It is truly a measure of success when a company enters the market and not only goes on to become leader of its field within less than a decade, but has so transformative an impact that its brand becomes synonymous with the industry in which it operates.
The SuperPharm story began a little over 10-years ago in 2005 – a vintage year for Trinidadians, who were watching with delight as the swashbuckling Soca Warriors went on their famous run through the qualifying stages to reach the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. It was also during this year that SuperPharm made its entrance into Trinidad & Tobago’s retail pharmacy market, with the glamorous opening of its Westmoorings store – the first of a further seven which have since opened in Diego Martin, Gulf View, Marabella, Maraval, Price Plaza, Trincity, and Valsayn.
SuperPharm is by no means the first retail chain of its kind to open for business in Trinidad & Tobago but there is certainly no other brand in its field that has come close to matching its achievements. Long before the high-profile inauguration of its first outlet, the owners of SuperPharm were quietly planning to revolutionise the industry that it would later come to dominate, and they planned to do so by combining international standards of quality and service with a dash of Trinidadian flair.
Perhaps Glenn Maharaj, SuperPharm’s CEO, said it best, when he explained: “We were the first convenience pharmacy concept to come to Trinidad, and the first brand to enter the market and truly elevate the standard of the market. On a structural level, SuperPharm is comparable to any global retail business, and this is reflected in the way that we do business day to day.”
Upon visiting one of its stores, it is easy to see what Glenn means. Aesthetically speaking, SuperPharm stores are strikingly similar in appearance to the traditional ‘big box’ US-based pharmacies, with the intention of creating an exciting, larger than life feel around the brand. Take the Westmoorings outlet, for example: the new store had a visibly powerful effect on those who attended its inauguration because, prior to this, nothing like it had ever been seen before. And if it had, certainly not in the retail pharmacy market. The surprise on the faces of attendees is something Vandra Balroop, one of SuperPharm’s first staff members, remembers all too well: “The opening day was crazy as you saw the faces of the media and ministers as they entered the building for the first time. Everyone was wowed.” Over the weeks and months that followed, another staff member Abigail, noted how the branch had the same effect on everybody who walked through the outlet’s doors, and especially on those who found out about its most talked about feature – the drive-thru window:
“I worked in the store for a couple of years, mostly on the night shifts. The night shifts were hard but fun, you’d be amazed to see what people came to buy at those late hours. We even had customers drive up to our window placing KFC orders only to realise they got into the wrong drive through line. There was not one night that passed where a customer did not bring a smile to your face with their requests.”
This much-loved SuperPharm hallmark, which can be found at all of its branches, is no mere novelty however. Rather, the drive-thru is a perfect example of SuperPharm’s dedication to making it as easy as possible for the customer to come and buy medicines and groceries.
The company’s commitment to convenience and quality came about as a result of detailed preliminary research, which was conducted to ensure that SuperPharm would hit the ground running when it opened its doors for business. A considerable amount of time, energy, and resources were invested in the process of planning store design and layout, brand strategy, and product selection. Many questions were raised during this consultation period, but one question came up above all others, time and time again: what should SuperPharm be to its customers? It soon became apparent that to be valuable to the community, its stores would have to be about convenience.
In light of this, SuperPharm went on to take its focus on convenience to a whole new level. The opening hours of its stores were extended beyond what was being offered by any of its marketplace rivals. SuperPharm is open until 11pm, 7-days a week, each and every day of the year, barring Christmas Day. Mr. Christian Mouttet, SuperPharm’s Chairman, elaborated on this further, when he stated: “Value is about more than price, and we were able to focus on convenience as adding value. SuperPharm focuses on being available and open when our customers want us to be open, as opposed to what’s convenient for us.”
This customer-first approach also extends to the placement of SuperPharm’s stores, which have been carefully located to ensure that they were convenient for the communities in which they operated, and also its extensive range of in-store products and services. The company’s consumer base is made-up of a broad cross-section of Trinidadians of all ages and from all backgrounds, and it is therefore essential to ensure that customers know they can visit a SuperPharm branch and find what they need.
In terms of store layout, we have three points of demarcation in our stores: our pharmacy, beauty section – which will soon see beauty advisers working in-store, and the market, which offers grocery goods and fresh foods to go. If you picture going into a SuperPharm ‘big box,’ you’ll see these three sections of the store.”
SuperPharm’s rise to the summit of its industry has been impressive, and there is no doubting that Glenn has influenced the direction of the company since he joined three years ago. Before he became CEO of SuperPharm, Glenn cut his teeth with Prestige Holdings Ltd, where he was directly responsible for overseeing all KFC and Pizza Hut franchises in Trinidad & Tobago. His exposure to these world leading retail brands has allowed him to utilise this experience to create a locally-developed brand which adheres to the international standards.
“Our focus as a business is how can we improve the customer experience when they are in our stores, and we have created a whole organisation-wide infrastructure to find solutions. In terms of our organisation, this is what I feel differentiates us from everybody else, taking products and store aesthetics out of the picture for a moment,” said Glenn. He continued: “SuperPharm’s organisational structure is made-up of some of the best talent in the country, who are now in our HR, Operations, Marketing, Development, Finance, and Category Management. We have top-level professionals at executive and managerial levels, and with these foundations we can really push forward in our commitment to our purpose. There are highly skilled people in each functional area needed to run our business. And this puts us in a position of great not only when it comes to managing team operations, but also future growth and expansion.”
SuperPharm’s professional and friendly team, who play so important a frontline role as ambassadors for the company, have been another critical component in SuperPharm’s rise. In the communities in which SuperPharm operates, customers are drawn to the great customer service and relationships that exist between both sides. This is no coincidence. People skills are taken into consideration during the recruitment process, but more important is the staff training scheme which follows. In this respect, SuperPharm has invested heavily so that its staff can bring out their best, and begin to unlock their true potential. Mr. Mouttet elaborated: “I think a large part of the success of the business from the very start was about trying to attract the best people that we could, but then not just deploying them into the workplace without going through training to understand the business, and how to interact with customers at that level of service that we want to offer.” He feels that for the most part SuperPharm can be proud of their service record in what can sometimes be a somewhat difficult labour market.
In terms of what the future holds for the company, it is clear to see that SuperPharm is only heading in one direction – up. Glenn Maharaj is certainly optimistic, and he believes that so long as the company can continue to stay ahead of the curve, its future is rest-assured. There are plentiful growth opportunities within Trinidad for the company, and over the medium-term SuperPharm intends to maximize its potential by expanding out through opening new stores, beginning with two new stores in the east and centre of the country.
The biggest development to come, however, will be the roll-out of SuperPharm’s new concept called Presto. The concept incorporates Fresh Foods to Go including rotisserie chicken, a bakery, food, drinks, snacks and many convenience items.