In conversation with Alitam members John and Aoibheann Sheppard

Husband and wife team John and Aoibheann Sheppard are an object lesson in the powers of partnership, both with regard to their own pharmacies in Ireland, and now as handpicked members of the Alitam group. The result of a perfect complement of talents – John focuses on dispensing and patient interaction, while Aoibheann takes charge of stock ordering and the front of the shop – their two pharmacies are the lynchpins of the neighbourhood. “These talented pharmacists and entrepreneurs have achieved so much in fifteen years,” says Feisal Nahaboo, founder of Alitam. “They have tremendous energy and drive, and a distinctive focus on the patient pathway which fits perfectly with our vision: to put more power in the hands of patients. They’re an inspiration to us all.”

The conduits between patient and GP

Central to their success is the special relationship they’ve cultivated with local GPs. “It’s symbiotic,” says John, “they call me for advice on drug interactions, or to find out which healthcare schemes cover certain treatments, for instance. And I have a direct line to them, so I can run things by a GP when I’m in consultation with a customer. It’s of immense value to customers, usually saving them a trip to the surgery, and brings a huge boost to our business through increased referrals and customer confidence.”

The Sheppards work hard to meet regularly with GPs throughout the year, brainstorming how best to work alongside one another. Aoibheann takes up the theme, “We’re the pharmacy putting in this extra work to become a conduit between patient and GP. Because this is what our healthcare system so desperately needs. Our customer satisfaction ratings are through the roof. This is a source of great pride as, at the end of the day, it’s all about the customers.”

The genius of Alitam

When Feisal spotted their talent and approached the Sheppards, the attraction was immediate. Says Aoibheann, “We’re young and hungry, but as an independent we couldn’t move the business on sufficiently. With Alitam we have the perfect partnership: we get to deepen our roots in the community, working hard to upgrade our offering to customers, while being part of something far bigger – with enormous brain power and purchasing power. We can save money on everything from supplier prices to utility bills, for instance. We can save time through the rollout of centralised technology, and focus even more on customer care. We can benefit from the serious online presence of an Alitam website, with e-commerce and all kinds of innovative services being offered. The list is endless.”

John continues, “We’re able to realise the value of what we’ve built but, far from walking away, we’re more invested in the outcome than ever. There’s huge traction through the combined pull of talent: both from the incredibly impressive management team, and from each individual member. The genius of Alitam is that we’re working together, not in competition. This signals a phenomenal shift in business practice for the pharmacy sector.”

‘It’s the next step’

Inspired by the success of other members, the Sheppards are already exploring further healthcare services they can provide in store. “We’re keen to host a travel clinic, cholesterol testing and establish a thriving retail site,” says John. “And it’s great; we don’t have to spend weeks researching things, we’re privy to the best inside information there is. I’m confident these extra services – and more – will be up and running in no time.”

Aoibheann nods her head, “This collaborative way of working is the next step for us – and for the pharmacy sector as a whole. It seems so right, intuitively. People in the future will look back and say, “Why wasn’t this done before?”