How to start a pharmacy from scratch – “Farmacia news” 08/2006

How to Start a Pharmacy from Scratch
Article published in “Farmacia news”n°8/2006

It is true that pharmacists are born rather than made? That pharmacies are only passed on from generation to generation, from father to son? Not according to Paolo Polini and his wife Maria Teresa Faucci who built up their pharmacy from nothing without any of their relatives being pharmacists. “It all started in 1995 in Seville where we met while we were both studying as part of the Erasmus study exchange programme. My wife has a degree in pharmacology and I graduated with a degree in chemistry and pharmaceutical technology. After graduating, my wife started working as a researcher for the University of Florence and I started to work in for pharmaceutical multinationals. After getting married in 2000, I moved to Florence so she could carry on her research work. I got a job selling pharmaceutical products but I had already decided that I want to open up my own pharmacy. As we were living in rented accommodation at the time, we asked our parents if there would help us buy a pharmacy instead of buying our first home.”


Dr Paolo Polini with 2 of his assistants

When did you start?

“1st January 2003. Then in 2004 we rented a small room next door and we decided to refurbish and modernise the whole pharmacy. We wanted to make it a lot more luminous so we were very careful about how we designed the lighting, ensuring the our customers are welcomed into a pleasant environment that makes them feel better already. A lot of people think that spending money in a pharmacy is a unfortunate necessity so we try the make them feel at ease by seeking to make customers feel really special and helping them solve their problems not necessarily selling them a product …

You must be passionate about your job to be a pharmacist is very taxing as it involves a lot of contact with customers. We witness real tragedies develop from behind the counter, as customers come in wanting a OTC, then go onto more serious treatments as their condition gets worse. Above all, however, every person that comes into the pharmacy has a problem, big or small, or wants a chat, all of whom need to be listened to have their needs taken care of.”

How many pharmacies are their in your area?

“There are 7 pharmacies in the Bagno a Ripoli area, although ours is the only one located in the centre of town. I hope that my customers do not only come to me because I am the only one in town, rather that they have chosen to come here due to our professionalism after having gone and tried out other pharmacies. This our trump card which we can play now OTC can be sold in supermarkets.”

What services do you offer beyond selling pharmaceutical products?

«When we enlarged the pharmacy in 2005, we increase the size of the stock room and started to offer new services such as doing blood, urine and water tests. We also installed machines that perform the tests and give people their test results automatically without us getting involved. Our customers just do the test and then they get a print off with the results.

These tests do not replace those done by your GP but are useful for people who have to do periodic testing, such as diabetics, people with high cholesterol or high blood pressure. They are also useful for people who have starting a particular course of treatment and want to find out if its working. People like them because they are often quicker and cheaper than standard tests.

Since last summer we also have been doing water testing which is very useful for all those who have a well and need to find out if the water is safe to use for watering plants, the vegetable garden or used for filling up a swimming pool.

Is there an area specialising in complementary therapies?

“We started selling herbal medicines to those who asked for them and not recommending them instead of  conventional medicines prescribed by GP’s. We also recruited a homeopathic medicine specialist has really give this product sector a boost which is very complex and difficult. While herbal medicines shares the same foundations as conventional medicine, homeopathy is something completely new. Our homeopathic medicine specialist sells homeopathic remedies upon request and also gives out advice upon appointment only.

We have deliberately promoted a more personal pharmacist-customer relationship. Customers often come into the pharmacy and wait until the pharmacist they know and trust is free so that they can talk with someone who already knows about their problems …”

So, your pharmacy is divided into different specialisms?

“Yes, we are working towards having all of our speciality sectors manned by someone who is qualified in that particular discipline, be it cosmetics, herbal medicine or homeopathy sectors. Each specialist is going to be aided by a non specialist. Obviously only the trained pharmacists can give out and prepare prescription medicines. We are also looking to invest in the complementary and herbal medicine sector and purchase the equipment needed to produce some complementary therapies and nutritional supplements like Vitamin C”.

Do you think that pharmacies should sell everything, such as cosmetics…

«I think that pharmacies are cross roads where health care in a strict sense should meet being consumer’s demand for products that help them feel good. Therefore, pharmacies should concentrate primarily on traditional products, such as OTC, complementary medicines, homeopathy etc, but I do not see why we cannot venture into dermocosmetics. I believe that we should only sell products that reflect my professional knowledge as a qualified pharmacist so as to make me stand out from a shop selling cosmetics. In short, pharmacies can expand into new product areas without compromises their fundamental identity.

How will small pharmacies like your meet the challenge coming from the larger supermarkets and chain stores?

“Smaller specialised pharmacies like ours have a very important role to play as they give citizens very useful advice that is not available from the pharmacy department in a supermarket. Due to the fact that we are highly specialised and have a good long standing relationship with our customers, we are able to tell them whether that medicine they are about to take is not compatible with one they are already taking as well as give them lots of information on how to use medicines safely and properly. Thanks to this very personalised approach our customers keep coming back to us because they trust in our expert opinion. It is not a coincidence that Italy has the least number of cases where people have made themselves ill though the inappropriate use of OTC medicines. The other thing is that customers will not save money buying from supermarket pharmacies in the long run as, without any guidance, they will buy more then they need or things they do not need at all.

Nonetheless, smaller pharmacies will end up selling less OTC, although we must fight back by investing in a ever more personalised service which gets results, wins over customer’s trust and ensures people will prefer buying their health care products from us rather than the supermarket.”

Franco Travaglini