How this pharmacist creates loyal, lifetime customers
Award-winning pharmacist Karen Brown shares her formula for success
It didn’t take Karen Brown long to realise her dream of opening her own pharmacy. At just 25, soon after graduating from university, she bought the TerryWhite Chemmart in the regional Queensland town of Samford.
The next step? Winning over the locals.
“Samford is an extremely tight-knit community, and the lady we bought the pharmacy off had owned it for 30 years,” she recalls. “So, we were seen as the people from the ‘big smoke’ coming to take over. I thought if I could just get out in the community and show them that I was one of them, then that’s how I would win them over and get them to support our pharmacy."
Then, as now, Brown knew that success would come down to three things: investing heavily in your community, your staff and your instore services.
Reaching out to local sports clubs
So as a first step, Brown drew on her experience as a former professional netballer with the Queensland Firebirds (she played with the team from 2000 to 2002) and made contact with the local netball club. “I knew that if I went to them and introduced myself and offered my services, whether that be helping with coaching or consulting, it was a way to get in with those netball families in this local community.”
It proved a good game plan for Brown, who ended up becoming patron of the club, as well as sponsoring the local soccer, rugby league and swimming teams. She then turned her attention to education, giving health talks at the local schools.
Offering health advice in the community
“To be the true health hub of your community, you need to step outside of your four walls,” says Brown, who has now lived in Samford for nine years. “I’ve never been a proponent of just opening your doors in the morning and closing them in the afternoon. I think you need to give back to the community, as much as they give to you.”
For Brown, that meant organising a community health expo for five years, which also gave her the opportunity to share information and socialise with other health professionals in the town (“from a business perspective, they would end up referring patients to me and vice versa”).
Launching new mums' groups
She also launched Carers’ for Kids, a regular meet-up for new mums, featuring a guest health speaker and morning tea. “We’d get about 40 mums and bubs each month,” says Brown, a mother of two herself. Additionally, she runs regular health talks at the pharmacy – with one back-to-school presentation on healthy lunch box choices in 2017 attracting 100 people into the store.
For Brown, these community events add up to a more fulfilling job – and increased foot traffic and sales. “It’s really about community engagement and the fringe benefits you see back in the pharmacy,” she says. “That’s how you breed loyalty that is rock solid – and then you’ve got them as a lifetime customer.”
It’s a business model that’s paid off, with Brown buying into another pharmacy, at Arana Hills, in 2018 – the same year she was named TerryWhite Chemmart Pharmacist of the Year. She has since won multiple awards, including a local Australia Day honour this year for Small Business Person of the Year.
Investing in instore services
Brown cites her partnership with Afterpay as an example of a successful instore offering. “We were one of the early stores who were part of the [Afterpay] pilot, and it has been great,” she says. “Sometimes people need help budgeting for expensive medicine, so they’ll put it off. They can now use Afterpay to help them access medication that can help them now, rather than having to wait due to finances.”
Brown points out it also gives her an edge over competitors. “For us, [Afterpay] has created a point of difference when it comes to customers choosing which pharmacy they’ll go to,” she explains. “If you have to pay $150 for a medication and you need to break up the cost, you’ll go to the pharmacy where you can put it on Afterpay.”
Investing in staff
When it comes to managing her team, Brown often calls upon the lessons she learned as a professional netballer. She coaches her staff to reach their own personal best through staff programs, such as leadership workshops and conferences.
As a woman at the top of her industry, who is set to speak at a forthcoming International Women’s Day event, Brown believes that the key to succeeding as a female business leader is, first and foremost, to find what you’re passionate about.
“And then it’s all about balance,” she says. “You lean into whoever needs you the most – whether that’s your business and team or husband and children – you lean into whoever needs you the most in that moment.”
Pharmacist Karen Brown’s top three tips for running a successful community-based health business.
1. Keep an open mind. Have really good peripheral vision because you never know when good opportunities are going to present. I’m all for setting goals, but sometimes goals can give you tunnel vision, so it’s about keeping your view a bit wider.
2. Build the plane while you’re flying it. Don’t pass up on opportunities because you’re waiting for the perfect time – the right moment will probably never come. Sometimes you’ve just got to launch and see what happens. You can always make changes later.
3. Create a sense of belonging. People want to belong to something that’s bigger than themselves. It breeds loyalty. So, whether you create that within your own team or out in the community, it is something that definitely adds value to a business.
Leanne Archer is a journalist and chief sub-editor who has worked on newspapers and magazines including marie claire Australia and Stellar.
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