Expansion on cards for pharmacy chain that puts customer service first

EY Entrepreneur of the Year award finalist: Ramona Nicholas of Cara Pharmacy

Ramona Nicholas of Cara Pharmacy: “Literally overnight we went from owner-managers to a group structure with our revenue changing from €1.5 million to more than €10 million”

Ramona Nicholas of Cara Pharmacy: “Literally overnight we went from owner-managers to a group structure with our revenue changing from €1.5 million to more than €10 million”

 

Ramona Nicholas is a self-made, award-winning entrepreneur who established the Cara Group of pharmacies in 2002 with her husband, Canice. Over the last 15 years, the chain has grown organically and through acquisition to a turnover of more than €25 million.

The businesswoman is passionate about the growth of entrepreneurship in Ireland and acts as a mentor to many female-led startups.

The businesswoman is well known after completing two series of the RTÉ Series Dragons’ Den and she was the only female and youngest person to appear on The Secret Millionaire. Her media career has created strong brand awareness for the company, which now encompasses 13 pharmacies, two lifestyle stores and a growing online store.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

The most critical turning point in the business was when we expanded from two pharmacies to seven in 2003. Literally overnight we went from owner-managers to a group structure with our revenue changing from €1.5 million to more than €10 million. And this was just with one year trading.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

I honestly wasn’t given much advice when I started out, apart from the ethics I had learnt from my family and that was that hard work and a good attitude gets you anywhere.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

In September 2016, our ecommerce platform was relaunched globally, allowing the website to display our products in multiple currencies, depending on IP address and location thus enabling Cara to expand our business internationally. This allows us to spot trends globally, where we can react and increase marketing spend in that location. Our current highest conversion rate is in the US, and our online business has quadrupled month-on-month since we relaunched.

Describe your growth funding path:

Funding has been via normal business banking to date and reinvestment from cash reserves for acquisitions. There has been no external funding in our company to date solely though our relationship the bank.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Firstly, we’d like to be the largest indigenous pharmacy brand nationally, with expansion into the UK. We’d like to see our turnover quadruple, and our number of stores to be on a growth strategy to 100.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Going into a business that they have not researched fully, are not truly passionate about and most importantly are not willing to put in the hard work.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Work, live and breathe your business as if it is your baby. Listen to the more experienced. Ask for help. Nothing can be accomplished on its own. Be determined and persistent. Reject rejection.

What would make you a better leader?

Learning to delegate more as I have a slight problem with perfectionism and attention to detail!

How are international political developments such as the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote likely to impact on your business?

Both the election of Trump and Brexit have without doubt damaged consumer confidence. Until we know exactly what Brexit will look like it is very difficult to anticipate its impact. As a company we are great believers in only being able to manage what is in your “circle of control”. Every threat is an opportunity and as we currently trade both sides of the border so we feel we are in a strong position to deal with any impacts that will change our day to day trading.