Delivering value-driven healthcare across Southern and Eastern Australia, Star Pharmacy are a group with growth on the horizon
VALUE IN HEALTHCARE
The events of 2020 have been testament to the world’s reliance on our invaluable healthcare industries. Across Australia, the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to run its full course and community transmission remains a threatening reality.
As an organisation with an extensive network of almost 60 pharmaceutical stores spanning South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, Star Pharmacy Group are at the forefront of serving community healthcare needs as an established provider with longevity on the scene. Indeed, the Group’s founders have been servicing their pharmaceutical network for over three decades.
Star Pharmacy are a private enterprise with a clear purpose. Essentially, this boils down to the simple premise of providing accessible and affordable healthcare services to the communities where they serve.
As CEO David Clark confirms, “Convenience is our key strategy, be it face to face with our loyal customers or on the various digital platforms,” he explains.
Passion drives their ambition and feeds the Group’s expansion, which is far from slowing as one of Australia’s fastest growing pharmacy groups.
As a banner brand, the group’s portfolio is considerable – 70 percent of which is represented by the ‘Star Discount Chemist’ stores, alongside its other member pharmacies as a franchise service provider.
“The Star Discount Chemist brand became our key banner brand after it launched in 2013. It is a value driven health and retail offer,” Clark informs us.
“We service our key banner brand Star Discount Chemist providing a seamless level of support and expertise, including providing finance, people and culture, merchandise, IT, marketing and professional services functions,” he comments.
Since inception, the brand has grown to be a key player for the Group, providing strong returns for the franchisees.
“While discount in name, the offer is strongly focused on expert pharmacy healthcare first and the brand prides itself on its comprehensive health offer,” Clark explains.
Inspiring trust amongst consumers is paramount in every aspect of Star’s operation and the promise of delivering value is an essential component of this strategy – the discount brand plays a major part in this.
“Loyalty is a huge driver of the Star Discount Chemist brand with our loyalty programme supporting the customer experience. Our retail offer is strongly focused on offering the best value possible and is largely health based with over 85 percent of returns driven by health focussed products. We operate and support Star Discount Chemists in shopping centre, convenience centre and medical centre environments.”
With over 35 years’ experience in retail, spanning merchandise, operational, leadership and ownership roles – including within ‘big box’ discount stores – Clark is well-placed to play in this market.
“My career has been centred in retail businesses. I entered the pharmacy industry by chance after an introduction to one of the founding partners as an existing role was coming to an end. The opportunity to be involved in a totally new sector was appealing and refreshing,” Clark surmises.
Indeed, Clark comments that his career with the Star Group has proved “an enormous and enjoyable learning curve,” ever since.
Education propels the Group forward and is encouraged with various programmes to inspire new partners, thereby guaranteeing Star’s future. This is evidenced by Star’s pharmacist internship programme that trains and mentors between 20-25 students per year, addressing skill shortages in the industry.
“Mentoring has also always been a clear focus for our group with individual mentoring ongoing for our pharmacy leaders on a monthly basis,” Clark adds.
Such initiatives are all part of the caring company culture that Star endeavour to create for their valued workforce of over 750 employees. Clark fully recognises the value of the Group’s staff as the backbone of the company.
“I cannot praise our team members enough given how they have stepped up over the past 12 months. Their contribution is the key to our current success and our group has built itself on strong people foundations.”
“Our purpose of ‘‘Happier and Healthier Every Day” says it all about our team and our customer outcome. We are heavily focused on transparent team feedback running regular culture and group surveys. The pandemic has taught us we can talk to our teams regularly anywhere and our engagement levels are currently very high,” Clark informs us.
This caring ethos extends to the Group’s responsible corporate citizenship, although Clark acknowledges that there is always more to be done in this worthwhile field.
“We are heavily involved locally and at a community level in many areas of need and regularly participate in socially responsible programmes.
“Like all groups we can certainly do more and we intend to make this more of a focus going forward. Our group runs a charitable foundation that raised funds regularly for those in need and is a key passion of the founding partners,” he explains.
Returning to the pandemic’s seismic impact across healthcare industries, Clark describes the initial effects felt by the Group on the ground.
“Our pharmacies were inundated with huge volumes of customers for periods of time. At the very beginning our teams were forced to adapt quickly to a changing health landscape along with changing demands from our customers. Our group quickly introduced new operational measures and processes to manage this evolving situation and to ensure our teams were supported in delivering a high quality of health care to their customers.
“Many projects were fast tracked out of necessity and our teams found they were able to accomplish much in a very short period of time.”
Of course, standard operating procedures have been changed to align with pandemic restrictions, but the inconvenience of this adaptation has been offset by the efficiencies it has bought to the company.
“Throughout this period, we learnt much about ourselves and were able to utilise these learnings to improve many aspects of our group approach,” Clark comments. “Many of the operational changes and physical set ups in our pharmacies will remain in place long after the pandemic is gone.”
“Our teams proved to be very resilient throughout the pandemic and continue to do so as we move to the next phase of COVID-19 support from the pharmacy sector with vaccinations. We continue to be affected by the pandemic on a daily basis, but we are lucky to be in an industry that has been stable throughout the period to date,” Clark concludes.
Fortunately for Star, the disruption on the Group’s ‘vitally important’ supply chain was minimal, since the Group operates through centralised procurement that is mostly local. As such, only small product areas have been impacted.
“We are lucky to have a very well supported wholesaler industry that provides next day delivery across our network. We partner with a key first line wholesale supplier as well as managing key relationships in the supply of generic medications and over the counter medical products,” Clark explains.
A global trend to shape the sector, the pandemic has been the catalyst to accelerate digitalisation and the transition to Telehealth services. In this respect, Clark describes the pandemic overall as a total ‘game-changer’.
“The way pharmacy services were provided changed dramatically over the early pandemic period with the introduction of Telehealth in volume and legislated changes to patient services and processes,” Clark comments.
“The industry in Australia is well supported and service levels are very high generally. The industry is bringing in new skill sets from various sectors to support its progression. While the core of the industry is very much professional medication management these new skill sets are helping pharmacies adapt to the modern customer and also offering new ways to work with those that need our support.”
“The launch of digital scripts in Australia will give us the opportunity to deliver a truly seamless and convenient experience for loyal customers,” he states.
Looking ahead, Star must confront what may pose its most significant challenge yet, as it contributes to Australia’s national vaccine rollout.
“The roll out of the COVID-19 vaccination across our network will be a significant logistical experience and will involve significant resources and processes to ensure a successful outcome.”
Despite the challenge, Clark’s outlook is optimistic and he greets the prospect with anticipation, confident in Star’s abilities.
“We are excited about the opportunity to play our role in this health sector programme and to showcase our pharmacists’ scope of practice.”
Recently, the Group have amended their company core values with a powerful new addition – “be the change we desire” – which will continue to define their path forward. Although Star’s mettle continues to be tested in the fires of the ongoing global healthcare crisis, despite adversity and through their dedicated end to end support, the Group continue to fulfil their promise of creating a happier, healthier, every day.