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Review: Undercover Boss, Rowlands Pharmacy

Kenny Black, Rowlands managing director, told C+D his work had "just begun" and pledged to review Rowlands' processes in the future

Rowlands managing director Kenny Black has promised to review the multiple's processes on the back of his findings from taking part in Channel 4's Undercover Boss


"Board it up and lock the door, because it's shit," is hardly the feedback you want after your boss visits your pharmacy. But that was Rowlands managing director Kenny Black's verdict after seeing the decorative fairies and dusty Tutankhamun statues sold in the chain's branch in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire.


Mr Black donned questionable facial hair, a fake pot belly and glasses to go undercover in the latest episode of Channel 4's Undercover Boss series, which aired last night (August 5). During the episode, he spent time with workers on the front line of his business: a dispenser, a delivery driver, a depot manager and a retail assistant.


Mr Black, working under the pseudonym Gordon Roberts, told C+D he went on the show to highlight the issues facing the sector. It could be argued that he did. In a Rowlands branch in Clacton, he found 15 per cent of items out of stock and service slowed to a crawl because of staff shortages. A three-item prescription took 20 minutes to dispense, Kenny noted, while he tapped his watch and tutted.


In a Rowlands depot in Portsmouth, 64-year-old Lynn was forced to crawl on the floor to access stock while battling against poor lighting and tiny shelf labels. Workers had to pick items from the shelves at a rate of 120 an hour and yet received no recognition from senior management, she told a visibly tired Mr Black.


But Undercover Boss is never about the problems a company faces – it's about the people we meet. Seventy-year-old motormouth Jackie, a Rowlands home delivery driver, charmed Kenny as much as his customers. He remained upbeat despite losing two close family members in the past three weeks. But after visiting a regular customer – a patient with a brain tumour – he broke down in tears. It was a glimpse into the pressures many pharmacy staff face on a daily basis.



As part of the big reveal – the typically touching moment when the boss announces their real identity – Kenny gave Jackie and his wife a trip to Canada to see their daughter. He promised Clacton dispenser Lauren that he'd hire more staff and increase the number of suppliers and – thankfully – he told Cleckheaton retail assistant Atlanta that he would ship out the ceramic puppies so she could focus on providing patient care.


Prior to the programme's airing, Kenny told C+D on Monday (August 4) that his work had "just begun" and promised to review Rowlands' processes on the back of his findings. Some will question why Kenny didn't know about these problems before, but it was refreshing to see the issues plaguing pharmacy highlighted on the small screen. Hopefully, the programme will have made the public – and a few decision-makers – sit up and take notice.


Undercover Boss, Rowlands Pharmacy, aired at 9pm on August 5 on Channel 4. Catch up on 4OD.


Did Undercover Boss do a good job of highlighting the issues facing pharmacy? 

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33 Comments

Anon Anon, Non healthcare professional

Well said Clive, Anne et al.

I presume this hasn't provoked the response which Kenny (or is it Kenneth?) wanted! Not sure who recommended you take part in this Kenny - was it Mike Johnson (Marketing Manager) or your "PR" firm Guerilla?

Yes Rowlands profits have declined, the Rowlands accounts show that the turnover has been in decline or static since 2008/9, but so have most other UK pharmacies. Besides Kenny, didn't they teach you at Robert Gordons university that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is reality?

Hang on that name sounds familiar? That must be how you invented the alias Robert Gordons......see that's where I think part of the problem lies....little originality or forward thinking.

I believe the other problem is not your declining turnover, but the fact that you are under pressure from your parent company (Phoenix Pharmahandel) to cut costs/increase profits.

There is a lot of talk in the Phoenix Pharmahandel 2013/14 accounts (http://www.phoenixgroup.eu/DE/Service/Investor-Relations/Documents/PHOEN...) about the group saving 100m EUR under Project Forward.

I'd be interested to know how much Kenny and the rest of the Board have been tasked with contributing to that figure from the UK? £5m/£10m/£15m? And more importantly how are Phoenix/Rowlands/Numark going to save those costs as according to the accounts all measures will have been implemented by 2015/16.

My guess is that Kenny is under real pressure at the moment and that this free PR stunt was meant to try and increase Rowlands profile.

Interesting how Kenny also kept referring to Phoenix Healthcare Distribution as "our main supplier". Was it an attempt to mask the relationship? A quick search has revealed that Kenny also sits on the Board of Phoenix Medical Supplies Ltd, which is the parent company of Phoenix Healthcare Distribution, so the idea that Kenny was not aware of the stock shortage situation until now is absolutely ludicrous.

