Supporting the Local Community with Healthcare, Advice, Products & Services

Unichem Stokes Valley Pharmacy

After completing Pharmacy School, Karen Kearns wanted to use her knowledge and passion for health to help others. With husband and fellow pharmacist Paul, they looked to open their own pharmacy, which would allow them creative and clinical freedom. They took over the Unichem Pharmacy in Stokes Valley, Lower Hutt in 2009 and have since become an important part of a community they love. They are passionate about providing their customers with the best support, services and products possible.

The passion: What inspired you to set up your business? 

I recall the day I decided to accept my invitation to enter Pharmacy School at the University of Otago. Many friends were studying Dentistry and I was pondering my choices. I found myself in the Egyptian Room at Dunedin Museum which is nestled in amongst the campus. Having always been a bit of a romantic, amongst the hieroglyphics, urns and temples, I thought about the many appealing options ahead. The wide and varied history of science and care being applied to personal wellness brought my imagination to life, and I felt inspired that Pharmacy had such diversity to offer. That same day, I consulted a friend who was already studying Pharmacy. He explained that after his father had passed away due to another profession’s medical error, he saw Pharmacy as a safety net of protection. In that moment, my decision was made.

Being pharmacists, we are passionate about health and helping others. We are always pushing ourselves to raise the bar on our philosophy of care and advice.

It made sense to take it to the next level of having our own pharmacy to have creative and clinical freedom.

The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?  

The job description of our particular type of pharmacist is “Community Pharmacist”. That word ‘community’ has grown and blossomed in our experience throughout the years and we now herald it as crucial to all of our actions and motivations. It means a lot.  

Starting out in 2009 in Stokes Valley, Lower Hutt, it did take time for the locals to get to know us and accept us. Prior to us, the pharmacy had been operated by 2 going on to 3 generations of a family for all of their working lives. It was a hurdle. But the increasing trust and acceptance from the community was almost tactile in its growth, and this was, in return, reflected in our confidence and maturity.

Customers sometimes commented on the long and late hours they noticed us working at the premises. They were very supportive. The ‘village’ sense really enveloped us full circle when finally, life slowed down and we took some time to catch our breath in 2016 with the birth of our son. The outpouring of kindness we received from our community at that time was incredible. 

The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?  

Building relationships with Kiwi companies who have the same goals and drive as us has been our biggest breakthrough. Our country is so fortunate to have the richness of products from companies of varied sizes that consumers can enjoy and utilise. We share our journey with health brands such as Clinicians, Artemis, Harker Herbals and Kiwiherb. We combine and hone our medical expertise with the ingredient-based science that they offer. It’s a pleasure to champion the wellness outcomes which their products, with our tailored advice, can deliver.

Our customers come to us more and more to receive what they need and we have always seen this as a privilege. We combine healthcare with the delivery of family and lifestyle items which ‘spark joy’ along the way.

Our experience has given us the confidence to step out with our points of difference. We know that our customers appreciate our attentive care and ease of availability… as well as the bonus of their Living Rewards loyalty programme of course!

This has led us to stock products that we as a family use and can confidently recommend: ranges such as Woolbabe sleepwear, Little Unicorn cotton muslin, and Bumkins feeding products. People enjoy being able to select these at the same time as their purchases, such as Rhuger Colic Mixture and Tui Balm.

I always believed starting a family would be valuable market research and I was right! One example was when our nursery was surrounded by windows looking out on the native bush, and I wished to decorate with some realistic but plush native birds – that dream of the nesting nursery with nostalgia and comfort, just how you wish it… I applied all the google search skills I had, but had no success finding such a thing online or in stores. I had to let go of my vision for that time. It was when we were on holiday some 9 months later that I found exactly what I had dreamed of, Antics ‘Sounds of New Zealand’ puppets and toys, tucked away in a small tourist shop. I recognised the Antics name as a supplier who sent us correspondence. We now stock the full range of beautiful native toys and have a wait list for restocks or new releases. 

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