Watch the quick video and read the full interview…
Dr. Ryan Kennedy, BSc., PharmD, MBA, poses for a photo in the Millidgeville Pharmasave.
PHOTO: TOPHER SEGUIN/TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
As published in the Telegraph-Journal, Saturday January 12, 2013
Five years ago, Dr. Ryan Kennedy, owner-operator and pharmacy manager of Millidgeville Pharmasave in Saint John, moved his young family back to New Brunswick. He had been working in Maine, where he was a pharmacist and district supervisor for CVS Caremark Corporation, a Fortune 50 company. Ryan and his wife, Karen, had just had their first child and they felt the pull to come home, so they made the decision to start their own business in Canada after Ryan had enjoyed years of a successful career with CVS in the U.S.
Ryan earned a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore – an interesting mix of education that has effectively lent itself to the complicated task of running a successful independent pharmacy.
After watching him interact with clients prior to our interview, it was clear to me that Ryan has a very clear vision on how to create positive customer experience.
I began our interview by asking Ryan if he had any entrepreneurial experience previous to opening his pharmacy…
A: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My dad owned a car dealership in Fredericton, and my mom owned a social work firm. I grew up in the environment of late nights, long hours and stresses with business cycles.
[Tweet “I grew up in the environment of late nights, long hours and business stresses. – Ryan Kennedy”]
My previous professional experience was working for bigbox chains in the U.S. with CVS Pharmacy, as a pharmacist and as a district pharmacy supervisor. I had experience on the bench initially. Then I helped in managing the operations of several pharmacies in Maine, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts.
Q: Would it be fair to say you came into this business experience with your eyes wide open?
A: That would be fair to say. Although I don’t think they are ever truly open until you dive into it and understand it first hand. I think it is something that from the outside does not appear to be difficult. It’s when you are actually in it that you realize how challenging it really is.
Q: What was it that encouraged you to leave your career in the U.S. and start a business in Canada?
A: What really prompted the move back to Canada initially was family. We had a young child and – with maternity leave being six weeks in the U.S. – my wife had decided to give up her job. We weren’t happy and decided the time had come to move home to New Brunswick.
Professionally it was a bit of a struggle to move because I was progressing in my career with CVS. I was certainly challenging myself professionally. I did not want to simply return to a bench pharmacy position – it would not be challenging enough. I wanted to be more involved on the business side.
Q: What prompted you to leave a corporate job and start your own business?
A: Prior to owning my own business, my career was about being put into stores that were struggling from an operational perspective. I was a pharmacist who would come in and help correct flow, improve operations, and ultimately improve sales. I began thinking “if this Fortune 50 company is using me in this capacity, maybe I can do this for myself.”
Q: What is it that makes your business unique?
A: It’s funny, people will walk into the store for the first time and they will say, “It’s just a pharmacy.” There has become an expectation that a pharmacy sells cosmetics and milk and they develop your photos. I really wanted to do something that was smaller. Number one, because I could focus on what I know. Number two, my experiences in the U.S. showed me that the smaller independents were the ones that really survived. I wanted low overhead and to be able to focus on our core strengths.
[Tweet “My U.S. experiences showed me – smaller independents were the ones that survived – Ryan Kennedy”]
Q: What is your competitive edge?
A: It takes volume purchasing to compete with big box chains in the front store, but we have equal buying power in the pharmacy. So it becomes a competition, in my opinion, based on service. I don’t believe our big competition can touch independence and small business service.
Q: What are other important elements in being a successful independent pharmacy?
A: Community involvement. We are an important part of the neighbourhood and provide a great service. For all the marketing we do, I find that our growth largely comes from referrals. Someone will say, “My neighbour said he had a good experience,and so here I am.”
Q: What has been the biggest surprise for you as a small independent business owner?
A: You can’t turn it off. Probably the only thing I miss about working for the big corporation was that at the end of the day when I turned the key in the store, I forgot about it. It was no longer my problem. It is very hard to turn business off and leave it behind at the end of the work day. That was the biggest surprise to me.
Q: What similarities are there, and what differences do you see, between working in the U.S.and Canada?
A: It is vastly different in the way that there is customer interaction. In Canada, being a pharmacist is more of a profession. Down in the U.S. you feel like you are really just there pushing pills through – just dispensing and not really adding much value to the transaction or to the person’s health care.
[Tweet “In Canada, being a pharmacist is more of a profession. – Ryan Kennedy”]
Q: What about the business side?
A: I think things are starting to become a little more similar between Canada and the U.S. with respect to insurance. Insurance companies in Canada are learning from insurance companies in the U.S. about how to really drive down their costs. Unfortunately, that has a big impact on practising pharmacy.You spend a lot of time on the telephone trying to get medications paid for by insurance – special authorizations, prior approvals, supply limitations.It’s crazy.
I have a lot of patients that tease me. They say that every time they come in into the store I have a phone glued to my head. Eighty percent of that time it is to insurance companies.
Q: What is the best advice you ever got as an entrepreneur?
A: When I think in terms of how I built my store, I got great advice on how to keep it small. This came from a friend of mine, Greg MacFarland, who owns a pharmacy in Nackawic. He has been a great mentor to me. He said front stores in pharmacies will become increasingly hard to compete on.Try to keep it small.
Q: What advice would you give to another entrepreneur?
A: You need to understand that the costs are really more important than the revenue. That will be what makes or breaks you. The course that I enjoyed the most from my MBA was managerial accounting. It was all cost based and gave me a really good understanding of what an impact that can have on a business.
It is critical to build a business that has low overhead. I believe this is very important in this industry. Our store is built to be sustainable – we are here for the long term.
[Tweet “I believe low overhead is very important in this industry. – Ryan Kennedy”]
Q: What or who inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
A: The inspiration would have come from watching my father operate. He did a really good job of running a successful business. He has always been very eager to grow his business in different ways. I admired how he handled himself professionally and how he conducted himself from the family perspective. It is where my inspiration came from.
Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter @Dave_Veale . To read past columns and watch videos go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca.