Mother and daughter pharmacists thinking outside the prescription box
Ola El Garawany and daughter Sally El Banna have seen their business thrive on their holistic approach to health
Ola El Garawany and her daughter, Sally El Banna own and run Lilly’s Pharmacy and Health Store in Ratoath, Co Meath.
Garawany studied pharmacy in Egypt where she grew up. When she came to Ireland in the early 1990s, she did an internship in a community pharmacy.
“We came to Ireland as my then husband was studying to be a doctor and he was doing a placement over here. My daughter was three at the time. Our plan was always to return to Egypt but when my husband’s placement finished, he wanted to go to the UK and I decided to stay in Ireland,” Garawany explains.
In order to be able to practise as a pharmacist here, Garawany returned to Trinity College and completed a year in the school of pharmacy. She completed a further six-month placement in a community pharmacy and after completing her licensing exams, she was qualified to practice in Ireland.
“It took roughly two years to be able to transfer my qualifications to practise here and I have been practicing as a pharmacist in Ireland since 1998,” says Garawany.
“Career wise, I’m definitely more Irish than Egyptian! I’ve only ever had Irish customers. I didn’t think twice about being a community pharmacist. I love the interaction with people, I love meeting people and I always did, so there was no doubt in my mind that community pharmacy was where I would practice”.
Garawany worked in McCabes Pharmacy and then with Boots. “I worked with Boots for 10 years and I learned so much. I worked my way up to store manager and supervisor pharmacist and I worked in a lot of their stores around Dublin,” explains Garawany.
However, when Garawany’s daughter Sally decided to study pharmacy also, she started to think about opening her own business.
“I had always wanted to do more and I had always felt that my hands were tied to a certain system when I was working for a company. I thought I had to have everything sorted out before I could open my own business but I met a friend who had started his own business and he said to me ‘you’re never ready, just do it’ and that stuck with me,” says Garawany.
ChallengeThe challenge of running a business while practising pharmacy didn’t faze Garawany and she went about researching locations for her own pharmacy. “I am someone who always has to be challenged or I’m bored. We started the business in 2007 so last December we celebrated 10 years,” Garawany explains.
So how was the transition from working for a company to being self-employed?
“It can feel very isolating and the first five years were really tough. I started the business with my own money and a silent partner investment. We started as the recession was beginning and there were already four other pharmacies in Ratoath.
“I had to think outside the box. I had to think of ways to get people through the door so I opened a nail bar in the pharmacy. I also stocked all different products on the floor than any other pharmacy. Those things were really my unique selling points at that time. They were simple strategies but they were effective,” says Garawany.
Garawany’s customer interaction meant that a number of her customers followed her from her previous employment to her new pharmacy.
“I always gave people time. No matter what pharmacy I worked in, I made sure I was out on the floor talking to people. When I opened my own pharmacy a lot of customers I had in previous stores followed me to my own pharmacy,” she says.
It was due to her customer relationships that Garawany started to notice a trend in what they were asking her for. “A lot of customers were coming in and asking about supplements and had questions about other aspects of health that I didn’t know about at the time. As pharmacists, we are always continuing our education. We have to as there are always new medications on the market but this was a side of health and nutrition I didn’t know anything about”.
Garawany started to attend health and nutrition trade shows and she realised, if she was going to incorporate this into her business to meet her customers needs, she needed further training.
“This was 2013 and Sally was working in the pharmacy so we both went and studied nutrition and became qualified and it has changed our business”, Garawany explains.
Recession“I know a lot of pharmacies didn’t survive the recession. They had very high overheads, stock costs and government cut backs. When I started, I kept everything to a minimum – my overheads, my stock, everything. But I realised that not only did I need to meet my customer’s needs but this health and nutrition side was also something different that I could bring into my business”.
Garawany and her daughter now employ three staff and offer a number of health screenings in the pharmacy including blood pressure testing, early diabetes detection, cholesterol and obesity testing.
The demand for these tests, as well as for the nutrition advice and dietary plans they offer, means Garawany has had to set up an appointment-based system at the pharmacy.
“Word of mouth spread and people travel from all around the commuter belt to come to us. There doesn’t have to be a pill for every ill and people have really responded to our holistic approach to health,” she says.
The community pharmacist can be a bigger source of healthcare advice, Garawany argues.
“This is my business but it is also my passion. I want my customers to have a healthy, functioning lifestyle and I love helping them make those lifestyle changes for the better”.