FINDING SOLUTIONS

Ecuador 2013 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Luis Enrique Coloma, CEO of Corporación GPF, on the health retail segment, competitive advantages, and the state of the sector.

What is your personal view of Ecuador's current economic situation?

Ecuador has gone through several years of favorable economic performance and there are interesting opportunities to capitalize on in the future. It is noticeable that the government has made significant investments and advancements in roads, public health, and education, as well as in public security, adding value to the principles of El Buen Vivir, endorsed by President Correa. Likewise, the private sector has recently experienced some prosperous years for business; however, to continue contributing to economic and social development at an adequate pace, it needs assurance that a stable and healthy business environment will be promoted in the country. A strong and competitive private sector is one of the best instruments a government has to stimulate economic expansion and job creation.

What are your near-term economic expectations?

It is essential that the government and the private sector continue working together and strengthening constructive relationships to generate growth opportunities that improve the living conditions of Ecuadoreans. We believe that 2013 will be similar to 2012 in terms of business performance. However, we cannot ignore the implications of the European crisis and the slowdown of certain important Asian economies, which could impact growth in our region. Similarly, the recent visit of President Correa to Germany raised expectations regarding the possibilities of creating commercial agreements with the EU. The strategic decision to change Ecuador's productive matrix may also bring investment opportunities that could stimulate sustainable economic development.

“It is essential that the government and the private sector continue working together."

What do you foresee for the health sector in the years ahead?

Our business is related to healthcare and wellbeing in the pharmaceutical and convenience retail sectors. Our two main retail brands are Fybeca and SanaSana; both are emblematic and recognized in Ecuador as the service and trustworthiness leaders of the industry. Pharmaceutical retail is very important for society as it contributes to public health, thereby improving living standards. Currently, this sector is quite competitive in Ecuador, with thousands of retail businesses of different sizes participating in the market. Available data estimates over 6,400 points of sale nationwide. Therefore, it becomes crucial to have updated regulations that account for the consumer's growing needs in a fair and ethical competitive environment that promotes fair prices, product availability, and quality of medicines and health products. Corporación GPF exclusively participates in the retail business, making medicines and healthcare products available to consumers nationwide, with the highest levels of quality, service, and value.

What reforms are needed in your sector?

In Ecuador, most medicine prices in the pharmaceutical retail sector are regulated and one of the industry's main challenges is to remain competitive and profitable. We consider that an essential reform for our sector is improvement in the efficiency and timeliness of health permits granted by state authorities for medicines, non-medicine supplements, and food products. This process has historically been overly bureaucratic and time consuming, obstructing the offering of the latest and most innovative products to the market. We are aware that the government is carrying out several important reforms to address this situation, and we look forward to adding value during the socialization of those projects.

How did your company grow and what are your competitive advantages?

Corporación GPF has been a pioneer in the pharmaceutical retail sector serving the community medicines and complementary products for over 83 years, making us the most experienced company in Ecuador in this field. Our retail business started back in 1930 with a small drugstore located in the historic center of Quito, and thanks to ethical and devoted hard work, it grew to become the leading brand in the Ecuadorean pharmaceutical retail sector. Ever since, we have honored our founder's business philosophy: “Integrity fosters trust." Our business strategies are focused on providing solutions to our clients and not just products. In addition to pharmaceutical and health goods, we deliver value-added convenience with the guarantee of quality at the right price. Furthermore, Corporación GPF employs over 5,000 people, making us one of the largest employers in Ecuador. We apply consistent corporate responsibility standards contributing not only to our client's health, but also improving the living conditions of the communities we serve. The latter is reflected in our Sustainability Report, “Memoria Corporativa 1930-2011", granted A+ by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

What are the main goals and objectives for the coming years?

Corporación GPF will continue implementing its philosophy of bringing pharmaceutical and health solutions with value, accessibility, and social responsibility as widely as possible throughout Ecuador. We are present in every province of Ecuador, including the Galápagos Islands. We are an efficient convenience retail group that goes beyond medicine supply with several other complementary health and convenience retail products that provide high-value solutions to our clients. Currently, our expansion strategy is concentrated in Ecuador and we differentiate ourselves from our competitors by offering top-quality service, innovation, and high value in everything we undertake.

Who are your suppliers?

Our suppliers are leading local and international pharmaceutical laboratories and distributors. Our goal is to offer the broadest possible product availability with competitive prices and quality assurance. We highly value our suppliers and aim to establish long-term relationships. We are always looking for ways to improve cooperation with them to offer innovative and better-value products and services to our clients.

Do you consider the entry of new distributors and retailers to be possible?

This market has many competitors at the retail level. New companies are coming in all the time and there are also several pharmaceutical distributors that have relatively recently entered into the retail business. Competition is good for everybody, as long as it is exercised on an ethical and level playing field. We have been doing business for over 83 years, exceeding our clients' and market expectations. We have also been acting as an ethical and responsible partner with our employees, customers, allies, and the communities we serve. These attributes of Corporación GPF are widely recognized and respected in Ecuador and constitute our most valuable asset.

What types of medicine are the most popular?

The most demanded medicines in Ecuador are those used to treat respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, and locomotive apparatus conditions. Baby milk formulas are also highly demanded. We always strive to offer our clients a one-stop-shop for all their prescription requirements. Customers are not only looking for a prescription, but for good service, convenience, trustworthiness, and value.

What trends do you see in your clients?

Ecuadorean consumers are following the trend of the retail business in other countries. They are not just looking for products; they are looking for solutions. They do not just want a client-to-supplier relationship; they want to establish an emotional connection with the companies they are buying from, particularly in purchases as important as medicine and health products. They want excellent service, convenience, and good value. Assortment is an important aspect and clients expect more solutions at a single location. We are working toward meeting these trends and exceeding our customers' expectations.

© The Business Year - November 2013