Mitesh Soma is perfectly willing to admit the inspiration for his online pharmacy ChemistDirect came from his wife Krishna. Her high street chemist shop was the catalyst for the former IT consultant to take the proposition online – and with the first eight months’ turnover topping £2m, the couple haven’t looked back since.
“A lot more people are going online to buy everyday items,” says Mitesh. “They buy their grocery shopping, their books, their DVD’s. Having a background in IT, I thought it would be a good idea to bring the power of the internet to bear on pharmacy.”
Mitesh’s idea of selling health, medical and beauty products online was compelling enough to convince his wife to sell her pharmacy – so he didn’t have to go into competition with her. Armed with her supplier contacts and the cash from the sale of original chemist the couple set about building their new team.
Starting out was hard work, according to Mitesh: “I needed a team to build the website and to arrange with accounting people and so on. When we started we just had a handful of people, maybe three or four: it was all hands on deck! We were all picking and packing the orders and getting them out.”
The company quickly grew and evolved according to Mitesh’s ambitious and aggressive business plan, far surpassing the million pound mark in under a year. Mitesh continued to fund the business with any profits made, which enabled him to establish a warehouse and a customer service department. Currently, the company employs some 40 staff members at a warehouse and distribution centre in Birmingham, as well as a team of pharmacists and product buyers.
“As time has gone on, we’ve had to develop teams and put management in place to look after different divisions, and turn it into a proper company.”
But successful as the business has been to date, Mitesh has come up against significant industry resistance. The company’s online model allows it to sell its range of 25,000 products at prices often severely undercutting the high street. As a result, Mitesh has had run-ins with suppliers. One refused to deal with him completely, claiming the enterprise was ‘devaluing the role of the pharmacist’ by selling products too cheaply. The case is currently under review with the Office of Fair Trading.
Mitesh has not been deterred yet, however, and has big plans on the horizon: “It’s early days for us, and we’ve still got energy to pursue this further and make it more successful. We want to be one of the big players in the online space. We want to be recognised as one of the brands that people can trust.”
The recent Startups Award for retailer of the year didn’t do the company any harm on that front. “It’s been great for myself and for my team; winning the award felt like a recognition of the hard work that had been put in and it’s really raised our profile.”