The idea that Rowlands have now opened accounts with a 2nd wholesaler through choice is also ludicrous. Isn't this more likely to be due to Phoenix Healthcare Distribution being unable to fulfil certain items due to them losing out on DTP/solus distributor deals with manufacturers?

A quick search found Phoenix's market share to be circa 9% whereas Alliance and AAH are around the 40% (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=F4FCE1VOzAgC&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=phoe...).

With regards to the "tat" in Rowlands Cleckheaton branch - is this the 1st time you've visited that store Kenny? (I doubt it very much). Didn't Rowlands acquire that pharmacy in early 2008? Has Tutankhamun's head been there ever since or have your own teams (Mike Johnson - Marketing Dept or Dave Lea - Purchasing Dept) allowed it to be bought? If it came with the acquisition - why on earth is it there 6 years later?!?!?!

One would suggest that Undercover Boss is a PR stunt gone badly wrong!

anonymous Pharmacist, Primary care pharmacist

I would like to put my suggestion across to Rowlands, that in order to maximise profits you must start giving annual pay increases to your pharmacists upon their merit. Last year, there were many pharmacists who did not achieve 400 MURS but came very close (maybe 100-120 left to do ) , however Kenny refused in February 2014 (the directors board meeting for 2013 performance of pharmacists) to give any pay rises to these pharmacists. Clearly a pharmacist achieving lets say 280-400 IS performing BUT They received no pay rise. YET Kenny allows automatic pay rises without performance indicators for all other staff each year. I have not had a pay rise in several years, yet I work very hard. It would have been good , if Kenny was MUR trained and NMS trained and spent a week working and trying to achieve the weekly targets he expects . It is very hard. It also requires the pharmacist to keep up to date and do additional training in their own time.

It should be clear what the pharmacist must do to achieve their rise and how much they will be paid. I also think that there should be a tiered system of reward. For every 100 MURs achieved the pay will rise by x %. This way the pharmacist will not lose out , if they have not achieved the 400 quota. Many pharmacists , this year have told me they will do enough to tick by and serve their patients, but will not strive towards 400, as they see no point. If you get 396 MURs and don't achieve 400, you get nothing. Why would we bother? With tiered system of pay for achieving MURs at least there is a guaranteed hope of a pay rise...., 500 stores multiplied by 400 MURs multiplied by the MUR fee ...is enough to make a good profit (£5,600,000). But you have to get your pharmacists on side Kenny. P.s Please do not bring back the MUR lottery with all those chocolates. What is a meaningful reward is money as many households are struggling to keep a float and as there is no annual automatic pay rise for pharmacists this would be a meaningful reward! I

anonymous Pharmacist, Primary care pharmacist

I would like to put my suggestion across to Rowlands, that in order to maximise profits you must start giving annual pay increases to your pharmacists upon their merit. Last year, there were many pharmacists who did not achieve 400 MURS but came very close (maybe 100-120 left to do ) , however Kenny refused in February 2014 (the directors board meeting for 2013 performance of pharmacists) to give any pay rises to these pharmacists. Clearly a pharmacist achieving lets say 280-400 IS performing BUT They received no pay rise. YET Kenny allows automatic pay rises without performance indicators for all other staff each year. I have not had a pay rise in several years, yet I work very hard. It would have been good , if Kenny was MUR trained and NMS trained and spent a week working and trying to achieve the weekly targets he expects . It is very hard. It also requires the pharmacist to keep up to date and do additional training in their own time.

It should be clear what the pharmacist must do to achieve their rise and how much they will be paid. I also think that there should be a tiered system of reward. For every 100 MURs achieved the pay will rise by x %. This way the pharmacist will not lose out , if they have not achieved the 400 quota. Many pharmacists , this year have told me they will do enough to tick by and serve their patients, but will not strive towards 400, as they see no point. If you get 396 MURs and don't achieve 400, you get nothing. Why would we bother? With tiered system of pay for achieving MURs at least there is a guaranteed hope of a pay rise...., 500 stores multiplied by 400 MURs multiplied by the MUR fee ...is enough to make a good profit (£5,600,000). But you have to get your pharmacists on side Kenny. P.s Please do not bring back the MUR lottery with all those chocolates. What is a meaningful reward is money as many households are struggling to keep a float and as there is no annual automatic pay rise for pharmacists this would be a meaningful reward! I

anonymous Pharmacist, Primary care pharmacist

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Faraz Khan, Community pharmacist

4OD should make it plainerthat this is not the full episode...C&D also - how can we comment when 20% of the narrative is missing ?
In any case the issues all stem from the age old business/profession dichotomy . The 4OD film was helpful in getting the public aware of predicaments pharmacies face IMHO.
The NHS and GPhC stipulate supply of POMS on Rx to the patient in "reasonable time" .. two minutes for a two item script is *not reasonable* or safe or profitable - purchases are made in the first ten minutes of footfall .( What has this MD learnt in his 20 years ? ) It was just a formulaic TV program designed to garner viewer-ship for C4 to be honest.

