It was March 2020: COVID-19 had well and truly struck and my wife was four weeks away from giving birth. I decided I wanted to make the most out of lockdown and lay my locum pharmacist hat to rest for a little while to maximise time with family.
However, an opportunity came up when Brockhurst Pharmacy in Gosport was put up for sale. Having made some earlier expressions of interest in buying this business, I managed to get first priority in making an offer.
The business was doing well and taking a large proportion of dispensing business from the neighbouring Brockhurst Medical Centre, which had nearly 6,000 patients on its books.
As mentioned in the business plan I had proposed to the bank for the loan to purchase the pharmacy, my intentions for the business were clear: grow and maximise the business from the neighbouring surgery and push this to practically 100%. I also planned to tap into the rest of the Gosport area and nearby GP surgeries. The potential in this area was huge and I was confident I could push this business to new heights.
After a very difficult and drawn out process, it was announced that the official completion date would be 1 October 2020 — my dream of owning my very own pharmacy was truly becoming a reality.
A mere 12 days into the new ownership of the pharmacy, so far so good. The new systems were in place, staff were becoming more familiar with my new methods of working and I was feeling settled and ready to focus on executing my business plan.
However, I did not anticipate what happened next.
One day, it must have been no later than 1pm, I had just managed to have a quick bite to eat and returned to the dispensary. Suddenly, a few customers came in and asked if they could speak to the pharmacist as their appointment — which was meant to be 20 minutes ago at the GP surgery next door — had been cancelled.
I asked them why, and they replied telling me the surgery was closed until further notice owing to restrictions put in place following a recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection.
I was confused to say the least.
After I finished speaking with the patients, I headed over to the surgery to see what was happening. The surgery was doomed — various organisations were now working towards closing the practice down and transferring the care of the entire patient list across the rest of Gosport.
Panic mode was in full swing, although, in fairness, I do work better when my back is against the wall.
Immediately, I made contact with all the surrounding surgeries to introduce myself and ensure all GPs and surgery staff were aware of the services we offer at Brockhurst Pharmacy — my ethos is ‘we will not say no’. No matter how big the request, or tedious the work — we will not say no.
The expected transfer of all patients and closure of the neighbouring GP surgery was expected to be completed in early 2021. However, the CQC conducted another surprise inspection on 30 November 2020, which resulted in the immediate suspension of services. Patients were transferred on 5 December 2020.
It was certainly daunting and a huge worry for me not to know what impact this change was going to have on my business — a business I took a very large loan out for, and had no choice but to make a success of. It is disappointing that small independent business owners such as myself are the ones who are not considered when big decisions or changes are made.
My staff were unbelievable and worked to the best of their ability every shift to ensure we were providing the best of the best to the public. Our reputation grew and our name became well known to GP surgery staff as the pharmacy to call on when needed. We offered a free delivery service all over Gosport, as well as to parts of Fareham and Lee on the Solent.
Suddenly, I found myself beating the item count records of the pharmacy every single month, one after another. Before the end of 2021, we were processing more than 14,000 items per month.
So many people had advised me to steer clear of pharmacy business; however, my view was the opposite — if people are fed up, it is because they don’t know how to adapt to the new demands that pharmacies and pharmacists are faced with. I was willing to go into business with my eyes wide open and my sleeves rolled up.
I have been able to prove myself as a worthy operator because of my ability to work well with others. Staff at the surgeries have my personal number and, regardless of me being on site of not, I will always pick up the phone.
People want reliability and we gave that to the community around us. As a result, we retained business and have now grown by more than 20% since my first day as the owner.
Becoming the owner of my own business was the best leap of faith I have taken and, fortunately, I have just acquired Brune Pharmacy, also in Gosport.
For any young entrepreneurial pharmacists out there who may be considering a move into owning their own pharmacy business, I have simple advice to give you — be willing to learn, be willing to work and do not say no when opportunity comes knocking at your door.
As for my top tips, treat your staff like family. They are the ones who earn your bread and butter. Also, no matter how well you do, do not forget where you started.
My future plans are to grow further and expand, specifically in Gosport. I would welcome the opportunity to acquire some corporate branches that are, quite frankly, haemorrhaging business to us. Instead of running the reputation of said pharmacies into the ground, it would better serve the community to be offloaded to someone who can give the business that shine again.
My five-year growth plan starts in June 2022, and I will look to expand quite aggressively in the next couple of years and will be knocking on the doors of multiple pharmacy chains in the Gosport area. But first, I plan to take a day off to celebrate all I have achieved before my 30th birthday.