Personal touch, loyal customer service helped Schoeman overcome challenges to grow his pharmacy brand
His interest in the pharmaceutical industry was sparked by a retired pharmacist he met as a teenager.
Now Deon Schoeman is at the helm of the Klinicare empire, with 250 staff members across 15 branches and a wholesale centre – but he still prides himself on knowing his loyal customers by name.
Can you give me some background on yourself and how the business started?
I was born in Port Elizabeth and grew up in Cotswold.
I am a first-generation pharmacist coming from a middle-class family.
Upon completion of my national service as a pharmacist, I opened Klinipharm pharmacy (previously Westway Pharmacy and S B Wilson Pharmacy) in the Newton Park area in July 1984.
Where was the idea born?
The idea of a career in retail pharmacy was sparked by a retired pharmacy retailer from the United Kingdom who was on holiday at the St Francis Hotel, where I was working as a wine steward during the school holidays of 1975.
What makes your business unique?
It is all about the patient’s experience. You need to give the patient more than what he or she came in to our pharmacy for.
The Klinicare business ethos has four brand pillars: happy and healthy patients; being the clinical expertise; handling patients with a personal touch; and ensuring community connection and involvement.
All medicines are the same no matter where you go.
Our challenge is to ensure repeat business, and this is cultivated through personal touch and value add-ons.
If someone wants to copy your business model, how would he or she start?
First, you would need to qualify as a pharmacist. Having a caring personality is a key element. You also need to be aware and have a keen eye for any business opportunity which might arise – and have the savvy to make those business opportunities happen.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced?
Finance was the biggest hurdle to overcome.
Without a track record, banks or private investors are reluctant to assist you.
However, people who had faith in me assisted me financially until I was more financially secure.
Once you had funding, what was the first step in actually launching the business?
First, we had to secure a site for the pharmacy, do an analysis of the needs of the area and stock the correct products. Last, we had to find champion staff. Those three staff members are still with us today.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?
The challenge is to seat the right people on the right seats on the Klinicare bus. I am blessed to be surrounded with a great team that understands and knows my heart.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?
Remember to start slow and go low. Then pay yourself last.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Customer engagement is vitally important. We go out of our way to deliver a “caring for the community, caring for you” attitude. We strive to know our patients by name. We are a proudly PE and Eastern Cape healthcare pharmacy group. We reinvest in the community and believe that charity starts at home.
What are some of your highlights in running the business?
I enjoy mentoring my own staff to assist them in developing into their purpose.
Another highlight is the experience of having a satisfied patient, then you know you’ve hit the target!
How important is social media and an online presence for your business?
We have a personalised business. Digital platforms cannot have the same impact.
However, if you want to run with the Alsatians, it is important to have an online digital presence.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business?
Expansion is always on the horizon. Growth is always the driver. We listen to our patients, as they are also proud Klinicare ambassadors.
We take the pharmacy and services to where there is a gap in the market.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey?
There is no place for your own ego in business. You are not bigger than the game. You cannot change the rules of the game. Adapt, train hard and become the best in that sector.
What has been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in the Bay?
It was challenging when the ownership of pharmacies was opened up to non-pharmacists. In September 2004 our industry became heavily regulated by the Department of Health.
The advantages of business here is the city itself, because PE is the best-kept secret in the world. Economically, one can “ring fence” Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch as one. Port Elizabeth is a 10–minute drive city. We have peak hour traffic for two hours in the day only.
We are a small friendly city with all the large city amenities. It is easy to network in PE due to the size of the city.
How important has mentorship been to you in your journey as entrepreneur?
Mentoring stands out in my career. To have a learning spirit is important. Listen to your peers who have achieved and those who have failed.