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Success Stories

Telstra Start-Up Business of the Year 2014: Country Wellness Pharmacy

Lynda Dugdale
Smarter Writer

Lynda Dugdale is deputy editor of INTHEBLACK and has over two decades of journalism experience

Lynda Dugdale
Smarter Writer

Lynda Dugdale is deputy editor of INTHEBLACK and has over two decades of journalism experience

  • Boon Wai Lim opened his bricks-and-mortar pharmacy in Winnellie (a suburb of Darwin) NT in 2012.
  • The Big 4 banks didn’t approve a business loan so Boon raised some capital and got a small loan from a non-mainstream financial institution.
  • Lim is proud the pharmacy is independently owned and is 100 per cent Territory focused.

Moving to Australia from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, Boon Wai Lim settled in Darwin − where a flight home is just four and a half hours.

Boon Lim is a pharmacist who has long wanted to do more with his skills than just box up medication. His fearlessness has seen him stare down those who told him he would fail and now his innovations serve not just his community, but will inspire others.

Boon Wai Lim and wife on desert road

Bringing the pharmacy to the customer

With one eye on customer service and the other on technology, Lim decided he could change the way medical care could be provided to niche and remote communities across the Northern Territory.

He’d watched pharmacists sit behind their counters and wait for customers to walk in, but that was not for Lim.

“I have had so many brilliant ideas cut down so many times by organisations stifled by red tape and office politics,” he explains. “Still I persisted in my ambition. I learned to believe in myself and not let the naysayers bring me down.”

Quality of life through technology

He recognised that technology, particularly tablets, provided him with the opportunity to do something special. And so he did. Lim says the Darwin market had been “a little left behind” due its geography. The region is home to industries such as mining and marine services, has remote indigenous communities, and a small aged care sector. Lim felt none of these sectors was being well serviced by a pharmaceutical provider.

“We don’t want to sit back at the pharmacy, we want to commit with the people, it doesn’t matter who they are,” says Lim. “We are very passionate about healthcare. It involves a lot of future technologies that could help people make their quality of life better, due to the quality of their medications.

“We wanted to be very upfront, to be on top of the services so that’s why we offer different services. When I took the risk and showed the courage to come here (Darwin), I saw this market is just a totally different market. We’ve got to do something different if we are to move ourselves, our business, forward compared with other places like Sydney or Melbourne.”

The digital pharmacy

And so in 2012 a bright new pharmacy was born - Country Wellness Pharmacy. Not simply a full-service pharmacy, Lim and his team travel hours to remote indigenous communities to provide free training on medicine management and give lectures on healthcare and disease management to local nurses.

They travel by boat to large ships and help the maritime crews manage their on board medication. There’s a 24/7 on-call pharmacist service and this year Lim has rolled out a first in aged care in the Territory – a web-based medication management system that will all but eliminate operator error and make the whole process of prescribing, dosing, delivering and ordering medication significantly more efficient and ultimately, cheaper.

The nurses and doctors took a little convincing but Lim was persistent. “I said to the aged care facility director ‘That’s not enough’. We’re going to create the first service, among aged care facilities using electronic medical management system.Lim’s team provides training and continuous service support. “The positive feedback keeps coming in and they tell us they won’t look back,” he says. And still he wants more. “We want to do more and we will not stop. We are not just looking into pharmacy in the future, we want to be more involved in the sense of healthcare, it’s important.

”Lim is a humble man and so the Telstra award was a little unexpected. So much so he didn’t even have a speech prepared. But he knew what he wanted to say: “Whoever challenged us before and tell us not to do this and tell us not to do that … just please watch out, because we are here.“I wouldn’t say this [award] is the end of the journey. It’s the very start.”

Judges' comments

The Country Wellness Pharmacy demonstrates a new business model that is about health and wellness, not simply retailing pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. They have taken well established business models and thought about them in new ways. They “never wanted to be just an average pharmacy” and through embracing disruptive technologies, they have developed a unique selling proposition that will help achieve growth paths. The judges were impressed by the strong systems and management structures that enabled them to embrace new opportunities in the wellness space and keep ahead of the competition to ensure they would never be an “average” pharmacy.

Winning ways 

Marketing: "Assess the risks, surround yourself with positive people and trust the right people. We never had a marketing budget so we rely on word-of-mouth referrals and repeat customers. You know you are doing something right when customers become friends.

Money: “We recently moved our back end processes to the Cloud environment and implemented a lean management structure. Our operational costs have been cut in half, with a more efficient use of our human resources.

Management: “Our staff are constantly interacting with customers so we are very conscious about the people we recruit to our team, we value – integrity, passion and hard work.

Philosophy: “Success for most people means earning a lot of money. For me it’s the ability to innovate and leave a legacy behind for future generations. If I wasn’t a pharmacist I would be doing charity work for aid organisations such as UNICEF or Médecins Sans Frontières."

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