Published: 18 February, 2008
Boots, which now has a string of retail outlets across the Republic, has found Ireland a great market for healthy sales and margins since it arrived in 1996. Substantial expansion is on the cards, helped by the fact that in a highly intensive marketplace, supermarkets sell limited amounts of over-the-counter pharmaceutical products and in-store pharmacies are virtually unknown.
What is now Alliance Boots, Europe's biggest pharmacy-led health and beauty group, has long been trading in Northern Ireland, where it has more than 80 outlets trading under both the Boots and Bairds brands, in both high street and shopping centre locations.
No 7, the leading brand of skincare in Ireland and the UK, is wholly owned by Boots and has been sold by non-Boots pharmacies throughout Ireland since 1976. But Boots didn't open its first retail outlet in the Republic until 12 years ago, in the Jervis centre in central Dublin.
Currently Boots has 45 retail outlets in the Republic, which are divided between high street and shopping centre locations. Six further outlets are due to open before this summer and by 2011, Boots plans to have well over 100. These new branches will be either developed through organic growth or by acquisition.
The first acquisition Boots made in Ireland was of the Hayes Conyngham Robinson (HCR) chain in the Dublin area. This new expansion plan, between now and 2011, is costed at €50m. All new Boots stores will have a pharmacy.
The company also has a substantial programme to upgrade its existing shops, with about half given the makeover treatment so far. This includes the introduction of consulting rooms and in some stores, a completely new pharmacy.
Boots' largest Irish store, at Liffey Valley shopping centre, has seen the introduction of a new Origins area. Boots in Grafton Street (originally an HCR outlet) was refurbished very recently - it has the best sales per square metre of any of Boots' Irish outlets.
Close to 1,500 people are employed by Boots in the Republic and a high priority is set on training and providing excellent levels of customer service. For the first time, Boots has entered the Irish Independent's list of the top 100 places to work in Ireland. For its current financial year, turnover is likely to be close to €250m, with profits of about 10 per cent, judging by recent results.
The company works closely with the government, health professions and primary care organisations to develop and expand its community pharmacist role. It also supports initiatives from such organisations as the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation, to help improve people's health and wellbeing.
In terms of its retail mix, Boots has a wide range of own brand products, including No 7, Soltan and exclusive products from Toni & Guy, Sanctuary and Botanics.
The Boots Republic of Ireland Advantage loyalty card was launched four years ago and is described as the most rewarding in Ireland, with 10 per cent of the Irish population using it regularly.
Boots puts its success in Ireland down to a number of factors, including quality products, great value, fantastic service and the Advantage Card. Products include pharmacy and non-pharmacy healthcare lines; vitamins, cosmetics, toiletries, photo products, electrical beauty items and baby products.
While many other retailers in Ireland reported less than scintillating Christmas sales at the end of 2007, Boots says that its Christmas trading in 2007 was the best it had ever enjoyed in Ireland.
Clearly Boots in Ireland is a jewel in the crown for its group, and Boots' Irish experience probably has valuable precepts for other parts of the group.
Rhys Iley, Boots' director in Ireland, says that Boots aims to be Ireland's best pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer. "Ireland has a dynamic and unique market, fuelled by a growing population. Boots has invested in that growth," says Iley. "Although there is currently an economic slowdown, the fundamentals remain strong and we look forward to developing Boots in Ireland."