"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.