Ron Frisch talks to Jane Auster of Pharmacy Business Magazine about what differentiates Kohl & Frisch in the competitive marketplace. (Excerpt from article that originally appeared in Pharmacy Business Magazine, November/December 2016, Volume 8 Issue 6)
How does being a family business change the way you interact with your customers?
Ron: I think it plays into things in different ways. First, I hope we are able to convey to our customers that because we are a family business, we care about every single thing. We are not driven by a quarter end. We are not driven by stock market analysts saying, “You know, you’ve got to cut your costs, so dispense with some service you provide.” We’re not beholden to any of that; we’re beholden to what is good. Oftentimes in the past I’ve met with store owners and they have the same range of responsibilities that we have here: payroll, overhead, people showing up on time, your backup plan if the power goes out.
I have long-time customers who will still phone me and talk about something, and that’s fine because it’s owner to owner.
By virtue of being family-owned, obviously I have to care and want to care about every single thing, every single day. There is no issue too small to ensure that we address it. I have long-time customers who still will phone me and talk about something, and that’s fine because it’s owner to owner. It’s my name on the door.
What’s the Kohl & Frisch difference?
Ron: We’re allowing pharmacists to rely on us to such an extent they don’t even think about it, and they’re spending time counselling their patients which is what they’re supposed to be doing. So instead of ordering from this one and that one, they’re ordering once a day, and they get it the same time every day. It’s accurate; it’s complete.
If you want to stay completely independent, negotiate your own deals, or ask us to partner up – we’ve got that covered.
Your main competitor owns banners and has gone a very different route. Has that approach ever appealed to you?
Ron: We never wanted to compete with our customers. We never wanted our customers to think that we had an agenda other than being the best business partner we could be for them. We thought it had value, we thought it differentiated us, and we thought a lot of people liked it. I am fairly certain that many retailers appreciate the fact that we don’t compete with them.
How has your business changed over the past five years?
Ron: We are geographically better positioned across Canada than we were five years ago, before our acquisition of the Canadian distribution business of AmerisourceBergen Corporation. We have more distribution centres, therefore we are closer to the customer, and closer to the customer means more customer-friendly cut-off times for placing orders for delivery.
What sets your approach apart?
Ron: If you’re an independent with a store anywhere in the country, the goal of Kohl & Frisch is to ensure the continued success of that store. We want to have a customer for life because that’s our business model. I believe part of the goal of others would be, “How can we convert that store into our banner?” Our approach is, “If you want to stay completely independent, negotiate your own deals, or ask us to partner up – we’ve got that covered.”
Is innovation a constant focus for you in terms of new services and offerings?
Ron: It’s an ongoing process of evaluating how we can be better. We are approached many times a year with different opportunities, and we evaluate them case by case to see if there’s a fit. It matters a great deal to us who our business partners are. Just as we want our customers to rely on us, we want to be able to know we can rely on them. In our world, if their allegiance is to us, we’re going to support them.
We market ourselves as tailoring our business offerings to the needs of the customer. At a first meeting, I’ll often ask, “What would you love to have that you don’t have today?”
Sometimes, you can’t accommodate what somebody asks, but I love the challenge when they say, “Could you do this?”
What about the role new technology plays in your business?
Ron: Throw us a good challenge, and if it makes sense for us economically and structurally, we have the latitude as a privately-held Canadian company to go in one direction or another. Over the years we’ve strengthened ourselves. We think we earn our place with our customers. We’ve got Walmart and Costco on our customer list. The two largest retailers in the world trust us to do their Rx in Canada, and we’re very proud of that. But we’re equally committed to the independents who all started small. After all, Kohl & Frisch started small.