We meet the distinctive pharmacy duo Pat Durkin and Nicola Cleary.
Pat Durkin, pharmacist for 30 years, and his partner Nicola Cleary, a professional violinist, bring a magical chemistry to their pioneering store in Sligo. It drives a remarkable service-focused enterprise, which has cornered the market in specialised retail and consultative support to the local population.
A big turnaround
Nicola takes up the story, “Pat has vast experience in developing and running multiples, but sought a return to running an independent pharmacy. In 2014 we acquired Wards, which was doomed for closure, and we faced an enormous challenge for the first six months. However, we knew what we wanted to become: the most professional pharmacy in town. With 14 other pharmacies, including some big multiples, the competition was intense. All we could offer, above Pat’s skill, was our sincerity and empathy. So we focused on customer-centric solutions, offering the longest opening hours in town, and even a 24-hour emergency prescription service. And of fundamental importance is our loyal team of staff, who between them have many, many years of community pharmacy experience. They’ve developed areas of expertise alongside us, and undertaken specialist training; but most of all they are special people who really listen to, and empathise with, all our customers.”
Pat continues, “Things really took off, but the footprint of the store was tiny. In 2017 we acquired the building next door and set about designing an innovative layout. We installed a dispensing robot on the upper floor, to maximise efficiency and safety of dispensing medicines, and created a wonderful retail space on the ground floor. This opened up a whole world of opportunities, in terms of the unique services which our community needed. We have built everything around this, so the products on the shelf were life-enhancing, enabling people to live a fuller life when suffering with a variety of conditions.”
Nicola nods, “Quickly, we developed an expertise when it comes to independent living products, as we offer such a comprehensive selection. We have a full range of podiatry items, and even stock wide-fitting shoes. We also stock specialist clothing for arthritis sufferers, for example. Above all, our post-mastectomy solutions are close to our heart. Following a mastectomy, our pharmacy team are usually the first point of contact for women and we make this a really positive experience. It is an art, as every woman and every journey is different. A large part of the job is listening to people’s stories, then expertly fitting the items which will help them express themselves again. Up until this point, often, there has been no choice: we put women back in control, even down to the swimwear and sports clothing which feels comfortable.
It’s a unique offering, no other pharmacy in the region provides this. So all of these specialist services, together with our huge selection of alternative health and skincare products, has made us a destination pharmacy.”
Pat credits Nicola with much of this popularity. “Nicola tours the world as a performer, and uses the opportunity to scour pharmacies in each country for the latest trends and all the inspiration she can find. When she returns, we brainstorm what we can implement here in Ireland. It’s an idiosyncratic approach which works; in 7 years our turnover has increased fivefold.”
Nicola smiles, “It’s ultimately about how we can solve our customers’ problems. We’re looking to arouse an emotion, and people do always remark that our pharmacy feels different. Our prime objective is to meet their needs; so that people feel better by the time they walk out of our pharmacy. And there’s no greater reward than a happy customer.”
The Alitam dream
Pat is a second generation pharmacist, passionate about the professionalism of his service, which sits at the heart of his local community. “My dream with Alitam is to maintain this ethos, while getting services off the ground quickly; possibly developing the post-mastectomy business and branching out into more specialist areas. Only with Alitam can I achieve this dual objective, as the corporate strength behind us allows us to go above and beyond for our community.”
Nicola agrees, “With Alitam we can offer our customers even more solutions for a better quality of life. We’re excited about implementing the latest technology to improve our business systems and customer access; and we’ll be able to create a strong online presence, including a retail arm for our specialist clothing. We can explore everything possible for Wards Pharmacy and the sector as a whole. It’s immensely energising and inspiring.”
Alitam founder Feisal Nahaboo is quick to praise the couple. “By treading their own individual path, Pat and Nicola are proving how creativity and passion are vital components of any pharmacy business. They’ve carved out something completely unique and of enormous value to their community. I, and all the other Alitam members, are thrilled to be benefiting from their passion and experience. What a future awaits.”