A flair for retail

Simone Thyer admits that taking up a job in community pharmacy was pretty much a stab in the dark after she left school. Luckily, it was a risk that paid off

Simone’s passion and skill for retail is second to none, and she’s certainly had a lot of experience during her 26 years at LloydsPharmacy and 39 years in community pharmacy. 

Simone loves customer interaction, healthcare and selling

Simone’s CV is definitely impressive. Early on in her career she helped out in a new pharmacy that was opening and was subsequently offered a job as merchandiser, which involved being out on the road and remerchandising stores – a role that she says she loved. 

She then had a stint as merchandising manager for five years, covering an area stretching from Norfolk to the Isle of Wight. “I would draw up the store plans, working with the teams to merchandise the stores and also liaise with the shop fitters when refitting was needed,” she says. 

Wanting to relocate back to Bristol, Simone switched roles to retail sales manager, before moving on to become non-pharmacist manager and then operational support manager, which Simone explains involved working with the area manager to improve and achieve store targets. “I was involved in health and safety checks in stores, checking compliance and HR work too,” she says. “And I did home visits to people on long-term sick, investigations and disciplinaries, as well as supervising store training events.” 

Unfortunately, Simone was then made redundant but she didn’t let this hold her back and soon started work as a non-pharmacist manager. “Part of that role was to make sure we’re all working to the companies standards and I was also able to replicate things in my store that I’d seen work well elsewhere,” she says.

If that wasn’t enough, Simone went on to complete a year-long secondment with LloydsPharmacy’s innovative EPN (European Pharmacy Network) concept. “This brought P medicines onto the sales floor in Perspex boxes so customers could see everything that was available – it was the first time that was done – and we focused on skincare and pain,” Simone explains. “I’d work with teams in stores and help them understand the new concept. I worked in Cornwall, Bristol and into Wales too, across 30 stores.”

Settling down

After years on the road, Simone moved back into store 18 months ago at LloydsPharmacy’s Worle, Weston-Super-Mare branch as non-pharmacist manager. “I’m really fortunate because I’ve got a great team here. It’s an EPN store so it’s really clean and modern – we’ve got new products and focus on Dermo skincare with four premium brands. It’s great to have conversations with customers about these ranges.”

The pharmacy also has a large BetterLife range – LloydsPharmacy’s mobility and independent living brand – and Simone says she’s enjoying building up this customer base. “It’s all about talking to customers, giving advice and linking everything to other pharmacy services that could benefit them, so things like blood pressure testing. We also have healthy living pharmacy window displays linking through to services, products and information that may be helpful, which we can print out for customers.”

Simone arrives at the pharmacy early to complete her office-based tasks first so she can be on the shop floor with her team by 9am and be on hand to help. “You have to lead by example,” she says. “I look at our staffing rota for the day and what we need to achieve, make a plan and follow it.”

For Simone, team briefings are an important part of pharmacy life in terms of celebrating achievement, boosting morale and planning ahead. She says: “I give the staff an update on what we’ve achieved and what we need to do. If we’ve got a deadline coming up then we’ll talk about how we’re going to achieve it.”

Making a difference

Simone’s favourite part of the job is her team and customers. “I’ve got a great team and they’re so supportive of one another,” she says. “And the feeling you have when you give advice or recommend a product, knowing it will probably make a difference to [a customer’s life] – you just can’t describe it. I’ve had thank you cards and bouquets of flowers but it’s the little comments from people that really make your day.”

Not every customer interaction is as positive as that, but Simone is of the opinion that you have to treat everyone with the same courtesy and maintain a high standard of care. She says: “Not every customer is lovely but we don’t know what’s going on in their lives – they could have a sick relative, be poorly themselves or have really struggled to get to the pharmacy for one reason or another – so we have to be as understanding as possible.”

Promoting public health and healthy living campaigns and finding opportunities within these is where Simone thinks the pharmacy is particularly successful. “We’re currently running a stay safe in the sun campaign with our own award-winning LloydsPharmacy suncare range and we have laminate posters in the window for that, which is doing very well,” she says. “Blood in your pee is another campaign that’s just started so we’re looking at prescriptions and tailoring conversations if [customers have] got a water infection. If it’s a sensitive topic then we have a consultation room and we can guide them into there.”

Time for training

Training is an integral part of working in community pharmacy, but with spare time a luxury that few pharmacies have, it can be difficult to allow for proper time for training. Simone, however, explains that all of her staff get “half an hour training time each week at the best time for them. We complete the monthly My Knowledge Check from Lloyds, plus reading Training Matters, healthcare training and anything else that’s relevant.” Simone thinks it’s important to have that training time to ensure integrity in their role and have the necessary knowledge to build relationships and trust with customers. “We might be busy but if someone runs to get a prescription from the surgery they can be gone for 20 minutes, or if someone has an emergency or an appointment then we manage and we work without them until they come back so it’s always workable.”

The pharmacy is located next to a large supermarket and Simone estimates that the mix of regular customers to passers-by is around 70:30. “Our challenge is to give a good service – doing prescriptions quickly while they’re in the supermarket – so they come back,” says Simone. “We’re always looking to improve and take every opportunity and challenge that comes our way.”

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