Bob Mehr, Pure Integrative Pharmacy

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Bob Mehr

Pure Focus

Pure Integrative Pharmacy recommends both traditional and complimentary medicine to give every patient the personalized treatment they deserve.

BY KAVITA SABHARWAL

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATIE HUISMAN

At the age of eight, Bob Mehr’s childhood aspiration was to be a pharmacist, established by watching his friendly neighbourhood apothecary mix ingredients to cure ailments, igniting Mehr’s curiosity in the process.

“He was regarded as the guardian of health because he would be able to answer any questions you had and he would always have something to give us,” says Mehr. “I was intrigued by the whole idea of putting something together and giving it to patients for them to feel better. I knew I wanted to be just like him.”

Mehr received his pharmacy degree from the University of British Columbia, where he also conducted research with the Dean of Faculty. This is where his interest in natural health grew as he experimented with natural products and the positive effects they had on serious health issues. 

After opening his first pharmacy alongside his wife in 1999, Mehr’s company began growing at a rapid rate, which is when he decided to make a change.

“I realized that they were mainstream drugstores and were not fulfilling my pharmacies as being a destination, as being the place of health and wellbeing. I was limited in what I could do. That’s when we decided that it was time to brand ourselves and create something fresh and new in the market. That’s how Pure Integrative Pharmacy was born.”

Setting down roots

Mehr has opened new locations every few years across Greater Vancouver and Victoria to achieve a current total of 12 stores and about 120 employees. His goal is to eventually move Pure Integrative Pharmacy across the rest of British Columbia and into Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, achieving at least 100 stores in the next five years.

His plan to achieve this objective includes using a strong team with an expertise in operation to create the company’s program for expansion. Mehr also notes that a strong financial group that believes in his philosophy and business model is sponsoring his upcoming plans.

“We’re making a very solid foundation and it would be so different from any pharmacy groups that you see in Canada,” says Mehr. “Opening [new pharmacies] will probably be 10 per cent of it; the rest will be acquisitions. We have locations already dotted out on a map and we’ve already targeted which pharmacies we’ll go after.” 

Currently, each location stocks about 90 per cent of its merchandise, while a warehouse reserves the remaining 10 per cent. With the addition of the new stores, however, Mehr intends to open warehouses in each region to hold the overstock.

“We’ll definitely have a distribution centre for certain products, especially for our own products. One of our plans is to create more of our brands of our products, our house brand and private label products,” says Mehr.

When choosing locations, Mehr prefers to go where he believes patrons are more interested in taking care of their health, and his target demographic, 40 to 60 years old, fits that bill. 

“They’re the baby boomers and the new baby boomers. They have a good income, their degree and level of education is high and they’re much more in tune of looking after their health. That’s the demographic that we are trying to attract,” he says. 

Empowerment through education

After witnessing a patient pass away in front of him due to an incorrect diagnosis from his traditional doctor, Mehr realized that it is of the utmost importance that patients are educated about their health. 

“He could have saved himself if he was knowledgeable on some basics as simple as knowing the symptoms of a heart attack, or early signs of a stroke. I think as a practitioner or a pharmacist, one of our primary goals should be to educate and empower our patients,” says Mehr. 

Mehr advocates combining traditional therapies with complimentary healing techniques such as yoga, meditation, socialization, laughter, nutrition and exercise. 

“When they combine both conventional therapies along with complimentary body-mind connection, they seem to do much better. Not only will their therapy start working better, their whole morale and change of mind is impressive. All of a sudden, they’re inspired to find what’s best for them.”

Mehr is not only partial toward alternative therapies; he knows when a patient would best benefit from conventional medication and wants to help direct the patient in the right direction. In addition to recommending next steps for patients, Pure Pharmacy conducts monthly seminars at most locations to educate customers about their health.

Store patrons are not the only ones receiving an education just by walking through the doors of Pure Pharmacy; Mehr also firmly believes in educating his employees. 

“We send them to courses and seminars that we believe they can benefit from. We train them in-house with their peers. We send them to continuing education courses and we ask our suppliers to send their experts to the stores to train each individual,” says Mehr. “That requires investment. That requires commitment from management and from staff. That is where the competition can’t touch us.” 

Spreading the word

When Pure Integrative Pharmacy launched, it took part in radio and television advertisements to get the word out. Nowadays, the company’s marketing plan relies entirely on its website, social media presence and word of mouth. For its upcoming expansion, however, Mehr has an as-yet-undisclosed marketing plan in place. 

Competing in the current marketplace is not always easy, even during Mehr’s best-selling season from September to November, though the company compensates for that by fine-tuning its upcoming e-commerce site, which is currently in the testing process. 

In addition, Pure Pharmacy relies on networking with healthcare practitioners on a regular basis. “When we see they’re going to certain seminars and training, we also attend and that’s how we network with them,” says Mehr. “If we get a patient who is getting good results from what we’re doing, that patient usually asks if they can share it with their practitioner and that’s how the practitioner finds out about us.”

While Mehr relies on the expertise of natural health advisors and managers in his employ to select the products Pure Pharmacy sells, he notes that his experience at shows and events have given suppliers a chance to approach him, which also leads to the ability to offer good quality products. 

Mehr believes his ‘culture of care’ sets his company apart and is the best marketing approach he could employ. “You can duplicate the products, you can duplicate the design, the colour and the name, yet you cannot duplicate the culture. The culture is very unique, in my opinion,” he says. “[We compete] by participation and by having your staff, your customers, your suppliers and your network of professionals connected with each other and having them engaged. Constant communication is key.”

Love of the job     

Mehr loves what he does, and gives back by holding clinical volunteer consultations for cancer patients at Inspire Health Integrative Cancer Care in Vancouver. “It’s an amazing not-for-profit and the government has actually recognized and funded them for the last two or three years. It basically helps to inspire the patient and find out what is right for them along with their conventional cancer therapy,” he says.

Though Mehr is satisfied with his work, it comes with its own challenges, such as his transition into the Pure Integrative Pharmacy business model.

“Moving from being a traditional drug store to becoming an integrative pharmacy, especially moving from well-known national brands to your own brand, that was my biggest challenge. There were also many obstacles, like how to change the mindset of my pharmacists and my staff to go from a service-oriented drugstore into a care centre and pharmacy. There’s a huge difference there,” he says. “I had to make sure every single person working in our organization is knowledgeable in the area of natural medicine and the pharmacists that we’ve chosen to be on our team also need to be open-minded toward complimentary and natural medicine.” 

Challenges aside, Mehr describes his favourite part of the job being that he can sleep at night knowing that he contributed something beneficial to society. 

“When you leave, you want to leave with the feeling that you’ve  left a legacy behind you, that you’ve helped people. It’s that sense of fulfillment that I’ve done something right today. I’ve helped somebody today. That’s the best part of owning my own business. Every day there’s a new reward.”

It’s that legacy of satisfied customers that ensures Mehr and Pure Integrative Pharmacy will continue to compliment patients’ health for years to come.

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