Naresh Chauhan, Community pharmacist

If Kenny and the majority of multiple employers really want to alleviate the declining profits and morale they may look at:

1. Sorting the supply chain
2. Sorting the Rx pickup and delivery systems
3. Easing the burden of paperwork on the staff
4. Easing communication channels - as most pharmacists get weighed down by emails, faxes, postal mail
5. Stop treating trained staff like cleaners and goffers
6. Factor in the added burden on each branch of NMS, MUR, DDA assessments, enhanced and adavnced services - all on top of ever increasing Rx volumes
7. Sort the cluttered and sometimes unsafe environments that staff have to work in

Pharmacists have invariably risen to the challenge of ever increasing demands, but salaries seem to be taking a downward slide. Blaming the staff for not dispensing an Rx in two minutes is not helpful.

How High?, Community pharmacist

He's the same as the rest of them;
Clueless when it comes to his branches, lacking any empathy with the staff (how long to dispense 3 items?), and moaning about the stock like it's the fault of the poor girl trying to clean and sell the s**t as he called it.
They all moan about govt cutbacks but I see he has a nice shiny Audi A7 and a rather nice house. Maybe he'd like to trade it in for a Citroen C1 and buy a terrace like the rest of us....
PR guff and noise.
Kenny come and try to do some services whilst you have 1 on holiday, 1 off sick, a vacancy, a queue out the door and a surgery that is 3 days behind with scripts. Add an area manager asking why you haven't done this that or the other and that "further non-compliance will be seen as direct refusal of a line manager's request leading to disciplinary action".
That would see a real undercover boss!

D S, Non healthcare professional

Thoroughly enjoyed it and thought Kenny Black was excellent tbd. My only gripe is why oh why oh why do we have to have an X factor sob story on a serious programme. As soon as that guy said he was saving to go to Canada we all knew Rowlands were going to send him there. Good on Rowlands though.

Margaret Turton, Accuracy checking technician

Margaret Pharmacy Technician
I watched the program Undercover Boss with interest, and I would like to invite Mr Black to come to our Pharmacy and look at our working conditions. Visiting two Pharmacies out of five hundred and one does not give a true insight into the problems that the Staff face on a daily basis. As for reward and recognition I was delighted to see that four employees received holidays/vouchers, where are the incentives for the other thousands of employees? I completed ten years service in June and I am still waiting for my certificate.

Chris Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

No point hoping that this would improve the cause for pharmacists and pharmacy staff as this was never the intention, more a free publicity stunt for the Rowlands MD.

The aim of the programme is for the big boss to appear he has a heart of gold by issuing free holidays/rewards to a few dedicated and loyal members of staff. Whereas in reality pay is stagnant/reducing and pensions, terms and conditions are worsening for pharmacists and staff in virtually all multiples largely thanks to decisions made by Black et al whose own financial rewards are exempt from NHS cuts/effects of recession.

Nothing to see here...

D S, Non healthcare professional

I feel there is still money to be had in pharmacy however, I think pharmacists per se have to work 10 times harder to stand still. Years ago a pharmacist could sit in the dispensary with a walled up petition buying cimetidine for £5 and getting £50 or so on the DT. Those days are well and truly over and pharmacists today unfortunately have to be business people first and pharmacists second imo.

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

At least pharmacy had exposure - not like Government proposals where we have little no no mention down the years. Editorial control rests with program makers and there is a time limit. Maybe some members of the public might start to appreciate there is more to just picking a pack off the shelf as many see it. Here's hoping.................

Mr CAUSTIC, Community pharmacist

re stock shortages it was stated in a paper yesterday that epipens are now back in stock. i jave been ordering adult with no success. somebody should do a ring around of boots branches and see if they have stock whereas others dont. are alliance suplying their own branches with what they need at the expence of everyone else? these wholesaler distribution deals should be banned

Pharmacist Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

I am totally disgusted at the episode. I appreciate that every member of the team is vital for a pharmacy to run. The driver, the dispenser, the shop assistant got a mention. But, never ever did the pharmacist get mentioned or commended. Mayne because the director was scared that the pharmacist will mention MUR bullying and unsafe working practices, no lunch breaks, extreme stress and pressure. Pharmacy without pharmacists. Disgraceful

