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THE TOPICS

Every Step You Take
Cameron Cooper
The word of the day is action, but just what kind of action is called for? As Australian pharmacies face many challenges including a shifting market, we turn to leaders of industry elsewhere…

The word of the day is action, but just what kind of action is called for? As Australian pharmacies face many challenges including a shifting market, we turn to leaders of industry elsewhere in the hope of finding footsteps worth following.

It is 2004 and things are starting to go sour for the juice queen. Janine Allis knows she has to act quickly and decisively.

After four years of phenomenal success and annual sales growth of about 30%, Boost Juice is facing its first major test. Sales have started to fall on the back of the entry of new market players and a misleading television report claiming the franchise adds sugar to its drinks that meant they were no healthier than fizzy drinks.

Janine, the founder of the company and self-described 'girl from the burbs', is both indignant and pragmatic. She knows Boost Juice must re-educate the market about the health credentials of its juices and smoothies, while accepting responsibility for the sales slump.

"We were looking at blaming everyone else for our demise regarding our decrease of sales, but really the problem was us," Janine recalls. "We'd taken our eye off the ball. Our customer service had dropped and our stores were looking tired. The answers were very obvious when you looked within."

What followed was a major review and overhaul of the business covering franchisees, fit-outs, customer service, recruitment, training and product lines. The finance team also wiped out $2 million of expenses as part of a budget check. Within about two years, Boost Juice had turned around the slide and put the juice chain back on course to becoming what is today – a company with 270 stores globally.

Courtesy of Boost Juice's emphasis on non-processed foods and changing people's eating choices, Janine sees her business as a natural fit for the health sector. She says the company's story is a relevant tale for all businesses from the retail and health sectors through to manufacturing and beyond. Have a clear action plan. Adopt a never-say-die attitude. And insist on a high-performance culture.

"WE'RE SUCH AN ASSET IN THE COMMUNITY. WE SHOULD REALLY PORTRAY OURSELVES IN THAT WAY."

"The reality is that whether you are a pharmacy, a juice bar or a person who sells steel, the success or failure of any business comes down to the same fundamentals – people and process."

Jason Luu

TIMES ARE A-CHANGIN'

Australian pharmacists can no doubt relate to the Boost Juice story as they respond to rising challenges and a shifting market. A KordaMentha report released in February this year, titled Pharmacy: A Challenging and Changing Outlook, indicates that the Australian retail pharmacy sector is a $12.2 billion industry comprising about 5250 retail stores. It suggests that while the industry has grown at a rate of 1.6% a year over the past five years, that growth rate is expected to dip over the next five "due to the dampening effect of reforms introduced by the government to reduce the growing cost of delivering the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme". In addition to the changing healthcare environment, the other game changer is the emergence of drug dispensers who do not see themselves as health destinations.

MediADVICE, a New South Wales pharmacy chain with 90 stores, is determined to shape its own sustainability with a strategic plan that seeks to help improve community pharmacy and bring back some of the traditional values of the sector.

"We're such an asset in the community," says managing director Jason Luu. "We should really portray ourselves in that way."

At the core of MediADVICE's changes is a new platform, called the Pharmacy Hub, which will help pharmacists, general staff and students practise their traditional pharmacy skills in a 100sqm real-life pharmacy setting at the group's headquarters in Glebe, Sydney. Jason says the site will enable pharmacists to better use a range of industry tools that have the potential to transform their service models. It will deliver mentoring and networking benefits, along with dispensary training for pharmaceutical and over-the-counter products, point-of-sale systems, stock and staff management, pricing structures and workflow methods.

Jason says the hub is expected to be fully operational later this year and will complement in-store changes designed to improve the experience for pharmacists and customers alike.

Pharmacies. Real estate agencies. Retailers. The consensus is that strong and proactive leadership is an important component of community service and efforts to implement successful change.

"We want to bring back nostalgia and romance into the core of our pharmacy," Jason says.

While the group has had considerable success to date, Jason says pharmacies must have a long-term plan to improve their service and stores. The hub is its response.

"Practise makes perfect," he says. "The world's No. 1 tennis player is very good at what he does, but he continues to practise to improve."

John Mcgrath

HEALTHY HABITS

At his Sydney real estate empire, John McGrath says taking action to stay ahead of significant industry changes is crucial to any business's success.

Whether it is compliance, the environment or digital marketing, for example, McGrath Estate Agents has always prided itself on being an early adopter. The shift to online sites such as realestate.com.au caught out some rivals, but John invested in its site.

"We embraced it early on and for us it’s kind of business as usual because we saw the trend 10 years ago and we committed to it," he says.

Set up more than 25 years ago, McGrath Estate Agents has grown into an organisation with about 1500 employees and which sold more than $10.1 billion in residential sales in the financial year ending 30 June 2014. The founder and CEO says four key tools have been instrumental in creating one of Australia's most respected and innovative real estate agencies: integrity, communication, customer care and results.

John says a couple of other significant factors have helped him prosper. First, he largely ignores the mainstream news because of its daily cycle of negativity. Instead, he opts in to avenues that are valuable to him – reading business magazine Fast Company, following about 70 people on Twitter who are at the forefront of business thinking, attending relevant events and seminars, or catching up with mentors for a coffee.

"One of your greatest assets is a strong mindset and a positive attitude," John explains.

Second, he notes that one constant occurs in the best and most sustainable businesses – higher standards. Whether it is in real estate, media, finance or healthcare, he says too many enterprises cut corners.

"The majority of businesses that I come across either as a consumer or as a competitor generally don’t have particularly high standards,” he says. “Raising your standards as a business and upholding them is vital."

