The Blanchardstown store has been in the works for a while now, but the pandemic put the brakes on plans to open mid-year, as Chemist Warehouse director Mario Tascone explained.
“We had a couple of staff members and expats that relocated back to Europe earlier this year. We were supposed to open in the middle of the year but with Covid outbreaks we had staff stuck in the UK that couldn’t get across to Ireland,” Tascone told Inside Retail.
“They’ve done an incredible job to pull it all together to get it open.”
While lockdown measures made the opening difficult, it was warmly received by the public on the first day.
Almost identical in layout and design to an Australian store, the Blanchardstown store carries over 12,000 SKUs most of which are local Irish brands as well as some European brands.
Health and nutrition is a key focus of the new store, as is skincare, with the store offering a range of cosmetics and fragrances similar to that seen in Australian stores. A big baby care area and FMCG range is also on display as well as the usual prescription services.
The Irish consumer
Chemist Warehouse has been watching the European market for many years in anticipation of launching there, and saw a lot of promise in Ireland as a base for the expansion.
“We were really impressed with Ireland. The demographics are just right. I mean, if you’re going to expand anywhere in Europe, going to a place where they speak the language is a good start,” Tasone said.
“The demographics are very similar and the city of Dublin itself is a pretty progressive city, it has come out of the global financial crisis as good as any other European city, and particularly with all the big tech companies, there’s a big millennial demographic there now.”
Irish shoppers, like Australians, are very health conscious and so presented an attractive consumer base for Chemist Warehouse.
“Wellness is a big part of what they do. They want the leading brands at the best prices, and they also want affordable healthcare. High medicine costs are a worldwide problem, so when guys like us come out and do discount prescriptions and discount medicines, people flock to those kinds of stores.”
Across the Tasman
Chemist Warehouse’s overseas expansion started in 2017 when it opened its first New Zealand store.
The retailer is just about to open its 17th store there and will have 20 NZ stores by the end of the year.
“We tested the waters there to see if people overseas could understand our model. It is like no other pharmacy in the world, the concept of one shop for leading health and beauty brands at really low prices.
“It was an overnight success there and keeps going from strength to strength.”
Bumper Singles’ Day on the cards
In Asia, all eyes are firmly on Singles’ Day, with the retailer expecting it to be its biggest year yet.
“Because of the pandemic there’s no tourists in Australia and all the daigou customers retreated from the Australian market. They bring a lot of stuff into China direct. Now that whole market is gone, we will see a massive uplift in online sales through Alibaba and JD.com, the networks that we advertise through,” Tascone said.
The shopping event, which takes place on November 11, will bring a welcome boost in a tough year for the region. Chemist Warehouse was forced to close its China store for about two months at the height of the pandemic but sales have now returned to pre-Covid levels.
Despite the challenges, the retailer is soon to open its second China and is expanding into more Asian markets through an online offer in the coming months.
“We have a second bricks-and-mortar store opening in Huzhou; that’s being stocked as we speak and we hope to open that one up next week, that’s pretty exciting. We’ve also got some online stores opening in other Asian markets over the next couple of months as well, which we will release the details of soon.”
Australia and beyond
The discount pharmacy is moving fast, hinting that more Irish stores are “just around the corner”, but Tascone said while momentum is important, it’s critical to get the formula right in a new region before expanding further.
“We’re in no rush to open thousands of stores. We build one store at a time, and we make sure we do it right every time. Retail for us is all about momentum, we need to always keep moving and for us that means really focusing every day on growing our like-for-like sales and opening more stores where there is opportunity to do so. That’s what’s important for us.”
Closer to home, the 450-strong store network in Australia and accompanying e-commerce site is gearing up for the busy Christmas period. After doubling online turnover during the pandemic, it’s an area that the retailer is continuing to invest in.
Tascone expects omnichannel retailers to be the most successful this Christmas and in the long term.
“True omnichannel retailers are really the ones that will succeed long term in the online space, because there’s so much upside if you’ve got bricks-and-mortar stores and distribution in the suburbs around Australia. A third of our online business now is click and collect.”
The retailer recently launched a Uber-style home delivery service, which delivers orders from a local store to the customer’s home in under two hours, for capital cities, through a third-party delivery service.
“That’s been a revelation this year,” Tascone said.