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How To Get Going
Peter Switzer
The going in tough: Peter Switzer shares how to thrive in - not just survive - a challenging business landscape.

A few years back I wrote a book called 350 Ways to Grow Your Business and the publishers asked me if I could find a way to put numbers into the title. Apparently business books sell better with numbers in the title! History has shown me that great business builders are always open for new strategies and so I took the expert advice and looked at the 78 case studies I’d written to see what innovations the founders tried to make a difference. I thought I’d get a cute title such as 22 Ways to Grow Your Business or something like that but 350 different ways eventuated and it taught me a powerful lesson: no matter how long you have been in business you can always learn from other successful entrepreneurs.

Pharmacy Business Insight has been born out of this awareness and will be a quarterly connection to the pharmacy community, where we will deliver insights as well as case studies from key opinion leaders in pharmacy and business as to how, as health care providers, you may better serve your customers.

With everyone in business now challenged by a new age of retailing and governments keen to change the playing field, PBI will share practical,innovative insights and outside- the-square ways to respond to the changing environment. We will draw from these insights and information from independent sources

that will assist pharmacy owners to think and act strategically to build a sustainable health practice that will not just survive these challenges, but thrive beyond them in your community.

This issue will not only tap into my vast library of highly successful business creators I have interviewed, analysed and written about for over 25 years but we will shine the spotlight on the highly innovative operation of Gympie pharmacist, David Dixon. Industry expert Bruce Annabel will tell us what all pharmacists should know about their business and AdamFerrier, founder of Naked Communications and now Chief Strategy Officer at CumminsRoss, as well as on the ABC’s The Gruen Transfer, will show us how to provide a better experience for your patients.

The intention of PBI is to help you, the pharmacist, think laterally about your operation to ensure you end up with the best for the community that you serve. I feel honoured to be asked to be a part of this new project.

The going is tough: Peter Switzer shares how to thrive in – not just survive – a challenging business landscape.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” After more than two decades talking to, analysing and learning from great business builders in Australia and around the world, I’ve always thought it was my job to explain what the words “get going” mean in real terms for your business. When I look at the 10,000-plus case studies of outstanding entrepreneurs I’ve been involved with over the years, the standout characteristic, which made their ‘get goings’ work so brilliantly, was their willingness to think outside the square. But more importantly, with this vision of the opportunity, they were prepared to challenge conventional paradigms, to get outside their comfort zone and take action.

Like many businesses in Australia, community pharmacies have multiple new-age challenges from the pervasive impact of the internet, to new mega-sized price-discounting rivals, to cost-cutting budget deficit-reducing governments.

So it is clear that you can’t beat a new problem with old thinking — it’s time for all businesses, including those in health care, confronting the competitive issues of 2014 to look for innovative practices and, more importantly, outside the square thinking.


One of the most sought after speakers on the business conference circuit, the Aussie baker from Beechworth, Tom O’Toole, told me on my Sky News Business program that “everything we want is just outside our comfort zone”. His words are noteworthy. He built his business and created his entrepreneurial reputation by taking out TV ad time on country stations, which was surprisingly affordable. The ads played up the history and character of Beechworth, which now is one of the most visited destinations for tourists in Victoria. O’Toole listens to his customers by asking them to write suggestions and comments on a noticeboard in his shop and says some of the best ideas he ever had came from customers. He created a community bulletin board, gave awards to employees and spent a lot on training his staff. Twentyyears ago, these were all market-leading innovations – but they haven’t lost their shine. All of these can be applied in your pharmacy. Sound too hard? O’Toole was once asked by an attendee at a conference about the waste of spending money on an employee ’s training, who then ups and leaves.

His response was: “Well, what if you don’t spend money on training them and they stay?”

The bakery has been awarded multiple times – among them, the Victorian Tourism Award – and nowadays employs 74 workers. Ten years ago, Tom’s operation only had him and two part-timers. Now he has sold part of his operation to young guns but he’s still in the play.

Tom’s philosophies are predictably straightforward:
• If you wouldn’t buy it, then don’t sell it.
• Attitudes are contagious.
• Nothing changes if nothing changes.
• If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
• Don’t let someone else steal your day.

O’Toole’s story is an example of great leadership and demonstrates undeniably, that business success has two sides. Firstly, there is the external side that no business owner can control, which includes the economy, government, natural events, etc. You no doubt know these all too well. Then, there is the internal side that is totally linked to the attitude of the entrepreneur, and it’s here that a business owner like you can raise productivity, and introduce innovations to better serve your customers and community.


Outstanding entrepreneurs, who built extraordinary businesses, often faced enormous competitive challenges from both sides. It was how they responded to these challenges that explains their success.

Look at ‘Aussie’ John Symond, our homegrown version of Virgin founder Richard Branson. Both these entrepreneurs took on the big players and the prevailing external environment, which they saw aschallenging. They promised lower prices and, in the process, built unforgettable brands. The Aussie Home Loans story is one based on a business owner determined to succeed by encouraging change in one of Australia’s most over-charging and uncompetitive industries.

