Automated Drugstore Concept ‘Pharmabox’ Aims to Disrupt Canadian Retailing

By Megan Harman

A disruptive U.S.-based automated drugstore concept called Pharmabox is breaking into the Canadian market with plans to expand across the country.

Pharmabox, Inc., based in Miami, launched three years ago and now operates approximately 30 of its self-service kiosks across the U.S. and on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The kiosks sell more than 140 items typically carried in pharmacies, such as shave gel, cough syrup, mouthwash, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant and over-the-counter pain killers, such as Tylenol and Advil, among many other items.

The company has engaged Terry Samuels, owner of retail consulting company Tersam Management in Toronto, to manage the company’s expansion into Canada and internationally. Samuels says he’s already seen broad interest from many different regions.

“We’re getting inquiries from all around the world—without any marketing, just from people seeing the machines, and they’ve been reaching out,” he says. “The machines are eye-catching and innovative. They’re doing very well.”

Pharmabox aims to provide convenient destinations for consumers to buy everyday items in high-traffic areas, such as shopping centres, casinos, airports, colleges, universities, fitness centres and hospitals.

“It’s applicable in many places,” Samuels says. “We all get headaches often, and you don’t always want to go looking for a headache pill.”

Example of products Available in pharmabox. Photo: Pharmabox Website

Example of products Available in pharmabox. Photo: Pharmabox Website

The machines feature touch-screen displays and accept cash, credit cards, Apple Pay and Android Pay. They also feature software that automatically notifies the company when a product is low on stock, to ensure it can be restocked quickly.

As the company expands, it’s looking for licensees to partner with. According to Samuels, the concept presents a potentially lucrative opportunity for businesses “that would like to have a grab-and-go impulse model to fulfill the immediate grab-and-go needs of the consumer in high traffic environments.”

Although Pharmabox has had success in shopping centres in the U.S. market, expanding into shopping centres in Canada could be a challenge, Samuels notes, since many malls already have large drug stores as tenants. However, he sees potential for major pharmacy chains such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall to partner with Pharmabox, to establish additional convenient points of sale for their customers.

For retailers that are struggling with high rent costs, Samuels says the kiosks could allow them to reduce the size of their stores, and create a supplemental point of sale within a shopping centre. 

“What that would do, ultimately, is reduce their costs in mall space,” he says. “They’ll still have the big mall space, but less—and they’d have a point of convenience machine.”

Samuels expects to eventually secure licensees for Pharmabox machines across Canada.

*Photos in this article are via Pharmabox.

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Megan Harman is a business reporter based in Toronto. She writes about topics including retail, financial services and technology. Megan covers Toronto’s retail industry through her blog Retail Realm (torontoretail.wordpress.com). Follow her on Twitter at @meganmharman.

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