The Independent Pharmacist – an Endangered Species

In the pharmacy world, unity is strength. In Quebec, partly because procurement is easier for the owners of pharmacies that belong to a chain such as Jean Coutu or Uniprix, there are no more than about fifty pharmacists who go it alone.

The last few holdouts, often partisans of a pharmaceutical practice more in accord with the specific needs of their local clientele, will tell you of their disappointment in seeing the number of independent owner-pharmacists declining.

The reality is that those who have made this choice must expect to be on an unequal playing field and live in a certain precariousness. Quebec’s pharmacy environment is now led by three big players: Loblaws, which owns the Pharmaprix chain; Metro, which owns the Brunet and Jean Coutu brands; and McKesson Canada, which is behind the Uniprix chain. When the time comes to get the best retail prices, these chains share a step ahead for procuring non-prescription drugs and a variety of consumer products.

Uniformity that may displease

“What is unfortunate about this convergence is the uniformity of customer experience,” says Charles Milliard, pharmacist snd Vice-President of Strategy and Health Outreach in the National public relations firm. Many patients are seeking different pharmaceutical services than those offered by the big brands, perhaps a more European approach. However, all pharmacies look alike and offer more or less the same service.”

Nonetheless, our pharmaceutical history has shown that uniting pharmacists under a single brand is beneficial for many reasons. In addition to obtaining products at a better price by making wholesale purchases, brand-name pharmacy owners have developed powerful marketing that has proven to be highly effective and which provides them with prestige and credibility. Surveys by Léger Marketing prove year after year that Jean Coutu pharmacies are often at the top rank of the companies most admired by Quebecers.

Pharmacy practices nonetheless protected

Commercial independence is disappearing,” continues Charles Milliard, “but the professional independence of pharmacists remains assured in any case. Consumers should not be concerned, because the laws in Quebec require any pharmacist-owner to be a member of the professional order and comply with very strict standards. No marketing pressure from the brand owner can really interfere with the pharmacist’s precise work and in the advice he provides.”

Pharmacists operating under a brand are also united to face the next challenge: the online sale of drugs, a surf that independent operators risk having more trouble to tame.

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