Symond’s brand and business were grown by one of the most enduring do-it-yourself marketing campaigns in this country’s history, where Symond made famous the words ‘At Aussie, we’ll save you’. He fronted his own TV ads simply because he didn’t have the budget to pay for talent! Anyone who knows Symond knows he is not an entertainment machine but he did what he had to do to meet the challenge.

These were outside the square strategies and he was prepared to get outside his comfort zone to ask the hard questions and hoped he got the right answers.

Pharmacist David Dixon of Gympie told me that when he innovated into his sleeping disorder treatment strategy, it took him outside his comfort zone but it has achieved the desired result, putting him back in the centre of his community. Just as the pharmacy next to a footy field may see the opportunity to cater to sports injuries, you have to ask yourself ‘what else?’ ‘What else can I do for my customers? What do they really need?” (To read more about Dixon’s story, turn to page 12.)

As Aussie Home Loans grew, new threats started emerging and Symond, again, embraced change. Recognising consumers were also changing their borrowing habits, he turned Aussie into a mortgage broking outfit, which meant he would be offering his own loans as well as those of his rivals. “People were wanting choice. You couldn’t ignore the market,” he said.

So what are the external market factors that your pharmacy faces in the year ahead? In a nutshell, I have been arguing that the rise in business and consumer confidence after the federal election, plus the lower dollar, lower interest rates and rising house prices could really help the local economy in 2014. My favourite economic indicator is the Sensis BusinessIndex, which surveys the small and medium enterprise sector. The December 2013 figure showed a turnaround in confidence that hasn’t been seen for years. Importantly, this improvement was not driven by the arrival of a new government but by rising demand levels.

I see a snowball of confidence building over 2014 but that said, the new retail world is forever changing and anyone in this game has to be up for change! So let’s look at the internal innovations that could help the pharmacy sector make the upcoming year a great one.


So how do you prepare your business for change? Having the right processes in place takes the headache out of employee training and provides your business with a framework to grow from. Systems also offer consistency – which is crucial to the customer experience.

In the quiet coastal town of Robe, the Mackey family are making other people’s holiday homes their business: three-and-a-bit hours south of Adelaide, Debra Mackey and her husband Richard have set up shop.

Their operation, Happyshack, is a property management business with a difference, offering services ranging from garden care to stocking up the groceries; from booking a restaurant to babysitting.

“There was this niche in the market,” Debra says. “You have your B&B accommodation and then there’s the real estate agents doing property management, but there was no one in the middle doing a really good holistic property management service, taking excellent care of the properties and the guests.”

Prior to this, Debra worked for an accounting practice with a heavy focus on business coaching and the implementation of systems. The lessons she learned here proved invaluable. She believes that the secret to having a successful small business is to act like a big one. “I think that’s the reason people took us seriously to start with. From the very beginning, we had everything – our uniforms, advertising on our cars, we were prompt, we answered our phone every single time.”

It’s this attention to detail, which has come from really knowing what customers want, that set Happyshack aside from other property management services. “The average property manager with real estate will not attend to every little thing. Withours, when they arrive, the house has already been checked and cleaned and is pretty, shiny and sparkly for them.”

Always consider how the customer experiences the service that you provide.

Debra says they implemented processes from “the get go”.

“Everything followed these same systems, from how we fold a roll of toilet paper right through to how we answer the phone. Everyone does it exactly the same. And that makes it appear frightfully organised.”

This approach was a welcome change from the traditional relaxed attitude, where “this will do” was replaced with “we will do it as you want it”.

It goes a long way, too, in reassuring your customers. It builds trust. And the size of your operation? It doesn’t matter.

“People thought we were a lot bigger than we actually were. The phone would be answered by one person and then you’ d be put on hold and put through to the other person.”

Appearances, she laughs, can be deceiving. “Actually it was just the two of us trying to juggle two babies and a new business. We got married and we built a house all in those 12 months. We nearly lost our minds – we just thought, ‘Oh my God, what have we done?’ But it was OK, we got through that. And I don’t think anything will be that hard again.”

Debra says that it’s easier to maintain great relationships with existing clients than to cultivate new ones. Good news travels fast in a close-knit community, and repeat business has never proved a problem.

She believes marketing is the art of creating genuine customer value. This advice could not be more pertinent for pharmacies, which are now challenged by increased competition and new government policies.

“It’s just that wow factor,” says Debra. “It doesn’t have to be much more than what everybody else does, but just that bit extra is what will tip them over the edge.”

Getting processes in place is essential. Creating excellence within them: even more so. It means continually reassessing your systems with a view to improving them. You need to set time to review your processes and, as your business grows and new challenges emerge, to ask: are these current systems delivering the best for my customers? Are they facilitating what they need? Are you merely dispensing? Or are you health care consulting?

