A rural Queensland pharmacy, owned and run by UQ alumnus Lucy Walker, has cleaned up at the 2017 Guild Pharmacy Awards. Contact caught up with Walker to learn her secret to success.
Six years ago, Lucy Walker was the Brisbane bride of a country boy who took her to his rural home in Goondiwindi, having cultivated their chance meeting at the town’s picnic races into a life-changing romance.
After working as a pharmacist in London and a clinical pharmacist at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital, Walker (Bachelor of Pharmacy ’01) applied for a position in one of Goondiwindi’s two pharmacies.
She got the job and liked it so much she bought the business.
Today she employs 14 staff, including UQ graduate Emma Newsome (Bachelor of Pharmacy ’10), and earlier this year was recognised for her efforts at the annual Pharmacy Guild of Australia Pharmacy of the Year awards. The Chemmart Pharmacy was named Australian Pharmacy of the Year and also won the Community Engagement category.
While the awards are a wonderful recognition, Walker said she loved serving her diverse and disparate customers, who can travel hours from surrounding properties.
“In a small town you really get to know the community well – town-people, backpackers, cowboys or retired farmers,” she said.
These are exciting times for the self-confessed ‘workaholic’, now an unleashed entrepreneur and keen business operator.
“You get to know what’s missing across the community – what is and isn’t needed. I have these great ideas and say to myself: ‘OK, so how are we going to do this?’”
Opportunity called when her pharmacy became part of the Queensland Pharmacist Immunisation Pilot (QPIP), delivering influenza vaccines.
However, in a small town she needed to get the local GPs onside.
“I pointed out that people found it difficult to get an appointment to see a doctor, and that trial data showed that community pharmacies could improve immunisation rates,” she said.
“The GPs came around to us administering the vaccinations, and we’ve given 500 shots so far this season, which has freed up the clinics and cut waiting times.”
Walker continues her strategic approach to building local relationships, and the town’s economy, by buying local and supporting community endeavours.
“We can be found at events around town, like Dental Health in the Park, Aged Care Expo, the Colour Run, cotton growers’ picnics, farmers’ talks, community garden days and all sorts of fundraising events,” she said.
Innovation is another key focus for Walker. With fewer city-based specialists travelling to country towns, the pharmacy consultation room was upgraded for telemedicine so customers and specialists could chat over Skype.
Chatting over the front counter is a friendly country pastime, but Walker’s staff also use it to keep in touch with customers’ needs.
“Surveys tell us that on average we have two minutes of chatting time with customers, so we make that worthwhile by steering the conversation to their health and our monthly calendar of health issues, such as mental health and diabetes,” Walker said.
“You have to keep being relevant and innovative,” she said, recalling her recent Facebook naming competition for the pharmacy’s new robot, which now orders and dispenses medicines and cleans the shelves.
“‘Spencer’, as in ‘Spencer the Dispenser’, won. We thought it was terrific and novel, and the winner took away the prize of an automatic vacuum cleaner.
“At a Sydney conference on innovation, though, a speaker talked about the automation revolution and how his robot was changing the way he did business.
“Nothing’s new I guess – his robot’s called Spencer too,” she said, laughing.
To learn more about UQ's School of Pharmacy, visit pharmacy.uq.edu.au.