pharmacy since 2014, Farah has made her mark on the business since assuming the reins, transforming what was a traditional healthcare enterprise into one that provides clinical care. There is a strong accent on health and beauty but she makes no apology for that. It is, after all, what those who walk through its doors want.

“Health and beauty is just as important as healthcare. When I look back, we needed to understand what the local community needed. We’re on a busy high street with a big influx of people to the local area. Health is not just about treatments and medicines. It’s about how you look and feel,” Farah offers.

“We had a refit in 2015 and when I took over in 2014, 80% of the pharmacy was retail beauty with little on health. Now its 60% health and beauty and 40% healthcare. We have developed our skincare range and have dermatological skincare products.

“The awareness is there (among people in the community) and the need is there for good quality products and advice. We have the right people to give advice on products.

“We don’t always have our most experienced people in the pharmacy at 8am or late at night but if a customer comes in, we support them as much as we can and maybe advise them to come back when the expert is in again.”

Farah does not dismiss the idea that commissioners might be put off by community pharmacies that have a strong a focus on health and beauty. Yet she is not worried about it either. In her eyes, a good pharmacy meets the needs and desires of its clientele.

“You have to look at your individual business. For me on the high street where we have local competitors very close to us, I need to understand where my strengths are as a business. Here, there’s a need for health and beauty but it’s also important to ensure the OTC side of the business is good.

“We do all the essential and advanced services and we’ve rolled out services such as blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and lung age tests. But we need to make sure we provide what patients want.”

It is very hard to argue against Farah’s approach even in this brave new world of sustainability and transformation partnerships, clinical commissioning groups and clinical healthcare.

Richard Brown, a Pharmacy Business Awards judge who examined Warman-Freed’s merits upon his visit to the pharmacy last year, observed that it has “established a clear identity as the leading health and beauty pharmacy in its locality, capturing the market from the local competition.”

It is a shrewd approach given that pharmacies are businesses as well as places people go to feel better, as ministers tend to forget. At the heart of the pharmacy’s success is its excellent customer care.

“It’s quite simple,” Farah says. “You need to understand your customer. Each person who walks through your door is different. Individualise each person and listen to what they want. Only then can you meet their needs.”

The formula is not rocket science. Farah introduced a community pharmacy patient questionnaire to understand what it was customers wanted from their local pharmacy. That resulted in the building of a consultation room and seating.

Wherever the eyes stray, chances are they will meet a health and beauty fixture. And what strikes you is the neat, tidy and intelligent way the pharmacy is laid out, with health and beauty products positioned in a way that leaves customers in no doubt about what is on offer as they enter the pharmacy.

If uncertainty lingers, any one of Farah’s team is quick to offer advice. Each member of her staff possesses excellent product knowledge having undergone in-house training and that has resulted in impressive turnover and increased sales. Not that that it has been a completely smooth journey. The government’s funding cuts forced Farah into making some tough decisions.

“All pharmacists have been impacted in some way by the cuts. I don’t know any who have said they haven’t been impacted. It did affect us. We had to streamline staff and buy better, all the things we needed to do to ensure we were ok as a business,” she says.

Where there is no room for manoeuvre, however, is the reporting of dispensing errors which has supposedly been made easier by the introduction of a new defence. Yet many within pharmacy fear it will not protect pharmacists from prosecution for an inadvertent mistake.

“My personal stance is I’m a human being with 20 years’ experience and we can all make mistakes. But our commitment is to ensure we do the most efficient job we can. If we make errors, you can feel you’ll be severely reprimanded. It does cross people’s minds,” Farah says.

“There is still some fine detail that needs to come through but there is a need to report all errors and I will continue to report errors and I will advise my team to do so.”

You would not expect anything less. Just another day at Warman-Freed Pharmacy.