Medicine Matters

Lazz Pharma Ltd., a name so synonymous to the industry that while having a debate with a friend about the possibility of a pharmacy chain in Bangladesh, he thought Lazz Pharma was one. And I believe he was right, indeed!

After 40 years of existence, Lazz – the brand does get the credit of being the founding father of the industry. In a country where just about any compounder opens up a store and starts calling it a pharmacy, or where the existence of pharmacists is only in pharmaceuticals and hi-end hospitals… Lazz was the light bearer for sure.

With time, Mimi chocolate was replaced by Cadbury’s; Peps Gel became Close-up but Lazz Pharma stayed at the top. As much of that credit goes to the wonderfully modest management of Lazz, the lack of vision from others to come forward is rather unfortunate. Don’t get me wrong, Prescription Aid (in Banani) or Tamanna Pharmacy (in Gulshan) do have a considerable share of our mind (every time you think pharmacy, what other name hits you?). But when we think of universal presence, something in the league of DBBL ATM booths (bad example); there is really nothing to recall!

Yes, Lazz Pharma has four outlets in Dhaka city (did you know that?) and they are a name you can (more or less) blindly trust. But having four branches located in Dhaka, in a country of sixty four districts and one hundred and eighty million people is like Newton’s “As children gathering pebbles on the shore.” We have a long, long way to go…

Of course organized retail done in a successful manner (i.e. Rahimafrooz Superstores, Agora) is a concept that hardly a decade old and success in a specialized industry like medicine and pharmacy is based more on trust and goodwill than location and good looks. However echoing my dad’s mantra on business in Bangladesh, “Anything that is associated with the growing population, will be a success”. His line was meant for food, transport & real estate sectors and medicine, engineering & law practitioners. Its as simple as the “basic goods” market – the need for rice grain will never fade, neither will the need for medicines.

The question is, can you make the “customer experience” in this basic industry any better?

A few years back, when ACI followed “the Agora way” to open its branded chain of superstores i.e. Shwapno, I was really looking forward to at least a 7-Eleven lookalike. The idea behind Shwapno leaned more towards a utility joint as opposed to a major retail joint. It was a winning idea, till they wanted to make it a smaller Agora/Nandan and started preaching “fresh from the farmer”. The original concept bombed and  the CEO got fired. Thankfully the financiers finally realized what was wrong by re-aligning themselves to a unique “fresh” proposition and cutting down on unprofitable locations. When a leading pharmaceutical company in the country with leading consumer health brands (Savlon, ACI Aerosol) come up with the idea of a retail chain, why is it so difficult to sketch up a “medicine corner” in the blueprint, I wonder!!!

I have always had tremendous respect for Samson H. Chowdhury‘s gift to Bangladesh, Square Group. A company that (by my judgement) has modestly but sure-footedly has moved from pharmaceuticals to consumer brands to hospitals to (now) entertainment. Their sustainable and linear growth model has contributed to stellar performance both in terms of finance and perceptions for all the Square concerns. When Square Hospitals had opened its doors, I was awaiting a revolution in the health industry of Bangladesh. While Apollo Hospitals (in India) and Labaid (In Bangladesh) had progressed from service providers to manufacturers in the health industry, Square did it the other way. After the hospitals, I had envisioned a Square Pharmacy chain, much like the Apollo Pharmacies in India (750 in number and growing). Instead Square (to-date) sufficed to having a 24 hour pharmacy at its hospital doorsteps.

May be the thought of walking into a pharmacy chain like Boots or Guardian in Dhaka is bordering daydreams, but its not impossible when a local chain like Gallerie Apex has 141 outlets around the country in less than a decade.

If people have no problem paying for the highest charging doctor, paying a visit to a store that sells authenticated life-saving drugs shouldn’t be one either.

If you think otherwise, please tell me why?

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