Belfast Telegraph

Mary Woods; Regional Manager of NI, Boots UK

Listening to customers’ needs gives us our advantage points

What has been the highlight of your company to date?

In April 2008 Boots the Chemists and Alliance Pharmacy combined in the UK to create one business, Boots UK. As part of a wider process we’re currently in the process of rebranding almost 50 Alliance Pharmacy stores in Northern Ireland (previously the Bairds Chemists chain), as ‘your local Boots pharmacy’. This includes major refits for the stores but, vitally, we are retaining the pharmacies’ existing community feel and the same friendly and knowledgeable teams.

I am particularly proud of the fact that in developing the ‘your local Boots pharmacy’ concept for Northern Ireland we listened to our local customers to ensure that we continued to meet their needs.

What are the long term hopes for the company?

We believe that Boots UK has a great future and our strategy is to develop Boots UK into the world’s leading pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer, focused on helping people look and feel their best.

We are improving the product knowledge of our people through weekly e-learning sessions and have also increased the number of pharmacists and beauty consultants to provide fast, friendly service and expert customer care.

We are also improving our customers’ in-store shopping experience by providing best in class customer care and service.

Other initiatives include making shopping at easier, expanding product ranges on-line and rolling out our “order-on-line collect-in-store” concept.

Do you have any big projects/ schemes in the pipeline?

The rebranding programme currently underway to roll-out ‘your local Boots pharmacy’ in Northern Ireland is the biggest of its kind in our history here in Northern Ireland. It is due for completion by the end of this year.

Have you any professional |ambitions yet to be realised?

At the moment my main ambition is to successfully complete the current roll-out of the ‘your local Boots pharmacy’, bringing the Boots brand to the heart of our local communities in good time for the Christmas trading period.

The recession has presented challenges for many businesses. What has been the impact, if any, on your company?

We continue to focus on providing good value and a range of options for our customers. We believe that by focusing on our customers and the care we offer in our stores, we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

We have seen an increase in demand for beauty products over recent times and an element of this could be attributable to the ‘Lipstick Index'. Our customers are looking for an inexpensive treat to make them feel good and a small thing, like a lipstick, can make a big difference to someone's day. People are value conscious but also want great products that are proven to work. We are not seeing evidence of people trading down.

How are you coping with increased competition from supermarkets as they expand their stores and product ranges?

We try to differentiate our offering from the supermarkets by demonstrating to our customers that, at heart, we are a pharmacy and our people are passionate about helping people look and feel good.

Furthermore, we have many brands that are exclusive to Boots, such as No7 and Soap & Glory and, in our larger stores, we have greater range and choice. We also offer expert advice and have trained people, including our pharmacy team, who can help customers. Our Advantage Card is also hugely popular with our customers and it is one of the most generous loyalty cards in the UK.

What measures have you taken to improve the business?

We have been upgrading the IT systems across our business. We are also investing in our first Continuing Professional Development (CPD) conference for all our pharmacists.

We’ve also invested further in Accredited Checking Technicians (ACTs) as we recognise the importance of having the correct skill mix, both now and in the future, to support pharmacists with their enhanced role.

Belfast Telegraph