With growing competition from multiples and online stores, the best retailers are finding success by offering valuable services to their communities. For Neel Patel, from Osbon Pharmacy in Witham, Essex, this means providing both a pharmacy and convenience store in one.

“The supermarkets do this as well, but we’ve had it for 33 years. The two work very well together. People come in for prescriptions or medication, then they use the convenience store for other items they need,” he explains.

“We process up to 10,000 prescriptions a month. If we didn’t dispense them here, the next nearest place is 2km away. The other big thing is that doctors now do electronic prescriptions. This makes it important for people to be able to collect their prescriptions locally.”

Neel moved to the site earlier this year from his old premises approximately 500 yards away, becoming the 200th One Stop franchise in the UK in the process. The shop, which he runs with managing director Daniel Oborn, is located in the Fleming Park housing development, which has 200 homes, with more scheduled to be built.

The fact the store can fulfil prescriptions and sell medicines, as well as everyday essentials from toilet paper to sweets and soft drinks, has made it a vital location in its community.

“On the convenience side, alcohol, cigarettes, confectionery and soft drinks are the biggest sellers. Frozen and chilled are also becoming more important,” Neel continues.

“There are two things that allow our store to stand out from the competition,” Neel explains. “Firstly, it’s the services we offer, like PayPoint, the National Lottery, news and mags and, of course, the pharmacy. Second is the hours the convenience store is open – 7am to 9pm Monday to Sunday – which gives our customers flexibility. We have a lot of shift workers in this area, so it’s vital they can get what they need, when they need it.”

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What I do well

Osbon Pharmacy Witham interior

Incorporating the pharmacy and convenience store is a crucial part of Neel’s business. “If we weigh the pharmacy against the supermarket, the pharmacy brings in two-thirds of the turnover,” Neel reveals.

“This is because the average price of an item in the pharmacy is much higher than in the supermarket. The average prescription costs about £9, while our average basket spend in the store is £5.96. Also, most pharmacy lines are control lines, with fewer promotions.”

In terms of footfall, however, the pharmacy and convenience store are roughly the same. “It’s a product mix. We approach the pharmacy and convenience store as a single basket, and this makes it a strong offering.”

He’s found having a strong impulse offering in the convenience store is vital to success, as well as adding certain convenience lines to the pharmacy, such as toiletries, which customers could be looking for. 

Challenges I face

Running a pharmacy presents a number of distinct challenges that Neel wouldn’t encounter with just a convenience store. Staffing in particular is something that takes extra consideration.

“In the pharmacy, the staff need specialist qualifications, so it can take a while to find good employees,” he explains.

This makes staff retention particularly crucial for Neel’s business. Fortunately, he says, it’s rarely been an issue for him.

“All of our staff have been with us for many years – we’ve never had problems retaining our employees,” he reveals. 

“I think the key is looking after your staff, and making sure they have work satisfaction. We make it comfortable for them to do their work. We offer them everything they need, and many of their tasks are now computerised, for example all the dispensing can now be done on a keyboard. This all helps make their jobs easier.”

Where my biggest profits come from

Osbon Pharmacy Witham aisles

Neel’s store is located in the middle of a housing estate, and he’s worked with One Stop to find an optimum range that meets these customers’ needs rather than just following major trends.

“Being a community store with a residential catchment means things like pre-prepared sandwiches aren’t popular here,” he explains. “For example, customers won’t come in here to buy a sandwich. They’re more likely to by a can of soup or a loaf of bread and some sandwich filling, so they can make it at home.

“Our grocery lines have to be easy to find, so we have it all on the central island so things are easy to spot. Our freezers, meanwhile, are on the side walls, again so customers see them as they go around,” Neel continues.

“Our customers follow a convenience pattern – they come in for bread, milk, butter and sugar. Our basket spend is £5.96 on average.”

How Osbon Pharmacy Witham stay’s competitive

Getting the balance right in the bakery between being well stocked and low on wastage is far from easy.

Although Neel has had a store in the area for the past 33 years, moving premises means he needs to reach out to new customers. This will become especially important when new houses are built in the area.

“We’re right in the heart of the community. There are other stores in the area, but we’re still drawing customers in,” explains Neel. “One Stop supports us with leaflet distribution.”

Neel also advertises in local newspaper the Braintree & Witham Times. However, he says it’s important to research before committing to advertising in the local press.

“We looked into it, and we found that the local newspaper had very strong distribution in the area around our store,” he explains. “That’s why we decided to advertise in the local newspaper. Not every local newspaper has good distribution, though, so it’s important to check.”


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