High-Impact Entrepreneurship

Endeavor Entrepreneur Amjad Aryan on Pharmacy 1 (World Economic Forum report)

In collaboration with Endeavor Global and Stanford University, the World Economic Forum recently released a new report, “Global Entrepreneurship and Successful Growth Strategies of Early-Stage Companies.” Click here to learn more.

The report, which demonstrates the importance of High-Impact Entrepreneurship in driving economies forward, includes interviews and insights from eight Endeavor Entrepreneur companies: DocSolutions, Globant, MercadoLibre, Petfor, Pharmacy 1, Refinancia, Technisys, and Yola.

In this special series on Endeavor’s blog, we are reprinting the published interviews with each Endeavor firm. Below is the section on Pharmacy 1.

Pharmacy 1 is the largest chain of pharmacies in Jordan. The founder, Amjad Aryan, emigrated from the Palestinian Territories to the US at age 18. In 1995, the Aryan family founded Pharmacy 1 in the US. Two years later, they acquired Miami’s oldest pharmacy, Robert’s Drug Store. In 1999, they changed the company name to Pharmacy 1 and added other stores in Miami. Amjad Aryan opened the first Pharmacy 1 in Amman, Jordan, in 2001. After fully relocating to Jordan in 2004, he led a rapid expansion of the company. There are now 47 stores in Jordan and four stores in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with further aggressive expansion planned. Having equipped each pharmacy with a modern logistics network, Pharmacy 1 applies state-of-the-art pharmaceutical store management in a sector of the Jordan economy where this standard did not exist prior to 2001. The AllWorld Arabia 500 selected Pharmacy 1 as the number one fastest-growing company in the Jordan 25.

The son of a pharmacist, Amjad Aryan has spent his entire life in the pharmacy industry. He graduated in 1995 from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences with a specialty in Retail Pharmacy Management. While attending college in Boston, Aryan worked at CVS, a large US pharmacy chain, where he continued until 1997. In 1999, he and his family acquired and then further expanded a small pharmacy chain in Miami. They renamed the chain from Robert’s Drug Store to Pharmacy 1. Returning to the Middle East in 2001, Aryan set up the first Pharmacy 1 store in Jordan. He is a board member at Jordan University of Science and Technology’s College of Pharmacy and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization Jordan chapter. He is board-certified from both Massachusetts and Florida.

What was the source of the initial idea, and how did that idea evolve into a viable high-growth business venture? How did it change over time?

Aryan: “Born to a pharmacist father in Palestine, I spent my entire life in the pharmacy business. At 18, I emigrated from Palestine to Boston, USA. I was admitted to the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, where I earned a degree in Pharmacy with a specialty in Retail Pharmacy Management in 1995. During my education and following graduation, I worked my way up from an intern to a manager at CVS in Boston. After leaving CVS in 1997, my siblings and I acquired a small chain of pharmacies in Miami. However, after observing the successful business model of CVS and other chains in the US, I easily recognized a market gap in my home region. “At that time, the retail pharmacy sector in Jordan was characterized by poor quality of service, low-level technology and inconsistent management among pharmacies. Seeing opportunity despite these challenges, I opened the first Pharmacy 1 in 2001 in Amman. I went back and forth to the US until fully relocating to Jordan with my family in 2004. With emphases on customer service and easily accessible products, Pharmacy 1 was an immediate success, and the business began to expand rapidly.”

What was the initial growth vision or aspiration of the founding team? Was there a sizeable change in this growth vision or aspiration over time? If a change, please describe.

Aryan: “Jordan as well as the entire region is changing very rapidly. Jordan of 2001 was totally different from Jordan of 2010. Consumer behaviour, spending habits, quality of service and size all changed and influenced our initial growth and vision. “The original plan was to open 10 pharmacies in Jordan. Today, we have 47 outlets and plan to open 13 new branches by the end of 2011. In Saudi Arabia, we were initially aiming for a gradual growth: open one outlet, then add one more, and so on. Our plans now are to roll out five new outlets by the end of this year and 50 outlets in 2011.”

Describe the strategy or business model that enabled your company to achieve its high rate of growth.

Aryan: “I started with a single pharmacy in 2001. Since then, the business has grown to become Jordan’s first retail pharmacy chain, with 47 branches employing more than 400 people. With a modern logistical network, customer-friendly stores and a wide range of products dealing in all manners of customer health, Pharmacy 1 strives to become the largest pharmacy chain of the Middle East and North Africa. All of Pharmacy 1 branches are designed in keeping with modern pharmacy standards. Each store is divided into a prescription area and a retail area. Pharmacy 1 outlets are located in both residential and commercial areas, and they range from 80 to 650 square metres in size. The smallest branch employs only two pharmacists, while the largest branch employs approximately 15.

To ensure quality of service and ease of shopping, Pharmacy 1 offers valet service at branches located in areas with limited parking. It operates several of its facilities as 24/7 pharmacies as well as offering 24/7 free delivery anywhere in Jordan.

Pharmacy 1 is raising the bar for pharmaceutical healthcare in the region through the following practices:

1. Being experts in the field of pharmaceutical care. Once pharmacists join Pharmacy 1, they go through extensive induction training. This training includes several important topics needed to execute their jobs with the highest degrees of professionalism and excellence, such as:
• Pharmacology
• Customer care
• Effective counselling
• Communication skills
Our pharmacists are continuously updated with the latest scientific knowledge through the continuous education programme. Pharmacists are required to pass a specific number of credit hours of training each year.