Ask yourself: what are the systems in your pharmacy that you ‘just do’ – how long since you reviewed them and how do you know if they are still working?


Innovation is key to any business success story and it means you must be open to change. The motivation to innovate may come in the form of economic challenges, legislative changes, looming regulation, and increased competition or simply to maintain your relevance in an ever changing world. No matter what factor drives the need for change, your customer (and a comprehensive understanding of them) should always be your number one priority. Your customer’s needs should be front of mind in any decisions made. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes to create a genuine, authentic experience that they value and appreciate …and, more importantly, that they will return for.

And remember, your customer is not always the same — they change and you must keep in touch with their new expectations and needs.

A good example of innovation is a new player in the online flower delivery market already making inroads. Sydney- based Little Flowers, a 12-month-old start-up, already has ambitious plans for interstate and international growth, thanks to their innovative business model.

The premise is simple: Little Flowers offers just one variety of quality posies each day, for the set price of $25 including delivery. It’s the no frills, ‘less is more’ approach to flower giving – and customers have been fast to get on board.

“Simplicity is what we’re all about,” explains co-founder Hans Berents. “We go to the flower market and buy one type of flower a day. We don’t try to cover six or seven arrangements because that’s going to be blowing money we don’ t have. The next day we offer a different bunch and keep a quality control on it. Whenever someone goes online, they can see the flowers of the day, and the flowers from the last seven days as well, so they know what they’re in for. The posey is small and beautiful, and exceptionally well presented.”

With the cost of buying and sending a bunch of flowers often expensive, the four founders of Little Flowers saw a gap in the market.

“We thought, take out the unnecessary bigness of the flowers – to celebrate the thought, celebrate the gesture. Changing the market was where we got really excited.”

How to get going

Everything is driven from the customer perspective. With online flowers, you don’t know if they’ve been delivered or not so you can start to get quite anxious – so we send a text as soon as they’ve been delivered to let customers know.”

Social media, too, has played a role in the growth of the business.

“They look a lot more prestigious than the price point indicates, and when people see these flowers, they’ve been very eager to share. Early adopters have a sense of helping spread the idea, and feeling like they’re building this brand themselves.”

So what are the products or services in your pharmacy that you can change to give a better customer experience and differentiate you – not from just other pharmacies but also from the pharmacy section in the big supermarkets? Becoming known for one special expertise within your community – just like Little Flowers’ single daily offering and Dixon’s sleep apnoea innovation – can prove to be a real advantage by demonstrating that you understand your community ’s needs.


All pharmacists, along with every business in the country, have to honestly ask themselves — “Am I really comprehending my changing customers, the new ways I can engage with them, how I can establish a therapeutic relationship with them and the kinds of services I might be able to offer that I have never thought about before? Or am I just doing what I have always done?”

In his, Life In Half A Second, respected author Matthew Michalewicz, who created two IT businesses and listed them on the stock exchange, looked at “the science of success”. His research showed that success got down to:
• Clarity of goals.
• Belief you could achieve your goals.
• Desire to achieve them.
• Accessing the knowledge to achieve them.
• And, crucially, taking action.

Michalewicz showed that goal setting is critically important but you need more than that — the burning desire to be a success has to be matched by action.

The best of breed in business do not pass up any opportunity to take their business to the next level. When threats do come along, the business leader has to step up and lead. The first step in leading others is to lead yourself, which requires an objective evaluation of your shortcomings. As a consequence, you must be prepared to engage in self-development.

How do I lead myself and then my business to the next level? It’s simple, start with a plan. Do an honest appraisal of the needs of your community, the capacities of your pharmacy and what needs to be done to bridge the gap between the two. Be brutally honest about your strengths and weaknesses, otherwise your insights and strategies are likely to be flawed. One option is to get independent advice from someone who you trust to candidly review your analysis.

In the best businesses I have come across, from Apple to Boost Juice to BridgeClimbto those mentioned above, the entrepreneurs/leaders were desperately customer-centric. Paul Cave, who founded the walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, even when he gave up the CEO role, still personally looked over the customer feedback forms because he wanted insights to make his business better.

I believe most business owners think they are going the extra mile but you can do it on foot or you can do it in a Ferrari. Working harder is good but doing it while simultaneously working smarter is better.

I went to the Australian Open in January and watched Rafael Nadal serve and then Victoria Azarenka. I learnt things while watching and my serve – I would like to think! – is now better and I feel inspired anew to get on the court. I bet most people who went to the Open have not changed their tennis game, or themselves, as a consequence of going to Melbourne Park. In business, you can be a spectator or a player but to be the latter, you have to take action. Hopefully this publication will inspire you to do just that. And the better the action, the better the results.

It comes back again to that ‘get going’, that craving for continual momentum. The poet Robert Frost wrote a line in a poem that I’ve always used to make people think about what they have to do to go to the next level. It goes like this: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” I look forward to navigating you along the road less travelled to overall success but you’ll have to be a player, not a spectator!