He’s a people person, a pharmacist, and probably most importantly to himself, a family man. Ed Whelan changed direction from industrial chemistry to undertake pharmacy. “I was looking at a life in a lab but, as someone from a family of seven, I was always around people and I enjoy that.”
Later, he changed direction from the directorship of a local pharmacy chain to set up his own Whelans Pharmacy in Gorey. “I did that so I could spend more time with my family. You get to the stage where your parents are not going to be around forever and the children are not going to be young forever, so time with family is important in these years.”
Husband to Veronica, and proud dad of James, Anna, and Clara, he’s a firm fan of work-life balance. “Weekends are sacrosanct, family is everything. And I take time off whenever the kids are off school. The hiring of our second pharmacist has allowed me greater scope to facilitate family and social commitments, including spending time with the kids and with my father – my mum died three years ago. I don’t work 60 to 80 hours a week – I believe in working as efficiently as possible when I’m at work. I would reflect on how I spend my time, how I can empower the staff, how I can meet the customers … “
A true family business, Veronica manages the back-office functions – the all-important bookkeeping that keeps the show on the road and promotional social media – from a home office, while Ed is the public face.
Customer service is also key cornerstone of what Whelans Pharmacy offers. “I work a lot on the counter – I’ll prepare the prescription and then hand it to the customer myself, asking them how they’re doing. We all thank customers for their business and really believe in doing the simple things right.” He’s also been known to deliver prescriptions himself and, if a customer lives on the way home, it’s not unknown for Ed or the other staff members to drop in the prescription when passing.
“I felt there was a gap for that old-style of pharmacist, where personal service was the thing, similar to what Paddy McCauley, Cecily Roche, and Michael Mackey had offered. We’re also lucky that the staff embrace that culture of customer service as well. That is what we look for when hiring people – and, again, if I’m not here, the business is run the same as it would if I was behind the counter. And that is down to having great staff.
“We will always try to find a way to work with the customers – never to say no – but to work with the customer, regardless of the request, and keep within the boundaries or the profession.”
Indeed, that level of service saw Whelans Pharmacy named Pharmacy of the Year in 2018 in the Irish Independent Retail Awards – a great achievement after just five years in business.
That community focused attitude is at the heart of the ethos of Whelans Pharmacy. Ed is very much in favour of the extension of the Minor Ailment Scheme, whereby pharmacists would be able to advise and recommend treatments for a specific list of minor ailments. This would have the effect of keeping minor ailments out of the GP surgery. “Our union is pushing for that – if someone can run their symptoms by us first and if we identify that the cause can be fixed without a prescription, then we would recommend a treatment. If people had more access to that service, that would help as it can be so hard to get an appointment with a GP.”
It’s all about people
With so many pharmacies in Gorey, people thought Ed and Veronica were mad to open the ninth pharmacy in the town in 2013. “It was simple, really. I was commuting from Dalkey to McCauley’s Pharmacy in Bunclody – that was a commute of one hour and 20 minutes.” Veronica is from south Dublin, Ed grew up in Ballycullane in south Wexford and, well, Gorey is half-way between both! Both of them are committed to the business and the maxim that ‘people buy from people’. “When I’m not working, I’m networking,” says Ed. He and Veronica are members of Courtown Golf Club, though Ed admits to being a fairweather player playing off a handicap of 21. “When I’m playing, I pick guys I don’t know. That way, I get to know new people and explain what we do.”
That ability to speak clearly is helped by his long involvement with Gorey Toastmasters. “I joined in 2013 as I wanted to develop confidence in speaking to people and networking. I was president in 2017 and take part in mentoring new members. You make a speech about three or four times a year – I would do mine on topics like work-life balance, stress, the importance of sleep.
“I really like it. You pick up loads of information from other speakers about different types of work, hobbies, interests. It helps with my work, not just in terms of speaking, but actively listening to customers and reading between the lines.”
On his downtime – and when he’s not playing golf in the fine weather! – he heads out to The Stables fitness and wellbeing centre and runs the odd 10k. A keen sports fan, he loves Gaelic football and has an All-Ireland colleges Gaelic football medal to his credit from his schooldays in New Ross’ Good Counsel College. He also played hurling for Wexford at underage level, and today follows the fortunes of the Irish rugby team.
For now, it’s family time, with trips to Africa and South America planned for the long-term future. “Veronica was born in Malawi – her Irish parents emigrated there – so we’re very interested in Africa and environmental holidays. In fact, our company is called Namaso Bay Ltd, which is in Malawi.”
Whelans Pharmacy, St Michael’s Road, Gorey
T: 053 943 0545
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn