Bringing pharmaceuticals to the millions who struggle to afford medicine in the Philippines has been a lifetime’s work for Benjamin Liuson in his family-run business. With almost 2,000 franchise pharmacies now open under The Generics Pharmacy (TGP) brand, his goal is to have another 2,000 open within the next 10 years. Benjamin says it was always the plan to offer medicine at prices people could afford when he joined the business, bought by his parents in 1959, more than 40 years ago.
Benjamin Liuson brings generic medicine to the Philippines
“Even during the 70s, I already noticed that the prices of medicine in the Philippines were beyond the reach of the majority,” explains Benjamin. TGP tried to promote generic medicine through sales representatives by giving samples to doctors, but made little headway. Despite offering pharmaceuticals at low prices, TGP – then trading as Pacific Pharmaceuticals – found drug stores inflating prices to make a profit.
The family decided the solution was to open its own 100% generic drugstore in 2001. “People at that time did not know what generic medicine was, and we had a hard time convincing people and doctors that it was to their advantage,” Benjamin explains. However, news of the pharmacy spread and sales increased gradually until, in 2006, customers were travelling up to two hours on public transport to get to their closest pharmacy and asking if there were more stores in other locations.
TGP had to consider the best strategy for opening more pharmacies – whether the stores should be owned by the company or operate with a franchising model. “The reason we went into franchising was because we knew we could move quickly,” Benjamin notes. “That was in the middle of 2007. In the first three and a half years, we were able to open around 900 stores. We averaged about 300 stores a year,” he says proudly.
I noticed that the prices of medicine in the Philippines were beyond the reach of the majority.
All the stores are currently located within the Philippines, but opening pharmacies in Indonesia and Vietnam is a real possibility after TGP partnered with Robinsons Retail Group last year. “They came in and bought 51%, and through this partnership there is now the possibility to go into other Asian countries. Robinsons already has business in about seven Asian countries,” says Benjamin. There could soon be pharmacies based on the TGP model in Indonesia, Burma, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
The Generics Pharmacy [!tgp!] provides affordable pharmaceuticals
TGP still owns and operates a pharmacy in Parañaque, where the main company offices are based. Benjamin explains that while the other stores are not run by the family business, the franchise owners must adhere to strict TGP rules. “All franchisees have to follow whatever we implement. They have to follow every detail we set concerning retail price, what to carry, and what not to carry,” states Benjamin.
He says the medicines sold are not just a little lower in price than they are elsewhere; they are considerably discounted, often by a staggering 80% to 90%. He uses the number one paracetamol tablet in the Philippines as an example of the difference between generic and branded medicine prices. “In the Philippines, the leading brand is retailing at P3.00. Our paracetamol equivalent is P0.60 per tablet. That’s 80% less.”
Another product TGP is selling at a much lower price is amlodipine 5mg, a medicine to treat hypertension. The leading brand retails generally for P23.00 while TGP offers an equivalent from Sandoz, which sells for P4.50 per tablet, 80% less. The pharmacy also offers a locally manufactured alternative for P1.00, which is a saving of 95%.
Ensuring medication stays accessible
Benjamin is now involved in the business in a consultancy role while two of his daughters run the pharmacy company, one handling the finances while the other concentrates on operations. He says they all work well together, although there are obviously differences of opinion at times.
He believes success in business comes down to some key factors: a high-quality product; selling at an affordable price; ensuring the product is accessible to the market; and advertising so people know it is available. He will continue to call for limitations on what drugs private doctors can promote within the Philippines, believing that if they are encouraged to prescribe generic medicines instead of the more expensive branded equivalents, many more people would benefit.
“Since 2007, our key priority has been to make these medicines accessible. That’s why we have a presence almost everywhere in the Philippines, except for two locations: Jolo and Batanes,” he explains, saying it is only a matter of time before the pharmacies are there too. The final step is advertising, so people know about the product. Benjamin says TGP has a substantial budget for marketing its wares on multimedia and digital touchpoints, spending more than many other pharmacies.
And as a devoted Christian, Benjamin says his goal is to make it to heaven by believing in Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord. To this aim, his company has given out around two million copies of the Bible, for free, every year, over the past five or six years. In addition, it remains his mission, 40 years on, to ensure medicines are accessible and affordable to as many people as possible in the Philippines.