“About two-thirds of the people in our company have some kind of degree or certification – they could be a pharmacist or herbalist or esthetician or naturopathic doctor – but they also have done their research and have been educated so they understand our products well,” Pharmaca CEO Richard Willis explains. “Our employees help our customers make the right choices, and it’s great because they have the knowledge and love to share what they know in order to help people.”
For nearly 20 years, Pharmaca has focused on natural health and beauty, and has become known for its cutting-edge offerings. This is because the company carefully selects brands that are supported by extensive research and produce high-quality formulations. Pharmaca’s strict quality assurance guidelines ensure every product in its stores is continually tested for purity and effectiveness. The result is a well curated yet comprehensive offering of vitamins, herbal and homeopathic formulas, and organic and natural skin care and cosmetics.
“We are very rigorous in our testing of new products, and we take pride in that,” Willis says. “CBD is a good example. There are a lot of CBD products in the marketplace and many make unsubstantiated statements about what CBD can do. Some claim ingredient contents and purity levels that are not what they say they are. With our selection, we stay tightly focused and work with partners we trust to test their products to ensure we offer only the best.”
“People have a lot of questions about CBD, so we made sure that we educated our staff well about the products,” he continues. “We sell CBD in supplements, topicals, oils and a couple of food products, so we spent a lot of time ensuring they understood all of the nuances of these products. We also made sure each product does what it says it does. Because customers have come to trust our product selection so heavily, we have to make sure we are consistent throughout all our product lines.”
He notes that Pharmaca likes getting vendors in front of its team members for training, and invites them to stores to talk to customers as well. The company is small enough that it can be nimble with a vendor, but large enough to move units if a product is successful, he says, so Pharmaca continues to work closely with the vendor community.
“If you work in the pharmacy or retail in our stores, you care about helping people,” Willis says. “That’s why you become a pharmacist, a naturopath or esthetician. We make a conscious effort to promote from within, and education is important for that. Our online Pharmaca University features education on a variety of topics and products. We also encourage our vendors to spend time in the stores, and that one-on-one training gives our team members a better opportunity to help customers when they have questions. We believe that’s a significant factor in our double-digit sales growth this year.”
Pharmaca has stores in five Western states and Illinois, and although it wants to expand its geographic footprint, the company’s ecommerce business continues to grow rapidly. Willis notes that Pharmaca’s ecommerce sales have increased by 40 percent this year, but the company is focused on ensuring consumers’ experiences with its online platform match the in-store experience.
To this end, Pharmaca spent more than $1 million last year to upgrade its online platform and reorganize the fulfillment system in its warehouse. Its focus has been on ensuring that it has the technology to maintain a high level of service, and that it provides the knowledge customers need to make the right choices about its products.
“We do about 20 percent of our retail business online now, and about two-thirds of that online business is from places where we don’t have stores,” Willis says. “The brand has done well online, and that helps us look into areas where we believe the market and demographics are right, such as Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, Florida and some areas of Texas. With online sales, we can see where people are finding us and that gives us a heads up on where to go with new stores.”
Pharmaca has also built two USP 800-compliant non-sterile compounding pharmacy centers, one in Colorado and one in Oregon, allowing the company to meet prescription needs for high-end, expensive treatments of various diseases and ailments, a business that has been growing rapidly for Pharmaca.
Pharmaca has also been investing in technology to ensure it can deliver prescriptions as fast as anyone else in the market. “We have a deal with FedEx so we can provide same-day delivery from the pharmacy to a customer’s home, and they can bring anything else from the store to their home in the same shipment,” Willis says.
What remains consistent throughout all aspects of its business is that Pharmaca is dedicated to helping people, Willis stresses. Its staff members reflect this, and it makes sure those team members have opportunities to advance in the company. About three-fourths of its manager positions in the stores and pharmacies are filled in-house, he says, because Pharmaca is dedicated to promoting from within.
“We try not to have much hierarchy here,” Willis says. “We are able to answer most questions team members have within a day or two, and if there is something someone in the company wants to do – like a product promotion or new plan for the business – that moves through the organization quickly. Even if they don’t get a ‘yes,’ they get an answer and support. Our market managers do a fantastic job of managing their businesses, and they are great conduits of information because they understand their store and the products. We encourage people to try new things because that keeps us innovative.”