Big picture, every detail

Juggling business and family

Building her pharmacy business has been a labour of love for Melbourne businesswoman Perri McCarthy, and NAB has helped her every step of the way.

Perri McCarthy knew something had to give the day she found a galah sitting in one of her pharmacy dispensaries.

When asked what the bird was doing there, her pharmacy assistant replied: “Oh, that’s George. He wasn’t feeling well today so I thought I’d bring him into work.”

At the time, Perri was the owner of four pharmacies – with three children under the age of five. Overseeing all seven was proving impossible.

Perri immediately walked out the door and called a pharmacy broker she knew. “It was the tipping point,” she recalls. “I said to him, ‘I’m selling one of my shops. I can’t handle it anymore. I have three kids under five and I’ve got no control of what’s going on in there.’”

Daring to take risks

Plenty of water has flown under the bridge since then, but, as her children have grown, so has Perri’s appetite for growth. Today, while single-handedly juggling the highs and lows of three teenagers, she’s the proud owner of five pharmacies.

It helps that she’s living her dream. From high school, Perri knew she wanted to be a pharmacist. With an aptitude for science, she had decided it would be the perfect way to one day own her own business while raising a family.

Perri loves the personal side of running a pharmacy – she gets a lot of satisfaction from helping her customers, some of whom she has known for years – but above all she’s a businesswoman. And, while she didn’t plan to build a business empire, it suited her nature.

“I’ve got ambition. I like to have a crack at things that others wouldn’t and I’m willing to take some risks to do it. Some people can’t go to sleep at night with a debt hanging over their head. I can, as long as I know I can pay it.”

The power of long-term support

NAB has supported Perri’s big ideas – at a personal and business level. In particular, Perri is grateful to her business banker, Steve Haase, who has been there for her through many an opportunity and challenge.

“I’ve had a few business bankers over time, and they’ve all been good, but Steve’s been my business banker for more than 13 years now and he knows me well and knows how I work.”

She explains that it’s been invaluable having a banker who can help with her personal and business affairs. “He gets the whole picture. I can ring him on a Monday and say, ‘Guess what I did on the weekend? I bought a property.’ And he won’t fall over backwards … he’s really got my back.”

An instinct for success

While Perri keeps a careful eye on her bottom line – ensuring her expenses don’t overwhelm her revenue – she often proceeds on instinct when it comes to buying another business. As she admits, there wasn’t ever a grand plan. “I think I operate a bit through gut feel more than strict planning.”

Nevertheless, there’s still an element of rigour to the process as she puts her growth plans to Steve. “He really understands my businesses and helps tick all the boxes.”

It’s a formula that has worked. Over the past 20 years, Perri’s acquired seven pharmacies. Along the way, she’s also bought three investment properties as well as three family homes.

Sticking with it through tough times

Of course, there have been financial challenges along the way, among them remaining competitive against the big discount chains and budgeting for rent. “Often rent is a little over the mark in the areas I’m in and it’s difficult to pay it at times,” Perri explains.

These issues have only intensified through COVID-19 – Perri’s two inner-city pharmacies are currently loss-making, forcing her to let staff go. Rather than try to sell them during the current difficult conditions, though, Perri says she’s in “for the long haul”.

“I think I’ve got to stick in there and trade through and try to get them back out and up again.”

That’s been her approach throughout. “Although I’ve had some ups and downs in my life, I think I’ve done a really good job of protecting what I’ve built up and of rebuilding again each time I’ve had a knock.”

And she’s never doubted what she’s doing. “I guess I'm lucky in that way – I found something I like doing and I'm still enjoying it.” As she explains: “I don’t find it scary; I find it invigorating.”

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