John Nuttall, chief executive of Well, the new brand for The Co-operative Pharmacy, tells P3 about its future plans.

Q: Can you tell us about the origins of the new name Well?

The need to rebrand has been driven by the Co-operative Group selling the pharmacy business to Bestway. We started the rebranding process about a year ago and the agency Langland helped us with that journey – we had a number of options on the table before we chose this one. We did a lot of market research, mostly through testing and actually we’re delighted with what we’ve got with this. The response we’ve had has been great as well.

Q: Is there some sense of representing pharmacy and what pharmacy offers?

Absolutely. At the moment, I think pharmacy as an industry is at a crossroads where it needs to adapt and develop; we want to spearhead that journey. We were looking at wellness and health and getting customers to make the most of their health as our key proposition. We’ll reflect that in the products that we sell and the services that we offer to customers as well. We’re hopeful that the NHS in turn will make the most of the opportunity that pharmacy represents and direct consumers and funding in our direction. Progress has been glacial. We need the NHS and government policy-makers to acknowledge what pharmacy can do and make that happen.

Q: What about the customer? Is health and wellness a proposition that could grow significantly?

Fundamentally, the ageing population means that the underlying growth in this sector is strong, and that’s what attracted Bestway to the business. People are more focused on health than ever before and I can see that continuing. That means we’re in a good place as a sector.

Q: Will your pharmacies be very different from your competitors’? 

I think what we want to do is to change the proposition we have and adapt that to what our customers are looking for. Obviously, we’re changing the branding, the internal customer messaging, and the signposting for customers. We’re making more noise around the services that we do offer, and the products we’re selling, you’ll see over time, will change to become more angled towards health.

Q: What plans do you have?

As we expand the footprint of the business, buying more pharmacies, we will require more support for our colleagues. We’re looking at new channels, entering the wholesale sector: supplying small and independent pharmacy sector, with our existing distribution. We also see an opportunity in the care home supply sector. This is a market where Bestway currently supplies food services to care homes. So I think there is quite a good opportunity for us to work together on that.We don’t have an upper limit on the number of pharmacies we’re looking to acquire, but I would say that we need to fund those out of profits. We’re not really fixed geography. We are a bit light in the south-west and south-east. At the minute [wholesale] is very competitive, but I think that we have something to offer. We are the largest independent pharmacy business in the UK. As such we can leverage significant buying power, so we can take this buying power and apply it to the independent sector.

Q: What are your thoughts, having been with the company for 27 years?

Personally, I’m delighted. The Co-operative Group couldn’t support Pharmacy in a way that I wanted them to. They didn’t have the resources or capital. They tried to support too many businesses. So they sold the business: I was delighted with that decision and the fact that we were secured by Bestway was great as well. We had a couple of major multiples looking at us; I don’t think that would have been healthy for the sector, and I don’t think that would have been healthy for us either.

Q: Are there any downsides to the changes for your pharmacy teams?

Any business has to generate a commercial return; I don’t see that changing because the ownership structure’s changed. I think that people are really looking forward to the opportunity and the journey ahead. It think they can really see that it has a purpose and that we’re generating profit and we’re using that, instead of just handing it to the Co-op for them to spend on the businesses that are failing. So what a good message that is for everyone here. We had 2,000 of our colleagues in Birmingham last month. They were the first people to see the new brand and they left absolutely buzzing.

Q: Will teams be focusing more on services? Will you be thinking about second pharmacists?

We are. We have second pharmacists, and we’re looking at that model. We think the service opportunity is in tandem driven by the private market and the NHS and we need to adapt the business as the market changes.

Q: Will you return to online sales?

We haven’t taken this decision yet. It’s an opportunity, but the economics are difficult with online pharmacy because the transaction value is very small. It’s about how we deal with the distribution costs.

Q: Finally, what is Bestway’s view on the sector and its investment?

We’re confident about the sector and if you look at us when we were in the Co-operative Group, we were one of its strongest businesses and financially stable. We see that journey continuing in the future and I’m sure that Bestway saw that too, that’s why they wanted to invest and we’re delighted with that.


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