Your Community Pharmacy

United Discount Chemists

Living up to its tagline “Expect more than low prices”, United Discount Chemists provides the services that customers need, in the manner in which they need them, by focusing on the individuals living within its communities.

Sam Scaffidi, leader of the Scaffidi Group and director of United Discount Chemists, began work as a community pharmacist in 1986. He worked in various service models during that period before identifying a gap in the market place for a midsize discount model with a focus on traditional pharmacy values of integrity and quality service.

Sam then developed United Discount Chemists. His creation combined the look, feel and value of a discount provider with community integration and the traditional values of people focused services. The service model allowed for the pharmacists to develop meaningful relationships with customers in order to provide appropriate counselling on medication use. The Scaffidi group now manages more than forty United Discount Chemists pharmacies, employing a team of over five hundred individuals with a further thirty one employees at its Support office.

This point of difference the company developed has allowed it to grow significantly, experiencing continued success in communities across Australia.

Theo Gakelos, General Manager with United Discount Chemists, recognises that, to its customers, the branding represents the high quality delivery of healthcare. “Being in the pharmacy industry, people come to us needing some form of medication and in many cases are unsure or concerned about the medication and how to use it. So it’s important to us that they leave us comfortable with what they need to do, satisfied with the medication they have received, and feeling good about themselves,” Theo explains.

To meet the needs of its diverse clients and customers, United Discount Chemists offers the full range of traditional pharmacy services, including high quality medications and health care devices. In addition, it provides some innovative extras which add value for the company’s target market.

United Discount Chemists provides general consulting and information sessions for customers to ensure they have a clear understanding of condition and treatment. It also has blood pressure stations and, at some locations, sleep apnoea services. The company even offers in-home medication review for customers who may find it difficult to travel while receiving treatment.

Theo says that what really sets the company apart is how it takes demographics into account in tailoring pharmaceutical services. When examining details of the population in a given area, including looking at cultural perspective, adjustments can be made in order to be able to provide optimal services based on the needs of the local community.

Understanding the demographics of each community in which it provides health service is a major focus for the company which gathers and tracks demographic data and works to understand the culture and lifestyle of the people it serves.

Part of meeting the needs of its diverse customers, in each of the many communities it serves, means providing service in their first language. “When you provide these services, it’s easy to explain to the customer about their medication in a language they feel comfortable with,” says Theo. “There’s nothing more daunting for some customers who go in to a pharmacy when English is not their first language. Understanding important medication information can be a challenge.” He understands how much the company’s customers appreciate being able to receive service in their first language. Many staff at United Discount Chemist speak two or more languages and name badges sport national flags representing the languages in which they can provide service.

The pharmacy industry has seen many challenges over the years and most providers are looking for a point of differentiation to set them apart, many with little success. “The biggest challenge is implementation because I’ve seen a lot of great ideas, and plans on how it should be done, but then struggle with implementation.”

In order to ensure that its policies and innovative processes are working for its customers, United Discount Chemists has developed a number of check points which allow the company to measure its success. The team meets weekly to assess these and to discuss customer needs, and the company has developed lasting relationships of understanding by really listening to customer feedback. “You could pay a marketing company thousands of dollars to get market research done, but your best form of research is your staff and customers, and that’s something that I do continuously.”

Theo means it. To fully understand the experiences of his staff and the needs of his customers, he regularly visits stores, working to stock shelves, sweep floors and talk to customers about what they experience. “I ask simple questions of a customer like, ‘how was your experience today?’ The best way to measure the success of your organisation is to see the amount of food that gets delivered to the store during holidays and special occasions from customers. The amount of cakes and sweets that are delivered to say thanks, is amazing – the amount of Christmas cards, that’s a great measure for any business.”

The company truly has built something that is special unique and highly prized by its many thousands of customers. Theo is very proud of the positive impact that staff have on each customer and it clearly means a great deal to him to know that customers’ lives are made better by what the company is able to offer them. “You have to remain humble and keep sight of where you’ve come from and what you want to deliver, because, when you lose sight of that, things start to fall around you.”

Discussing its tagline, Theo explains that it really is about letting customers know that when they engage in receiving service from United Discount Chemists, they can expect to receive the service and care that community chemists were once widely known for providing. “When you come in you’ll expect more than just low prices: you’ll expect good service and interaction and you’ll expect that our staff will be able to support you in your language.”

Theo suggests that United Discount Chemists is able to consistently provide this level of service by operating efficiently and effectively and by attracting great people. He is proud to showcase the success stories of the people the company has supported and encouraged throughout the years. “We’ve had school kids join us as casuals and have been with us through university, and you see them grow and mature from young people to adults, and some have stayed as pharmacists or retail managers, and some have moved on to forge their own careers. The key for us is that people who want to join us, staff and new members alike, want to help others, because fundamentally that is what we are here to do.

United Discount Chemists is currently developing a membership drive model which has been designed to drive expansion in the future.

“We’re ready to launch the next phase of our business plan, and that is to have a membership drive of people who share our core values, and we’ll target specific pharmacy stores and areas where we feel there is a gap that could benefit from our model.”

Looking forward, Theo is excited about what the future holds for the company and what United Discount Chemists will be able to provide its customers. He expects to see continued controlled growth of the company, driven in part by its new membership model, as well as consolidation based on ongoing reforms in the industry.

“We have the sixth agreement coming up next year, so for us it’s about preparing the business and planning for sustainability while ensuring we can still maintain the level of service our customers expect,” Theo explains.

At the core, United Discount Chemists will remain focused on customer experience. Theo says the company will continue to deliver healthcare and related services to customers at an affordable cost in such a way that each customer will leave the store with the most appropriate treatment available, knowing they are an informed participant in their health care. “We want each customer to leave any one of our stores feeling good about themselves and about the care they receive,” say Theo. “That’s important to us.”

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December 19, 2018, 9:25 AM AEDT