Exploring the possible
By Alitam Group April 28, 2021
We meet Ray McSharry, founder of The McSharry Group, Ireland.
With a pharmacy group comprising 8 stores (plus a head office and a warehouse), and a team of over 80 members, Ray McSharry boasts the largest indigenous pharmacy group in the West of Ireland. It’s built on a dual strategy of being paragons of customer service, while leading the way in health and beauty retail. “Ray is remarkably future focused already,” says Alitam founder Feisal Nahaboo. “His ethos of expanding the role of the pharmacist, and the pharmacy store, sits perfectly with Alitam values. And the deployment of data analytics and marketing tools displays his business acumen. But, above all, his dedication to the customer experience betrays a unique talent and vision which is of enormous value to all Alitam members. I’ve no doubt Ray will be instrumental in much of our success.”
The customer is key
Ray has over 30 years’ experience as a managing pharmacist, and currently handles the dispensary side of the business, as well as risk and compliance management. He’s dedicated to the industry and has previously served on the board of United Drug, Retail Excellence and the Irish Pharmacy Union, and lectured to Bachelor of Science pharmacy technician students.
Understandably, he’s very proud of the stature of The McSharry Group. “I founded it in 1997, and now have two community pharmacies in Athlone, one in Castlerea, one in Athenry and 4 in Galway City,” he explains. “From the outset I wanted to provide the highest quality customer service to the community through highly skilled healthcare teams,” he continues. “All our supervising and store manager pharmacists (Glyn Ratcliffe, Treasa Kilroy, Máiréad Woolley, Sean Laffey, Enda Kennedy, Marie Grady, Sarah Brennan and Paul Hennelly) are key to our success and ensure excellent service is always provided. They’ve all completed a 2 year Post Graduate Diploma in Pharmacy Management with Ulster University. They manage our teams, our people, and ensure the face of McSharry’s Pharmacy is always welcoming, caring and professional.”
Ray has even commissioned Alf Dunbar, an expert in the field of customer service, to train his staff. “Every team member receives the ‘You are the difference’ customer service training programme by Alf, and this helps maintain our customer-focused culture. Each store manager is passionate about their store and their high standards of customer care; and they ‘respect and mind the store business like it is their own.’
The beauty of pharmacy
However, Ray wasn’t content to rely on customer service alone. He explains, “Initially, our focus was on the dispensary, but in 2014, to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers, we realigned our strategy to grow our share of the health and beauty market. Group Operations Director Caroline Murray, with over 20 years’ retail experience, systematically set about changing the retail culture of the stores and their teams. Prior to Caroline’s arrival, the group projected itself as a collection of community pharmacies with a focus on the dispensary, resulting in a poor conversion of dispensary footfall to retail sales. However, we refitted and rebranded the stores and implemented a marketing plan. Caroline then set about attracting key retail brand names to McSharry’s, quickly winning the contracts to sell some of the world’s leading health and beauty ranges including Clarins, Clinique, Chanel, Stila, Benefit, Dermalogica and many others. McSharry’s is now a well-known brand in the region and is no longer just a collection of individual chemists. As well as being community pharmacies, we’re leaders in health and beauty retail.”
‘A unique selling point’
Capitalising on their initial success, Ray and Caroline took the concept further. “We employed three qualified beauticians and five staff dedicated to skincare and cosmetics to align our team with this new strategy,” says Ray. “And there’s been a 40% uplift in retail sales in the last 6 years. Caroline is also the group’s online trading champion and has built one of Ireland’s leading beauty websites with an emphasis on clean skincare. Having the high street presence and expert teams to complement our online offer is the unique selling point of McSharry’s Health and Beauty. Adding those ingredients to a visually attractive, and user friendly, website completes a strong online platform to grow our business. What Caroline has achieved is amazing.” Indeed, the McSharry Group has been successfully nominated for numerous awards by its retail peers in the last decade.
Furthermore, all of this is combined with an impressive range of clinical services across all stores, including fertility treatment dispensing, Methadone dispensing, ‘NewWeigh’ medical weight management, smoking cessation, Blood Glucose and blood pressure monitoring, Influenza and soon Covid-19 vaccination services. “Plus, in line with our commitment to preventative healthcare, we implemented a very successful pre-diabetes screening programme with Diabetes Ireland,” says Ray. “We helped identify those patients with a high risk of developing diabetes, and we supported them to make lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of the disease.”
‘Doing all that’s possible’
With palpable enthusiasm, Ray explains his conviction in the Alitam model. “Our future rests on expanding the role of the pharmacist, fully utilising our knowledge and skills to help provide an improved primary healthcare service. At the moment this service is clearly struggling to meet the demand. I was at Feisal’s first presentation in Dublin and found his financial model and vision for the future of pharmacy utterly convincing. And this belief has only grown with the establishment of a fantastic head office team and Executive Board.” Of particular resonance for Ray is the emphasis on innovation and technology. “I know how powerful even small improvements can be,” explains Ray. “We already use data analytics to gain vital information such as stock levels, profit margins and so on. With Alitam I can explore this further with tried-and tested business intelligence tools, a pharmacy app and much more. When it comes to services, I can finally set about providing more Point-of-Care tests such as PSA prostate cancer screening, cholesterol and bone density testing to reduce the burden on our hospitals.” He smiles, “Before, I did all I could with my amazing team; now we will be doing all that’s possible.”