2. State-of-the-art prescription processing using PH1 system. Pharmacy 1 is equipped with software that stores patient pharmaceutical history and permits easy and fast retrieval of patient information in any branch of Pharmacy 1. This software runs 14 checks and performs the following actions:
• Lists important precautions, such as duplication of therapy, food
warning and patient drug allergies
• Identifies potential drug-drug and drug-disease interactions
• Prints a patient leaflet explaining how to use the medication, proper storage conditions, most common side effects and contraindications; this leaflet can be printed in both English and Arabic
• Provides separate yellow warning stickers advising the patient
to take the medication with food, on an empty stomach or any other compliance recommendations
• Bills the patient’s insurance company directly, saving the patient
both time and money
• Reminds patients to refill their monthly prescription

3. Patient counselling service. All of our pharmacists possess scientific knowledge and are professionally trained on patient counselling, a private service that is provided to our customers at no cost. Patients may take advantage of our private counselling
services by:
• Meeting with any of our well-trained pharmacists in the pharmacy
• Calling our toll-free phone number at 080022922
• E-mailing info@pharmacy-1.com
• Making an appointment with our drug experts

4. Educational updates. At Pharmacy 1, we offer special educational materials that provide both advice and consultations on several topics, such as proper use of medication, the importance of vitamins, first-aid tips, etc.

5. Pharmacy 1 training and drug information centre. Guided by our profound belief in corporate social responsibility and in accordance with our strong sense of purpose and ethical standards, Pharmacy 1 works to respond to the rising needs of society through its different healthcare initiatives. Pharmacy 1 operates a training and drug information centre, the first of its kind in the Middle East. The drug information centre (DIC) provides free, unbiased medical and pharmaceutical information to consumers and healthcare providers. The DIC offers consultation services to answer any query on disease state, medications used to treat these disease states and any necessary lifestyle modifications. Customers can benefit from our services either by visiting, calling (toll-free in Jordan), faxing or e-mailing the centre.

6. Accessibility. 47 branches covering Jordan that are open 24/7, and provide free delivery to anywhere in Jordan.”

What were the major growth accelerators for your company in its high-growth years?

Aryan:

1. “Having the right team members who shared with me the same vision – the solid unwavering belief in what we can achieve. There was never a moment of doubt or a ‘whether we can do it’ mindset. It was ‘when can we do it’ and trying to prioritize what to do first. Our growth rate exceeded even our own very ambitious expectations. The culture of determination to succeed and entrepreneurial leadership that cascaded to each team member – making all of them feel like owners of the business and true stakeholders – played an essential role in growth. Simply put, it was their own baby, and solid growth was the only focus and obsession.

2. Market gap: retail pharmacy business in Jordan was an underserved area. Professionalism, availability of products, customer service and convenience were previously unheard of and became much sought-after.

3. Returning talents: whether individuals who have studied abroad and returned to their country or who are simply frequent travellers, they are all accustomed to the established concept of chain pharmacies. Jordan was terribly lacking in this domain, and, with Pharmacy 1, their needs were finally met as we created big business opportunities, a large customer base and loyal clients.”

Briefly describe the financing of your company and how this financing impacted the growth of your company.

Aryan: “I started Pharmacy 1 with self-financing. In 2001, banks and investment companies did not view pharmacies as viable business opportunities. Pharmacies were viewed as mom-and-pop shops with very limited growth potential, which made it impossible to obtain financing. The lack of external financing was not a hindrance to the business growth. Other factors such as regulatory restrictions held us back and postponed the planned growth, resulting in pharmacies financing themselves. This situation continued until Pharmacy 1 became a known brand that financial institutions acknowledged and extended their services to. These facilities boosted the growth through year 2006 and beyond.”

What were the major challenges your company had to handle in its high-growth years, and how were they managed?

Aryan: “Starting out, my biggest challenges were:

1. Laws and regulations: the law allowing for the existence of chain pharmacies was there. However, it lacked implementation. It was up to Pharmacy 1 to bring it to action and implementation. That, as we all know, is always a big challenge.

2. The human element: in a country swamped by huge talents, the lack of appreciation and understanding of the role of a retail pharmacist makes it very challenging to attract these talents. That, coupled with the relatively high employee turnover, represents a big challenge. Because Pharmacy 1 invests in a lengthy training for all employees, finding employee replacements is a time-consuming affair. To overcome that, we built several simulation pharmacies in the local schools of pharmacies, including: Jordan University of
Science and Technology, Isra University, and Zitouna University. This has helped with reaching developing talents and has acted as a recruitment centre for these talents.

3. Besides the above, maintaining our success and keeping up with people’s expectations are ongoing challenges that need to be addressed continuously. Our business is dynamic, and we need to stay abreast of what happens around us and always look for ways to better serve our customers.”

Give examples of dark moments or negative periods that your company or you faced as part of your journey as an executive with this company.

Aryan: “The first three years were very hard. Naysayers were all over the place, and negative remarks were an everyday occurrence. “The law of chain retail pharmacy was there but not activated nor implemented. That burden fell on Pharmacy 1 to activate that law and set the precedent. Going against the flow and facing set-in-stone mindsets caused probably some of the darkest times. There were times when people around me did not only doubt the success of the business but fought it, wholeheartedly driven by the fear of change. Some of these people were influential in our business, such as suppliers. We had to purchase products from them and conduct business, and we needed them to extend customary credit terms. Today,
these same people now shop in our outlets regularly and swear by our business model.”

What are the key lessons about entrepreneurship and successful growth strategies you’ve taken from your company experience?

Aryan: “I do not believe there is a custom-tailored formula for each industry out there. My belief is that whatever line of business you are in, what it takes is to just do it. Don’t sit around waiting for somebody to give something. Take charge of your life and take full accountability of your future. Believe in yourself and always listen to your inner voice pushing you forward. The talents we have in Jordan are incredible and can achieve so much in a very professional way. Believe you can, and you will.”

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