Pharmacies gear-up to ride the retail boom

Pharma retailers gear-up for a boom with the opening of the retail sector to FDI, reports N Rao.

The retail revolution sweeping across the country has brought in changes to the way average urban Indians shop for a host of products and services — from routine groceries to attractive apparels, and from petrol and lubricants to books and magazines.

But a majority of Indians still visit the crowded neighbourhood pharmaceutical store to buy a vitamin pill or a painkiller, and in some of the smaller cities have to double-check to ensure that the medicines are according to the doctor's prescription, cosmetics like shampoos and creams are genuine, and the chocolates are not past the 'best before' date.

The $5-billion pharmaceutical retail market in India is, however, priming itself for major changes. Says Viraj Gandhi, CEO, Medicine Shoppe India: "Nine out of 10 blockbuster drugs in the future will be bio-tech based, requiring special storage facilities and transportation. Most of the existing pharmacies in India would be unable to meet the stringent requirements."

Gandhi's firm is the master franchisee in India of US-based Medicine Shoppe International, the largest franchisor of independent community pharmacies in America, and part of Cardinal Health Inc (ranked 16th on the Fortune 500 list in 2005), with group annual sales topping $75 billion.

Medicine Shoppe set up a presence in India in 1999, but faced stiff opposition from the well-entrenched domestic retailers of pharmaceutical drugs. Five years later, it had appointed 50 franchise stores in the country, and this month has reached the 100 mark.
"From here, we aim to become a 200-plus pharmacy chain by the end of this year, and cross the 700-mark in 2010, by expanding our operations in urban as well as rural India," says Gandhi.