AFTER nearly 30 years of running his own chain of pharmacies with stiff competition from national retailers, Port Elizabeth businessman Deon Schoeman says the secret to his success is hard work, taking care of employees and customers and providing exceptional service.
Schoeman owns the KliniCare chain of pharmacies in Nelson Mandela Bay, which comprises eight pharmacies, two franchise stores owned by independent pharmacists, a nursing services business and a medical homecare store. There are plans to expand the business throughout the Eastern Cape.
Schoeman said he took a major risk in 1984 when he successfully secured a loan from a bank and asked his father and older brother to stand surety so he could buy the pharmacy at the Westway Centre in Cape Road, which he still owns today.
“Back then I could take a risk like that as I only had three employees and myself. Today I would never do it as I am now responsible for the 162 people who work for me.”
Schoeman was born and bred in Port Elizabeth.
“I was the second youngest of five children so there were not many options for me but fortunately my mother worked as a secretary at the university so there was a 50% reduction for us to study.
“My maths, science and biology results were really good and so I enrolled to do a diploma in pharmacy at the then College for Advanced Technical Education in 1976, which would later become the PE Technikon.”
While at technikon Schoeman met his wife Relda, who was studying teaching at then University of PE. “We got married when I was in my fourth year and I still needed to do my one year internship and two years of national service. When my son, also named Deon, was three months old I started my national service where I only received R164-a-month.”
When Schoeman returned he found that the SB Wilson Pharmacy in Cape Road was for sale.
“I had absolutely no money but I knew this pharmacy had the potential. With a loan from the bank and the assistance from my brother and father, I bought the business. My father came to help me with the financials.”
Schoeman said he worked 14 to 16-hour days, including weekends, to grow the business.
“I still work 12-hour days now. Young people think that if they are qualified they will automatically make money but it just does not work that way.”
In 1989 Schoeman returned to university to study towards a Masters degree in pharmacy and during the course of the next 10 years he acquired six more pharmacies. New government regulations in 2004 meant big retailers could open pharmacies in stores, changing the industry.
Determined to adapt, Schoeman attended courses and tried to become an expert on the new regulations. He developed the Klinicare brand and placed all his pharmacies under the same brand.
“Today it is very difficult for independent pharmacies to start up. This is why we have thrown our weight behind two franchises, KliniCare Gelvandale and KliniCare Kabega Park. We do not own [them] but they have access to our infrastructure.
Schoeman said he was able to compete with larger retailers because of the added value and service customers receive when they walk into a KliniCare pharmacy.
“I tell my staff that once a customer walks out they should already feel 50% better. The medicine should help for the other 50%.”