[email protected], Non healthcare professional

Shocking! Unbelievable. Clive you have summed it up succinctly. Cheap TV trash and PR. I noticed the PMR. System used logs the Responsible Pharmacist. Must check the next time I am in the branch if Gordon was in and report a fictitious pharmacist to the GPhC so they can investigate. LOL

Marc Borson, Community pharmacist

1. Enjoyed the program and so did almost all I spoke to, I believe it generated water cooler moments.

2. NHS Information governance was probably breached by having a camera in the dispensary, if someone had a high res play back system they may be able to see confidential data. Giant fail Rowlands. Did the production staff receive IG training and sign the declaration? NHS guidance on IG states that no one should be allowed exposed to patient data if they have not be trained or qualified in IG.

3. Good CCGs are getting very efficient at optimising medicine and contracting AIV. Kenny and all pharmacies you must realise the way forward is to turn your sites in to healthcare retailing businesses. Patients are learning that they can pay for medicines and get services such as MAS at the pharmacy. look at the success of volatrol 12 hr, xls medical, alli, regain
flexiseq, q10, vitamins and herbs. You need to make that 20-30% loss in NHS turnover back and the only way is retail- have you considered selling lots of VMS and having a full time nutritionist, look out for babbi chana with her new face to face project to be revealed at the pharmacy show. Pharma Nord have nutrition programs free for staff. In our ageing baby boomer population people are prepared to pay money to keep young and healthy.
Fact 1 in 3 people that visit your pharmacies buy VMS not from a retail pharmacy.
Boots is one of the main location to buy VMS in the UK, lloyds OTC sales are getting very strong now with their well designed shops.

4. Kenny I think more can be done with the brand and colour scheme, many companies have reversed their fortunes by changing their corporate image. Rowlands have all the components of a great business they may just need to be rearranged slightly.

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

Thought it interesting, but highly edited. Was it to inform or entertain?
When upper management go round the various stores, they are accompanied by area managers etc, & staff are not allowed to say what they really feel. Everything is all spit and polish.

Patricia Munro, Pharmacy technician

the issues facing pharmacy were not highlighted at all. Mr Black would be better visiting a pharmacy and working within it for a week to see the true picture.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Lets look at this from a sensible, logic way.

It is after all a TV show, which means you get to see only what they want to show you.

Even a dumbest of the person on earth would question or smell something fishy when some bloke (whatever disguise he is in) joins to at work with 10 different cameras following !! Looking at the quality of the videos and the different angles (including the one for moving camera) used, it cannot be an under-cover shoot.

So, of course it is a PR act. Otherwise, why would such a big firm, with different level of managers in place, require their boss to go under cover to discover that, everything is not well !! Either that or Mr. Black is simply an easy going guy who blindly puts his money in to the business, taking the word of these managers on the face value and out of touch with the real world.

Even if they had shown the conversations between Pharmacists and the BOSS, I don't think much would have come out anyway. Again the cameras following would alert the Pharmacist to think twice before any comment is made (it could be a GPhC/ BBC under-cover). So do you think any employee Pharmacist would risk his/ her job by telling how pressurised they are on targets. If they did, then by principal they are not fit for the job as they are not able to achieve the targets.

As all movies would end nicely, they ended this episode with some goodies. Nice trick, hope these goodies are distributed to many other employees who weren't lucky to be part of this show but still do a better job.

Simon Stevenson, Non healthcare professional

Kenny hasn't put any money in to the business - in fact all he does is take out of the business!

He's a Director of L Rowland & Co (Retail) Ltd (t/a Rowland's pharmacy) not a shareholder.

Rowland's are owned by Phoenix Pharmahandel in Germany although they would like their customers to think that they are a nice British family owned business.

Mike Johnson,

Really!
I think Chris Chapman's post in the PJ online hits the nail on the head. Although looking at the posts on here, I still dont think most of you will get the point but here goes.

Post
It was less of a revelation, more an affirmation. Rowlands Pharmacy faces the same problems as every community pharmacy, large or small, in the UK.

That was the take-home point from Kenny Black’s sojourn to the coal face in Channel 4’s “Undercover boss”, where the charismatic leader of the pharmacy giant donned a fat suit, goatee and glasses and waddled around the dispensary with staff oblivious to his identity. This in itself is quite a feat; Kenny leads a week-long conference for employees every year, which aims to get members of staff up to speed with the company’s priorities and up on the bar dancing during the evening’s entertainment. Kenny Black is not an anonymous corporate head.

