Andrew Hanna, Founder & CEO, Cotton Mill Pharmacy, a DotCom Magazine Exclusive Interview
Andrew Hanna is an Ontario compounding pharmacist and the founder and owner of Cotton Mill Pharmacy. The pharmacy provides a wide variety of unique services to the local population, including compounding medications, expert guidance, and free local delivery. The pharmacy also offers flu shots and other crucial preventive vaccines as part of the local healthcare system.
Andrew Hanna has an extensive background in the profession of pharmacy. He works with the Ontario College of Pharmacy to train student and intern pharmacists as an active preceptor. He is also a certified PACE (Practice Assessment of Competence at Entry) assessor who helps to determine whether potential pharmacists are qualified for the job.
Andrew Hanna attended Laurentian University for his undergraduate degree, and then proceeded to MISR University for Science and Technology for further studies in pharmacy. Later, he prepared for his Pharmacy degree at the University of Toronto.
Professionally, Hanna’s background includes working for some of the largest pharmacy chains in Canada, including Costco, Walmart, and Shoppers Drug Mart. He saw an opening in the market for a compounding pharmacy that could offer more services to the general public while providing a personalized level of attention to each customer.
Hanna’s pharmacy has recently begun a program called Patient First Virtual Care. This program allows patients to access the services of a pharmacist via phone, tablet, or computer. Many of Cotton Mill Pharmacy’s customers are elderly and do not want to venture out during the cold and snowy winter months. A virtual consultation eliminates these problems while making sure that customers receive what they need.
Andrew Hanna is a respected local business owner and a productive member of the community as well as a key member of the pharmacy profession in Ontario. His business fills an important market niche where customers can receive unique products and services. His extensive background in the pharmacy profession has led him to a great understanding of the world of pharmacy and how it affects the medical community as a whole.
Let’s start by telling us about your business.
My business, Cotton Mill Pharmacy, is a compounding pharmacy located in Cornwall, Ontario. My pharmacy is able to produce individualized formulations of all common prescriptions in order to meet customers’ needs. For example, tablets can be converted to liquids to assist people who have trouble swallowing, and children’s medications can be put into gummi bears.
We serve a close-knit community, so we try to make sure that our services are tailored to our residents. We offer vaccinations, general health advice, and free local delivery on all items. We serve a broad range of customers with many different health issues on their plates, so we try to educate ourselves about everything we need to know.
Please tell us how you make sure your customers will become raving fans of your company?
We always put our customers first. Many large retail pharmacies treat their customers like a number in a database and don’t get to know them personally. We take a lot more time making sure that our customers don’t have any medication conflicts or interactions. We know our customers and their doctors, and we are available for consultation anytime.
I honestly think that businesses that don’t put their customers or clients first are not properly serving the community. I know that’s a harsh view but taking care of customers should be a business’s first priority.
Please tell us the one thing that separates your business from the competition?
At Cotton Mill Pharmacy, we have recently started a program called Patient First Virtual Care. This program allows our customers to reach us through video chats rather than having to come into the pharmacy for a consultation. It has really helped our older customers learn more about their medications and has answered many of their pressing questions. I think it’s important to push forward and accept technological change within the profession.
And to finish this section, please tell us what is the one major key to your company’s success?
Our broad variety of services helps us reach a high level of success. There simply aren’t other compounding pharmacies around us, so we fill the market niche nicely. Many people may believe that they are restricted to the formulations that they can get at a large retail pharmacy, and they will be pleasantly surprised that they can access more and better formulations that can meet their needs at a compounding pharmacy.
For our readers just starting to build a company, what advice can you give entrepreneurs just starting out with a new venture?
Starting a company is always difficult, but it may be more so in today’s business climate. In Canada, 57 percent of small firms fail after 10 years. Companies can beat these statistics if they make sure that they are offering a unique product or service to the community. This is also a great time to start a healthcare-related company since the coronavirus pandemic has had deep impacts in this area. Your readers should know that it is possible to start a successful new business if they can line up the right offerings and see how they fit into the community.
For entrepreneurs seeking to build a business as successful as yours, what one big piece of advice can you give them when times get a little challenging?
My biggest piece of advice is to stay current with your skills and knowledge. I am deeply involved in the system that trains and certifies pharmacists in Ontario, so I have existing contacts with the teachers, professors, and new pharmacists in the province. If you are open to new ideas, you will be more likely to succeed.
In today’s fast-changing business environment, how do you stay abreast of things?
I believe that there can be such a thing as being too obsessed with reading or watching the daily news. News about your industry is useful but wasting too much time on political or financial stories can eat into your day so easily. I prefer to receive email digests of the publications I want to read and have their stories prioritized for me.
What is your “Why”? In one sentence, why do you get up in the morning?
I would say that my customers are the thing that gets me up in the morning. I don’t take days off very often because I want to make sure that I am there to meet their needs. This is not to say that I don’t have a highly-trained staff in my pharmacy. I just prefer to put the personal stamp on service myself.
In one sentence, what is the most important thing one has to do to be a great leader?
I believe that the most important thing a great leader needs to learn how to do is listen. Listening can solve so many problems before they become severe. I can think of several instances in my large retail pharmacy career where supervisors haven’t listened to the pharmacy techs and mistakes have been made. Mistakes in this industry can be lethal for our customers, and they need to be prevented at all costs.
In one sentence, describe how important your customers are to your business?
My customers are everything to my business. I would hope that every business owner who deals with the public would say the same thing, but too many businesses are motivated only by profit in place of customer care.
In one sentence, describe a positive way that technology can make the world a better place?
Technology makes our work more accurate in the pharmacy. It also speeds up our jobs so that we have more time to spend consulting with each customer. If our services are fast and complete, our customers will want to come back.
In one sentence, tell us how something positive to motivate our readers?
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” This quote is by the great nineteenth-century author Herman Melville and I think it is true today. It is much better to be unique than to fall in line as one of the “sheep.”
In one sentence, tell us how you start your day to get ready?
My business opens early, but I try to get in a workout at home before I go into work. After I work out, I’m always hungry, so I try to eat a nutritious breakfast. My business opens to customers at 7 in the morning so we can be there for people who need to get to work early.
In one sentence, describe how you handle rejection and setback?
Everyone ends up rejected at some point. It’s not whether you find yourself in that situation but how you react to it that matters. I always caution pharmacy students that they need to be careful about what they say and do. If they lash out when they are rejected or experience a setback, they are going to lose customers and professional respect.
It is better to sit down and find out how you went wrong, then teach yourself to avoid that mistake in the future. I think it’s a good idea to write down your reaction to this setback and to use it to vent your feelings.
In one sentence, describe what your hiring philosophy is?
I always hire the best-qualified people for the job. They also need to have a friendly and approachable demeanour so that our customers will enjoy dealing with them. I often look for new employees through my work with the Ontario College of Pharmacy. Though my business is small, there is a certain unavoidable amount of turnover.
Another set of criteria that I like to use is the pharmacist or pharmacy tech’s level of education. I think that pharmacy techs are the backbone of our business, so we need to make sure that they have received enough education and training to fulfill all of their job responsibilities.
In one sentence, describe how you keep your sanity in a competitive business environment?
It’s hard. I have experienced my share of problems and setbacks, as every business owner has. One of the best ways that I have found to maintain my sanity in a crazy world is to spend more time with my family and friends.
My business is closed on Sundays, so I always have that day to relax and recharge. I like to go for hikes, go to great restaurants, and spend time with younger members of my family. Of course, some of those things aren’t possible right now due to COVID, but I hope that we will be able to get together again soon.