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E-commerce: prescription for success

Entrepreneur through and through: Pär Svärdson founded Apotea.se in 2011. The online pharmacy serves thousands of customers every day. Before purchasing, they can either get medical advice online or consult pharmacists on the phone

Photos: Johan

Bergmark / Apotea.se


His achievements as a consummate entrepreneur have garnered him numerous awards over the years. And yet his motto is very simple, says Pär Svärdson. His casual attire, jeans and a polo shirt, lends credence to his words: you can’t just wait for the perfect business concept! “That’d be like saying: I’m only going to start playing soccer when I’m as good as Zlatan Ibrahimović!” Instead, he claims, you have to start the ball rolling, hang tough and be prepared to change tack if need be!

 

Employing this tactic has proved remarkably successful for Pär Svärdson. Now in his late forties, he is the CEO and joint owner of Apotea.se, Sweden’s first full-scale pharmacy that only operates online. Founded in 2011, the company has already become firmly established in this Scandinavian country. The assortment of products comprises more than 17,000 items and includes prescription medicines.

 

In 2016, Apotea recorded sales totalling around one billion Swedish Krona (SEK; 106 million EUR; 115 million USD) compared to 585 million SEK (62 million EUR, 67 million USD) in the previous year. Every day, trucks loaded with thousands of packages leave the company’s warehouse, which is located 120 kilometers to the north of Stockholm and employs a staff of 200 people. Both figures, trucks and employees, are set to rise even further!

entrepreneurship isn’t rocket science

Even as a schoolboy, Svärdson heeded his own advice. He got the ball rolling and founded his first company at the tender age of 14. Although the project ended in failure, it taught the fledgling businessman a lesson that has stayed with him to this day: entrepreneurship isn’t rocket science.

 

After completing a double degree in economics and engineering, Svärdson joined a leading consultancy company as an IT consultant. There, he came across a kindred spirit: Fabian Fischer, now a joint owner of Apotea. “Fabian and I compiled a list of business ideas. Initially, we thought all of them were bad,” says Svärdson. Despite their reservations, the two of them decided to start an online bookstore. The year was 1997 and as yet there was no webshop in Sweden for books, let alone any other online company of note.

Always on the road: in 2015 DB Schenker delivered more than 500,000 consignments on behalf of Apotea.se. Photo: Deutsche Bahn AG
Always on the road: in 2015 DB Schenker delivered more than 500,000 consignments on behalf of Apotea.se. Photo: Deutsche Bahn AG

It was a bold move – but it was the right step to take and at just the right time! Svärdson and Fischer agreed on the name Adlibris, took the job of programming and IT into their own hands and found a book wholesaler as a partner. “Basically, we just duplicated his selection of titles on the internet. But because we didn’t consider his range large enough, we expanded it and rented space in a warehouse.”

 

That proved to be a stroke of luck for the company, which until then had not been very profitable. They found a warehouse landlord who granted them special conditions. The financier and former chairman of Volvo, Anders Wall, provided Svärdson and Fischer with as much space in a warehouse as they could afford – marked off by a line of sticky tape. “Whenever we started bursting at the seams, we would call him and say: ‘We need another five square meters’,” says Svärdson with a laugh. “And then we simply moved the sticky tape.”

Deliveries to 1,600 parcel service points

Pär Svärdson’s cooperation with DB Schenker goes back to the time when he ran Adlibris. The land transport network the logistics service provider operates in Sweden is one of the densest in the world, and the company is particularly efficient when it comes to parcel deliveries. DB SCHENKERprivpack is the name of its parcel service tailored specifically to mail-order and e-trade companies that deliver to private persons. And it is this particular product that is now benefitting Apotea customers.

 

The number of deliveries in the year 2015: exactly 502,221. In general, the parcels are transported in three stages. Initially, they are forwarded to the DB Schenker terminal in the nearby city of Västerås. Depending on their final destination, they are then transported to one of more than 25 terminals located around the country before being delivered to one of 1,600 Parcel Service Points. These are kiosks or gas stations where customers can pick up their parcels, a long-established practice in Scandinavia. “We have been using DB Schenker’s services for many years now, and they have always been a reliable, perceptive and innovative partner in the challenges we have been through regarding logistics,” says the entrepreneur.

 

But how did Svärdson and Fischer get involved with Apotea? Once their online bookshop had gained momentum, they accepted a takeover bid by the media company Bonnier and in 2010 the co-partners sold their last shares in Adlibris. They launched Apotea in the following year. At first, the company operated from the same warehouse. They simply removed the books from the shelves and replaced them with pills, ointments and other medicinal products. And it took next to no time for DB Schenker to adapt to the new product range.

 

The basis for the start-up was a small mail-order pharmacy that they snapped up before it went bankrupt. The entrepreneurial duo quickly realized that as the state monopoly on pharmacies in Sweden had only been liberalized a few years earlier, the market for corresponding online suppliers remained largely untapped. That is when Svärdson’s motto came into play: don’t wait for the perfect idea, just start the ball rolling!

 

Svärdson is intent on pursuing further growth with Apotea, and he is confident that he will succeed. “When we launched Adlibris, the share of books purchased online virtually stood at zero.” Today, that figure has increased to around 40 percent. “And I can think of no reason why online trade in books should be higher than that of pharmaceuticals in the future – quite the opposite.”

Vast assortment: Apotea.se stocks more than 17,000 items, including prescription medicines. Apart from the online pharmacy, Pär Svärdson also has a participating interest in other online shops

Photos: Johan Bergmark / iStock/Thomas Vogel



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