The Lloydspharmacy we started out in went up for sale – so we rushed to buy it
Brothers James and Brendan Semple both spent their early careers at a former Lloydspharmacy branch in Renfrewshire. Little could they predict that they would buy it for themselves 30 years later
Two pharmacist brothers have bought the Scottish Lloydspharmacy branch where one held his first manager’s job, and the other his first day of work as a pharmacist.
Contractor James Semple told C+D that he and his brother Brendan purchased a Lloydspharmacy branch in Gourock, Renfrewshire, earlier this year. The pharmacy, now rebranded as TLC Pierhead Pharmacy, is the eighth in the Semple brother’s TLC Pharmacy group across the west of Scotland.
Mr Semple, also the long-time vice chair of Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS), told C+D that he first became aware that the pharmacy was up for sale in early 2023.
He had heard that Lloydspharmacy was offering branches for sale at the start of the year, he said. “It was kind of the worst kept secret in pharmacy,” he explained. Mr Semple told C+D that he and his brother submitted a blind bid for the pharmacy, which was accepted by the multiple.
He said that it was “about a three-month process” from submitting the bid for the pharmacy to taking over the premises. “Once the due diligence was done, it was actually quite quick. Both parties were keen to make it happen as quickly as they could,” he said.
“Not only is it the first pharmacy I ever managed, but it's also about two minutes’ walk from my house,” he said. “So when it came up for sale, I basically said to all the boys up here, ‘Nobody go for Gourock, that's mine.’”
A spokesperson for Lloydspharmacy reiterated to C+D that it is “reviewing its community pharmacy estate and is selectively selling some branches”.
They said that the “majority of buyers” are independent pharmacy owners and local businesspeople “who have demonstrated their commitment to our branch teams and patients and are well placed to meet the ongoing health needs of the local community”.
And they added that “for patients there will be no change in the way they use their local pharmacy”.
History in Gourock
Mr Semple’s history with the pharmacy goes back more than 30 years. He recalls that he was appointed as manager of the pharmacy – then owned by Lloydspharmacy’s wholesaling arm AAH – in “about 1992”, marking his “first proper job after being a locum for a while”.
Mr Semple remembers arriving in Gourock from Glasgow to a pharmacy in “chaos because it was a big change over”. As manager, he gave his brother Brendan his first day of work as a qualified pharmacist, hiring him as a locum at the Gourock pharmacy.
“At that time, I was a young manager in Gourock, and I was a nightmare too,” he told C+D, recalling how he was caught watching World Cup games in the pharmacy during the day, much to the ire of his bosses. The television story became a joke among them later - the first thing Mr Semple did after buying the pharmacy for himself was to bring in a television and take a picture with it to show his old managers.
Mr Semple left the AAH branch in Gourock in 1999 but carried on living in the town. Three years later, he and his brother started their own company and chose Gourock as the location of their first new pharmacy contract. “That was their worst nightmare because I nicked half their patients in the first couple of years,” he told C+D.
But the Semple brothers did not buy the Gourock Lloydspharmacy for purely sentimental reasons. They already own one other pharmacy in the town, and another in nearby Inverkip.
The Gourock pharmacy purchase was “clearly in our interests” as “good protection” for their other pharmacies, keeping a “young new contractor” from being their local competition, Mr Semple told C+D.
“As a competitor, who do you want to have? A national chain or a young independent?” he asked.
But the logistic argument was also at play in the decision to bid on the pharmacy. Mr Semple said that shifting stock or staff about, or switching pharmacists around is “a million times easier” when the pharmacies are nearby.
A good time to buy?
Mr Semple said that he and his brother decided to buy the pharmacy despite an “extremely difficult” climate for community pharmacy in Scotland over the last year. He said the “unprecedented increase in the cost of medicines” has had a “huge effect” on their pharmacies’ margin from reimbursement.
But he was optimistic about the sector over the medium to long term.
“We are working with our Scottish government colleagues at the moment to get a deal that will bring us back to a period of stability,” he said, adding that he was “confident” in the government’s approach to pharmacy.
Mr Semple said that TLC is keeping all the staff and the pharmacist at the Gourock Lloydspharmacy, who he says are “fantastic”.
“I know that [Lloydspharmacy] gets a lot of criticism, but I'm very impressed with how good the staff they got in are,” he said. At the moment, he is teaching the staff how TLC works and how they “try to give the absolute best customer service that you'll get anywhere”.
There are other minor changes, such as how the team’s IT system operates, said Mr Semple. But, he told C+D, “it's not that much of a difference for them”.
“The staff all seem pretty chuffed about the current situation anyway. I think they like working for an independent,” he said.
Lloydspharmacy has sold a number of its branches in Scotland in recent months.
On June 26, a small Scottish pharmacy group bought back two Glasgow pharmacies that its previous owners had sold to Lloydspharmacy 20 years previously.
And in May, Rowlands Pharmacy announced that it would be buying 30 Lloydspharmacy branches across Scotland. And the Scotland-based multiple Davidsons Chemists told C+D on May 10 that it was “due to acquire” five former Lloydspharmacy branches on June 5.
Meanwhile, negotiations on community pharmacy in Scotland’s proposed financial package from the Scottish government are ongoing, with CPS turning down the Scottish government’s initial offer on May 30. The following day, Holyrood announced that it had implemented a £20 million cash injection to “ease pressures” on community pharmacies.