Beyond the comic disguise, TV pageantry and personal moments (“Undercover boss” caters to the twee, and every episode ends with a saccharine ritual “reveal”, where employees get told how great they are and are given a prize), there was very little new. Pharmacies are understaffed – check. Out-of-stocks are a constant problem – check. Pharmacies are under threat from new entrants and government belt-tightening – check. This could have been any community pharmacy chain.

There were glaring omissions, too. The cameras made it seem like Kenny didn’t speak to a single pharmacist during his adventure. And his condemnation of the tat sold in one branch (“Tutankhamen’s head… it’s shit”) wasn’t new: Rowlands has been refitting branches to focus on its core health offering and expunge the bric-a-brac for years.

Yet although no one working in community pharmacy will be surprised by “Undercover boss”, it’s worth keeping in mind that was never the point. To millions of viewers, this lifted the lid on why they’re sat waiting for medicines they need. It showed them how hard — how desperately hard — pharmacy staff are working on their behalf. And it highlighted services unfamiliar to many who could benefit.

Kenny’s “mission” was not ground-breaking. And it was all the better for it.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Thanks for the lengthy blabber. I still don't get what you are trying to say?

Nalin Shah, Community pharmacist

stating the obvious always helps

Anne Butler, Locum pharmacist

Message to Kenny Black

Talk to your pharmacists.

Sack the buyers who bring in pot puppies and other tat.

Did you really not know that these were in your pharmacies?

Did you really think that not replacing a dispenser for a year would not have an adverse affect on waiting times.?

Do you ever do pharmacy visits and look at what is on the shelves and talk to your pharmacists?

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

PR rubbish

Another Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Come on Kenny. Please tell us that you actually engaged with your pharmacists during filming and it was just heavy-handed editing by the Channel 4 production team for the apparent oversight. Kenny?.......Kenny?

Stephen Thomas, Community pharmacist

I can confirm that five segments were filmed with a requirement to broadcast just four. The fifth segment, which was obviously not shown, was centred around a pharmacist and their experience of working in Rowlands Pharmacy. In addition, a considerable number of smaller pieces were filmed focussing on issues pertinent to pharmacists. Unfortunately, we had no editorial control over the segments used or the pieces to camera that were chosen and, as a consequence, Channel 4 picked the content of the show.

One of the key reasons we chose to engage with this project was to highlight the problems surrounding stock shortages. We are content that this issue has been highlighted to the public and we are hopeful that it will be further debated and discussed within pharmacy too.

Stephen Thomas
Rowlands Pharmacy

Gulliver Bear, Work for a health/commissioning consultancy company

Stephen at Rowlands - can you expand on the edited out bit - was it covered with regards to the lack of supporting staff making the profession looks bad - and unable to do the enhanced services that would now generate revenue that has been clawed out of dispensing? at 90p per item of dispensing fee plus category M claw back - and we have to do blister pack/medidose/adherence pack at own cost and deliver at own cost - no wonder pharmacy is not a lucrative business anymore. At least all Australian patients have to pay for their prescriptions (subsidised and means tested) and pay for their blisterpack/medidose/adherence pack if they need them at $5 per week (although some charges more or less. I would have liked to see what Kenny has to say for the profession he originally trained for, and the pressure and consequences of errors when pharmacists are working under pressure.

Paul Samuels, Community pharmacist

All the report highlighted was the inability to ensure that their waiting customers for medicine services got the best that could be offered.
Why was there no words from any of the pharmacists employed? Were these edited out of the programme.
As much as I admire Kenny Black for his willingness to show the pressures we all work under--it also highlighted the pressure we generally work under---short staffed/increasing workloads--ALL TO STAND STILL

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Not too hard to see why Rowland’s is seeing declining profits.

As some of us have observed in response to other C&D articles, the extensive promotion of “free” services can be commercial folly. The provision of medicines (prescriptions) the core service of community Pharmacy, now and for the foreseeable future. Neglect that for loss making services and you are doomed.

For example, I believe in programme it was stated that Rowland are spending £40M/Year on collection and delivery services. I suspect only a tiny fraction of this sum will be recouped buying customer loyalty and just consider how many OTC sales are lost as these customers have no need ever to set foot in a Pharmacy? If you want to provide such as service as a charitable gesture that is fine……just don’t complain when sales and profits dive.

It is also worrying that the Managing Director thinks that the problem of stock shortages can be solved merely by opening a second wholesaler account.

Finally, did I miss the part where Rowland’s Pharmacists were asked what they thought was going wrong with the Company and how they were coping with increased workload, MUR & NMS targets, stock shortages, staffing levels and trying on top to fit in loss making health care services? If you really do want to go undercover to find out what is going wrong with a Pharmacy Company these are the first employees you should be sounding out.

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