I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Swaminathan, the General Manager of Vaccine Point, Madurai. He brings with him a wealth of experience in the pharma industry. Under him, Vaccine Point has grown steadily and is now one of the largest Vaccine distributors in India.
Tell us about your business
We have been in the pharma & vaccines business for the last 24 years covering the entire South Tamil Nadu. We deal with import & export products. We were the first to start the vaccines business in Tamil Nadu and have always made such bold pioneering steps in our business since then. We gained a monopoly over the market in the first few years & have remained market leaders throughout. Ever since we started using GoFrugal DE6, 11 years ago, our growth has been fast, sustainable & constant. Today with a 4 floor warehouse, 5 coolant rooms, 14 salesmen and 20 delivery boys, we are one of the biggest distributors in India.
What makes you different from other distributors?
The vaccines business is highly temperature sensitive. One small temperature can spoil an entire batch of very high value vaccines. We also deal with a lot of emergency medicines which means we can’t wait till the end of the day to deliver them. Maintaining the right temperature & quality of drugs can be the difference between a life saved & a life lost. We have 5 coolant rooms with 24 hours monitoring of temperature. We give our doctors the ease of monitoring the temperature of the vaccines 24/7 using a mobile app. This gives them the confidence about our quality of service at all times.
When you started your business, you were the pioneers in Tamil Nadu but today, a lot of people have seen you and started their own vaccine businesses. How are you a market leader for 24 years?
At Vaccine Point, we strongly believe in giving the best experience. In the last 24 years, we have adapted to a lot of changes & trends in the market. We are always working hard to give everyone the best experience. By this, I mean not only our customers but our staff as well. Whether it is our billing counter staff, picker, packer or our salesmen, we give them the best technology to ensure that their work is easy & they don’t waste time on manual work.
Wow, that sounds interesting. Can you tell us more about how you give your counter staff a great experience?
That was the easy part. I just gave them GoFrugal DE6. My staff find the software very easy to use & the software has all the market needs of a pharma distributor. My staff are able to effectively bill fast with information like customer’s bill-wise outstanding, batch details of the product & customer-wise rate history on the billing screen helping them make the right decisions immediately. GoFrugal has brought in automation to my business and this has helped us scale up quickly.
With your drugs on 4 different floors, you must be spending a lot of time on picking and packing them when an order comes in. How do you manage all this manual work?
When orders come in, we generate a pickslip after converting them into bills. Then this pickslip is sent upstairs to the godown for the pickers and packers to pick up the drugs. A rack number wise pickslip ensures that my pickers are efficient & reduces their manual work considerably. All our pickslips are barcoded and this helps a lot with the packing and dispatch.
After the products are picked up, my packers first check all the items. Here, instead of physically crossing out individual items or typing names, they can simply scan the barcode against the pickslip. Similarly while loading into trucks, we use barcode scanning to automate this process as well. In fact, even when we receive acknowledgements from our customers for the delivered invoice, we scan them to keep track of each acknowledged invoice. All this helps me manage my business with better transparency & accuracy. I know the efficiency of each of my employees whether it is the pickers, the packers or the delivery boys.
This is certainly a very well managed business with the right systems in place. Could you please tell us more about how you manage your sales force? With your pickers & packers, you can have tight control as they are working right at your office. But with a large team of 34 employees on the field, managing them must be hard.
I have 14 salesmen & 20 delivery boys in total. Initially, managing them used to be a struggle & I used to have a dedicated team just to answer their queries. But now everything has changed. I have given all my salesmen & delivery boys a mobile app called EarnSmart. With real time data on current stock, batch-wise expiry, offers & rates, our reps can take orders, bill & generate receipts easily on the go.
We also used to always face the problem of internal rotation. This caused a lot of friction with customers as sending reminders after they had paid gave a bad impression to them. We used to think they were paying us late & they used to assume that we always generated receipts & processed cash payments late. Today we use OTP verification for receipts & this is very popular among our customers. All our customers today are demanding to use it and I see a tremendous improvement in customer relationship because of this.
How do you retain your customers? Today, the biggest problem for a distributor is customer retention. What do you have to say about that?
I certainly agree. Today, with several options to choose from, customer retention is the biggest concern for most distributors. But I believe we cracked this one. We realized very early that giving deep discounts & running excessive schemes & offers would only cut into our already razor thin margins. This forced to think out of the box. We recognized that customers were looking to enjoy a great relationship with the distributor rather than get a small discount. We adopted the best tools in the market to give them the best possible experience. If our customers are happy, we are happy too.
First we brought in EarnSmart. Apart from OTP verification, it also ensured that all orders were delivered on time. This gave us credibility & dependability. Customers trust us to deliver the products on time & in this business, an on time delivery can be the difference between life and death.
Next, we gave our customers WebOrder, an online portal to place orders while knowing the real time stock & offers. This allowed our customers to order whenever they ran out of stock without waiting for our reps. I am very happy to see the great feedback I have received from all our customers about WebOrder. Accurate accounting & outstanding reports from TRAC accounting software & automated timely reminders & thank you messages have completed this loop. We are proud to have great customers who keep coming back to us for the great experience we give them. We are looking forward to more such tools to further improve the incredible relationship with our customers.
This is really impressive. I now understand how you have been at the very top for all these years. As the General Manager of this booming business, what do you do on a daily basis & how do you take care of all these different operations? Does it get stressful? Are you always on the move?
As with everyone, there are bad days & there are good days at work. But most of the time, I am able to get my work done sitting in the comfort of my chair. I sit and explore all the extensive reports GoFrugal has given us. Their reports are certainly very interesting to use. We can plan for the future with these reports and using all the reports can really take our business to the next level. I use WhatsNow on my mobile as a constant companion. Carrying my business in my pocket really eases my load & whenever I want a detailed number crunch, I just log into SmartReports. Together, WhatsNow & SmartReports are incredible tools that give me the power of monitoring my business from the comfort of my home. I would say this makes my job almost completely stress free.