John's advice for other business leaders is succinct: start with a clear purpose; have a defined set of values; insist on great service; ensure your presentation standards set the benchmark in your sector; and hire exceptional people and continue to train and motivate them. In short, aim high and deliver – regardless of the sector.

Peter Andrews

A commitment to excellence has also seen Haverick Meats, a second-generation, family-owned company, develop over the past three decades into a leading supplier of Australian meat to the professional food-service industry locally and abroad, as well as to households in Sydney.

Picking up the baton from his father John Andrews Snr, Peter Andrews is now the driving force behind Haverick's growth. He says in addition to tradition and passion, the business's willingness to embrace innovation and change has allowed it to stand apart from its competitors.

In 2007, Haverick Meats decided to construct one of Australia's most advanced master butchery packing facilities in a move that has allowed it to become one of the few Australian butcheries registered to export globally. The multi-million-dollar project includes the most advanced meat-cutting technology to provide consistency every time and ensures inventory is on hand to supply restaurants and food-service partners daily, both locally and internationally.

Peter says having a highly experienced and professional team has given Haverick's the confidence to make such a major investment. At the same time, it has not taken its employees for granted.

Whenever there is a period of change or transition within a company, communication is essential. With anything you undertake there will be (challenges), however with good communication with your team you are better able to overcome these.

THE LEADERSHIP IMPERATIVE

Pharmacies. Real estate agencies. Retailers. The consensus from Jason, John, Janine and Peter is that strong and proactive leadership is an important component of efforts to implement successful change.

Tenacity and hard work are also required, according to Janine, because "there's never an off button” in business, especially when new innovations are being rolled out or challenges are being overcome. It is imperative, too, that a business’s culture flows through to the whole team. No exceptions … No excuses … And that team must consist of great people who are ambitious.

"Great leaders hire great people," Janine says. "Poor leaders hire average people that they can dominate. What we want in this business is the 17-year-old who works in the store who wants eventually to be the CEO."

John also wants leaders at all levels of his business. Just because a person does not have the title of 'manager' on their business card does not mean they should not be a leader. They should be "CEOs of their own business units". John and his senior executive team lead from the front and constantly drive home qualities such as transparency, humility, excellence, passion and, most of all, integrity.

"That can be lacking in our industry, but we are very big on it."

If people cannot toe the line, John says management must be decisive. "Anyone who steps outside the flags has to be removed from the business. You've got to enforce that these are not things that we'd like to have people aspire to one day doing; these are things you have to do every day."

Peter also advises other enterprises to surround themselves with excellence. “In order to be the best in the business it is crucial to work with the best in the business, regardless of your profession,” he says.

To stay at the forefront of an industry, Peter believes senior management must always be diligent and willing to innovate, whether it is around product lines or internal processes. "Never take your eye off what you are working to achieve and stay focused on what you do best. Stay passionate. Work with people who have the same vision and passion as you, and always do it with a smile."

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

The KordaMentha report suggests that the rise of discount pharmacies will continue to have a fundamental impact on the industry. This, along with the PBS reform, is making it critical for community pharmacy to analyse, understand and optimise their sustainability. For example, of the $2 billion spent on health and beauty by consumers in 2013, only 40% was spent at traditional pharmacies – limiting growth in this department to only 1%, the report notes. Others experienced up to 19% growth. The report suggests community pharmacies offer value-adding health benefits to enhance their position.

Every step you take

In such an environment, MediADVICE's decision to try to bring back the romance to pharmacies is a bold and positive move. Jason says his group appreciates the need to think innovatively, hence the development of the Pharmacy Hub. It will also focus on building industry relationships and giving store operators every opportunity to strive for excellence. Jason wants pharmacists to spend more time on their area of strength: dispensing medication and advice in an effort to assist the community.

"Real community pharmacy is such an asset to keep people well in an ageing society," he says.

For his part as an industry leader, he plans to listen to as many voices as possible – from the community, colleagues, younger generations and academics – so that they are informed. "That's the most important thing to be able to do – to take things on board and make changes," he says. "And to lead with energy."

There's never an off button in business, especially when new innovations are being rolled out or challenges are being overcome.

Haverick Meats understands the pressures of operating in a fast-changing industry. Over the past 30 years, the food-service industry and the Australian culinary landscape have experienced a seismic shift. Peter says complementing an "old school" mature culture with the latest technology has enabled the business to respond to the ever-increasing requirements of its customers.

"Critical to the success of the company has been to establish processes and implement technology which allows us to respond to even the most demanding of clients."

John will keep anticipating the next big trend in real estate as he seeks to stay ahead of the pack. He will also focus on encouraging employees to be the best they can be in life, not simply nine-to-five sales machines.

"It goes beyond business into your life … You need to be the CEO of your health and family as well as the customer experience. We look at this as a holistic approach."

At Boost Juice, Janine agrees that life and business philosophies must interconnect. She lives according to the SOAR principle – Solutions, Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. It helped her navigate the tough times back in 2004-05 and, together with strict structures and systems for the company, turned a negative experience into a positive long-term one.

"I look back and think if it wasn't for that time we wouldn't be the business that we are now," she says.

"We wouldn't have the disciplines, we wouldn’t have that level of always listening to our customer, always looking at our stores, always continuing training. We'll never make those mistakes again."

Janine now has her hands full with Boost Juice and as executive director of Retail zoo, which supports Boost Juice, Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill and CIBO Espresso. With competitors always lurking around the corner, Boost Juice has introduced a new lean & Green menu, as well as more protein shakes, which has seen a sharp spike in sales.

"It takes courage to make changes, but you have no choice," Janine says. "You're either going forward or backwards – you're never staying the same."