Pharmacy Retail: An Insider’s View
Muhammad Abdullah of Rahbar Pharmacy Talks about His Experiences
Muhammad Abdullah is General Manager at Rahbar Pharmacy with vast experience of working in the pharmacy retail sector. During the two decades of his involvement in pharmacy retail, he worked at various positions in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Recently, the LumenSoft team had a chance to talk to him about the pharmacy business in Pakistan, how things have changed, and what would he recommend to the new pharmacy retailers.
Here is the transcription of the interview:
LumenSoft: You have first-hand knowledge of the pharmacy retail sector in both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Is there a difference in the way the pharmacy retail sector functions in these two countries?
Muhammad Abdullah: Yes, definitely. The fundamental difference is in the role of pharmacists. In Saudi Arabia, pharmacists play a pivotal role in the pharmacy retail sector. The medication prescribed by doctors is checked by pharmacists, they guide the patients, and answer all the questions that patients might have about the medication.
Secondly, there are strict rules about controlled drugs. They cannot be sold without a doctor’s prescription. Yes, the laws about the selling of controlled drugs also exist in Pakistan, but in Saudi Arabia, the rules and requirements regarding controlled drugs are more rigorous.
Another difference is how the medicines are sold. In Saudi Arabia, medicines are sold in full packs, and no cutting or selling in units is allowed. Here, in Pakistan, as you know, pharmacies can sell in units. People sometimes ask for just one or two tablets.
How the medicines are prescribed is another major area of difference. In Saudi Arabia, 99% of the doctors go for formulations, they prescribe medicines by their generic names. Prescription based on generic names ensures that brand monopolies are not created.
Here, doctors prescribe brand names and patients insist on getting the brand suggested by their doctor. Thus, as a result, brand monopolies are created. And a pharmacy not having a certain brand suffers.
LumenSoft: Most of the retail businesses were hit hard by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Is it true that the Pharmacy retail market in Pakistan experienced a boom during the Pandemic?
Muhammad Abdullah: Well, let’s put it this way: the pharmacy retail business became more visible during Covid-19. As the rest of the businesses, shopping marts and malls were closed or opened for a limited time, people flocked to pharmacies even for items of daily use. And many pharmacies started stocking up on consumer items most in demand.
It is not that the daily sales of medicines increased or special incentives were provided to pharmacies by the government. Nothing of this sort happened.
But, yes, the footfall to pharmacies definitely increased, and this perhaps built the perception about the boom in the pharmacy retail market.
“During Covid-19, the footfall to pharmacies definitely increased, and this perhaps built the perception about the boom in the pharmacy retail market.”
LumenSoft: In Pharmacy retail, the issue of price change is quite common. What do you say about this?
Muhammad Abdullah: Yes, frequently changing prices of medicines is one of the biggest issues in Pakistan. In the last few years, we have seen how erratic have been the prices of medicines. You buy some medicine for Rs 1000 and after a week it can become 2000.
Here, as I mentioned earlier, people buy medicines for a few days, and when they come back to get the next dose, they find the same medicine is no longer available at the price the paid a few days ago.
The poor, especially who are on life-long medication like diabetic, are hit hard by such erratic price changes. Sometimes, they are forced to give up medicines altogether.
LumenSoft: Based on your experience, what would you suggest to the people thinking of starting their pharmacy?
Muhammad Abdullah: There are many things to consider when starting a pharmacy. The one thing I like to focus on is the location of the store.
The location of the pharmacy should be such where it can survive. Sometimes, people make a hasty decision about the location. If your budget allows and you want to open a profitable store, give preference to main roads instead of societies.
Moreover, and this is valid for all types of businesses, experience matters. If you don’t have any experience then at least make sure that the staff you are hiring is well qualified to run the business.
An experienced person will not focus on simply stocking up the pharmacy but will know what type of stock will keep the business profitable.
“While opening a pharmacy store, give preference to main roads instead of societies”
LumenSoft: For those starting a pharmacy business, is it difficult to get the license?
Muhammad Abdullah: It used to be a long-winding procedure in Pakistan. But now, for the last 4- 5 years, the system is quite streamlined. You submit the application, and if the application and other documents meet the criteria , you get the license.
LumenSoft: How important is pharmacist to successfully run a pharmacy?
Muhammad Abdullah: Very Important. In fact, it is 110% necessary. if a persons goes to a pharmacy with a prescription, a salesperson will simply hand over the medicines.
Whereas a pharmacist will explain things like why you need to take the medicine, what are the contra indications, what types of reactions can happen, why it is important not to exceed the recommended dose.
Moreover, a pharmacist also ensures that narcotics are not being misused, and a suitable temperature is maintained for medicines like insulin. Most of the medicines require a certain temperature to be effective.
Only pharmacists can guide about all these requirements because they are trained for it.
We are grateful to Muhammad Abdulla (GM Rahbar Pharmacy), for taking the time to meet with the LumenSoft team and talk about the pharmacy retail sector. It was a pleasure.