lessons from a pharmacy chain

Dr. Saathi brought the concept of franchise into the pharmacy business, bringing together the indispensable nature of the health sector and the reliability of franchise. But the million dollar idea hasn’t had it easy; a lot of lessons had to be learned before they could find their footing.

Dr. Saathi is more than a pharmacy. It is a chain of pharmacies to start with. It is based in Nepal. That is the back story behind this business but the story from the beginning to today is quite adventurous.

Santosh Bartaula, Managing Director of Dr. Saathi shares his story of journey as he ventures into a business that was not just unconventional but extremely risky.

“In India we have a chain of pharmacy across cities. Big hospitals have their outlets which are revered and trusted by people. We thought it was a good idea to bring something similar in Nepal. That was how the concept of Dr. Saathi came into being,” shares Santosh.

A franchise of pharmacy, clinic and pathological labs under the tag Dr. Saathi looks like a simple idea but it isn’t. It required a group of like-minded people and a heavy investment to initiate something of such scale and responsibility.

Dr. Saathi opened in Sorakhutte with international appearance and standards. Everyone thought it was a million dollar idea.

“It was a great concern when sales in Sorakhutte didn’t pick up. We had everything. But then we realized we did not have customers who came to purchase medicines.

Lesson 1
Know your customers:
Dr. Saathi looked sleek and extremely expensive. It was a different matter that the prices were not high at all. No one wanted to enter the “luxurious” pharmacy. That was the main reason behind the poor sales.

“It is important to know the customers. Another lesson is to know the location. Sorakhutte was not an ideal location to begin things with. We realized it later,” shares Santosh.

Lesson 2
Have a team that believes in the idea:
Though Dr. Saathi had a bunch of investors in the beginning, when the sales did not pick up, a lot of them got reluctant on the whole idea. There were questions and due to many reasons, Dr. Saathi ended up being Santosh Bartaula’s sole project. He bought it off. He did not however let go of the idea.

“We need a group of people who believe in a venture. Or at least one who can work and concentrate on the progress of the idea. It takes time and energy and most importantly patience,” says Santosh.

Lesson 3
Stagnate business is no business at all:
Dr. Saathi had to grow and had to serve the Nepali audience. Now there was a challenge right there. There weren’t businesses to look up to because it was a new concept. So what do we do? We innovate.

“We started looking for ways to sustain. We needed to work hard and work fast so our business would sustain. Our team met people and discussed ideas and then we came up with solutions. Some of them didn’t work but some of them really did. That is how we survived,” smiles Santosh.

“We were close to shutting down the business. We had outlets that didn’t run and staff members who were extremely good at their work but were under-utilized. At a personal level, I promised myself I’d make one last investment and that would be it. Luckily, it all worked out,” shares Santosh.

Dr. Saathi made two major adjustments. First of all, they made the ambience more Nepalese customer friendly. They made it look like a regular pharmacy that the city is used to.

Secondly, they started collaboration with hospitals. When hospitals allowed Dr. Saathi to open their outlets in hospital premises, Dr. Saathi was rescued. Within two years, Dr. Saathi has made more progress than many imagined.

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