OTC manufacturer Omega Pharma has recently become the owner of a north London community pharmacy. Why has the company made such an unusual move?

Omega Pharma has a clear focus on their partnership with community pharmacy, says managing director Neil Lister. Now they have become pharmacy owners themselves, Mr Lister says he’s seen a positive and negative reaction to their recent purchase of a community pharmacy in north London, Warman-Freed Pharmacy. It will be established as a ‘learning pharmacy’, as well as serving the local community in the normal way. Shopper habits and pharmacy processes will be tested, analysed and shared, with topics decided by an independent pharmacy panel.

‘We’re very excited about it. The main thing that we are going to try to do with it is to be a service to community pharmacists.

We will set up a group of trustees who will define the topics to be looked at and we will share those back to pharmacists. The opportunities are endless.

Where other companies have invested in bespoke facilities for shopper research, using their own pharmacy is something that is ‘much more in touch and relevant,’ he says. It will offer a more realistic learning environment than a mocked-up store, he suggests.

‘Our mission is to make a difference to pharmacists and put them at the heart of what we do. If we can help move along the debate in some key areas then that has to be a good thing. And if, as a result, pharmacists want to support our products more, that’s a great outcome, but that’s not why we’ve done it.’

The community pharmacy, established in the 1950s and with 32 staff, is well known in the Golders Green community for its long opening hours: from 8am to midnight all through the year. It will have the usual mix of products and brands, and not be biased towards Omega Pharma brands, says Mr Lister.

However, while the pharmacy will be run for profit, Mr Lister says that he doesn’t expect the venture to make money in the long term, ‘because of the learning element’. Two insight managers employed by the company will be involved in the project, and pharmacist and trainer Liam Stapleton has joined as superintendent pharmacist. Customers will be informed there will be ‘discreet surveillance’ in store.

Mr Lister gives examples of topics to be examined: making money, keeping up with paperwork, cash flow, pricing, staff management and understanding new legislation.

Persuading the local council to reinstate customer parking outside the pharmacy is something that is at the top of his list, he says. He hopes to get together with other traders to solve the problem. And, yes, hints and tips about getting the parking issue sorted, or otherwise, will be shared with anyone who is interested.

Views on the OTC market

Some key OTC categories are delivering ‘great growth’, says Neil Lister, including the medicated skincare, head lice and hayfever categories, all of which Omega Pharma are involved with. A combination of extensive TV advertising that gives consumers clear messages about how products work and broad category-based training and education for pharmacies from Omega Pharma, has helped to grow established categories, he says. He points to the company’s success in featuring a community pharmacist (Nick Kaye, below) in TV advertising for Prevalin.

‘There are some bright areas in the market where manufacturers are investing in advertising and in education and training. Sometimes a different approach in mature categories can make a big difference – often the penetration of mature categories is really low.’

Plenty of opportunity for growth remains in the OTC market, he believes. ‘If you look at the macro situation, units sold are flat at best. There are bigger things that we as manufacturers and the industry as a whole needs to do to really help OTC revive.’

Too many people don’t know that they can go to a pharmacy, rather than the GP, to solve their problems, he says. ‘We can be showing people that there are great products that exist out there, and that you can go to your pharmacist and buy something that really works.'

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