Traditional family value
DEREK Fehily grew up in Wexford town – like many of his business generation, the family home atop the family's pharmacy in South Main Street.
These days no-one lives in what used to be his home and in place of the old kitchen where his dinners were lovingly prepared, there is a swish new robot that delivers and labels prescriptions to the pharmacy downstairs. The automated system, officially called a Censis robot, is the first of its kind in County Wexford and is part of an upgrade of the the business that Derek decided to embark on earlier this year, despite the recession.
'It speeds up the process and reduces errors and gives us more time to spend with customers,' said Derek. He is candid about how the downturn in business has affected his own business and says turnover is down 40 per cent on the good days.
Despite this, he says he has been able to keep all six members of staff.
'Main Street has had its own hit on footfall and there has been an inevitable downwards pressure on drug prices,' he said.
There has been recent criticism of the wide variation in prescription prices, but Derek is quick to point out that only a few short years ago people were complaining that prices were too similar and there was no competition.
'This isn't the first recession this business has come through and I suppose the ideal time to invest in the future is when things are a bit cheaper,' he said.
Derek said he could see no sign of the much-forecast and must talked up green shoots of recovery, but was confident things would improve. 'The first three months of the year were very tough on the main street. The weather had a lot to do with it,' he said. 'And I think it will be next year before things start to pick up but from a pharmacy perspective people will always be sick.
'When some of the empty lots on the main street start getting filled that will be a clear sign that change is on the way,' he said.
Derek said the business had changed hugely in the 10 years he had been involved in it since returning from England where he worked as a pharmacist at the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary. 'There are a lot of new pharmacies now and we have to offer a lot of services we wouldn't have done before, things liks cholesterol testing and blood pressure monitoring.
'And with the increasing age of the population, we are making up large numbers of (drug) packs for elderly patients.'
With increasing numbers of large pharmacies and both domestic and foreign multiples, there has never such pressure on family businesses to compete.
'You have to change to remain viable, to offer customers something extra,' he said, adding that a family-owned pharmacy was quite rare these days, although Wexford had managed to retain many of its more traditional businesses.
'There is a cohort of family businesses on
this part of the main street – a cluster of busy shops.'
Derek's late father John opened Fehily's in 1960. The house, built in the 1800s, had previously been a hat shop and probably had many earlier incarnations with different shop fronts. 'I came home to settle down,' said Derek, whose wife Kesree is expecting their first child.
He has fond memories of growing up in the old house with his brothers, the boys all born there.
When the family left to set up home elsewhere in the town in the 1980s, six guards took up residence there. 'It was great for security,' he said.