Bringing together a busy pharmacy and 'zen-like' clinic

Alison Sparkes' pharmacy: "It’s like an old-fashioned dispensary, but a bit funkier."
Alison Sparkes' pharmacy: "It’s like an old-fashioned dispensary, but a bit funkier."
Are you ready to vote for your favourite award-winner of the past decade?

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the C+D Awards, we have created a special category for 2017 – and are giving you the chance to pick the winner. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking back at each of the past recipients of the coveted Community Pharmacist of the Year trophy. Readers will then be given the chance to vote for their favourite entry, with the winner announced at the C+D Awards ceremony at Celtic Manor in Wales on July 12.

This week it's the turn of Alison Sparkes, owner of The Medicine Centre pharmacy – now the Health Dispensary – in Neath, Wales who scooped the award in 2012 .

What made her a winner?

First, Ms Sparkes bought the property next door to her Medicine Centre pharmacy. Then she gutted and refurbished this building to create a 'wellness centre', complete with training room, reception area and four treatment rooms.

In the words of the C+D Awards judges: "Alison created a pharmacy business that goes well beyond the traditional dispensing and minor ailments advice service."

New services included aromatherapy and acupuncture, which proved popular with the local community. She also invited in therapists to work alongside the pharmacy, which expanded her customer base and brought a new ethos to the business.

Ms Sparke's top tip:

Get help. “I found that I'm a really bad receptionist," Ms Sparkes said a year after her C+D Award win. "I didn't want to go down the road initially of hiring someone for appointments, but I think when you're running the wellness angle...it involves a lot of different skills. Planning is key and you have to learn as you go along."

What’s she up to now?

A great deal of development work over the past five years culminated with the pharmacy and wellness centre being integrated into one knocked-through building.

“Now we’ve got one brand, The Health Dispensary. It’s really been the culmination of many years of work,” says Ms Sparkes.

The dispensary faced the challenge of bringing together “a busy pharmacy and a zen-like clinic”, without upsetting either set of customers. She worked with branding professionals and created customer profiles to imagine how people might react to the changes.

Now, she says, customers enjoy the wood-panelled building with aromatherapy oils burning. “It’s got a really nice, cosy feeling. It’s like an old-fashioned dispensary, but a bit funkier. People are much calmer,” Ms Sparkes adds. “I love coming to work.”

It’s not all been cosmetic changes, however. Her aim was always to bring together the self-help ethos of the wellness centre with the pharmacy.

“The community pharmacy is incredibly important. But as well as dispensing someone’s prescription...I can add value to that. It’s about positive thinking, nutrition, self-care,” she says. Counsellors and therapists work out of the same space, and Ms Sparkes has completed a coaching certificate, so she’s better placed to help customers who want to make healthy changes to their lives.

She is now working on developing own-brand products – in the form of both items to put “on the shelves”, as well information and training.

Read our profile of Best of the Best's 2013 C+D Award-winner Laura Rowley here.

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