The sibling duo offer their invaluable medical advice.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzalez
When I met Ashwina and Pairoj Grover, I was surprised by how young the sibling duo were, with the number of successes they have under their belts. 24 and 27 years old, respectively, the pair are co-owners of the Ratchapruek Medical Center (RDS Pharmacy), which in November of last year, opened its doors to the public – and is keeping them open, 24/7. One of the few 24-hour pharmacies in Bangkok, the centre also offers all-day medical consultation and delivery services. “This is something I’m really passionate about,” Pairoj, who brings the pharmaceutical expertise to the business, tells me. “I don’t think people should be forced to go to hospitals every time they have a minor ailment. I wouldn’t even mind if other pharmacies followed suit. It might be more competition for our business, but the goal is for our community to have a place to go at any time, that’s not necessarily a hospital.”
“On top of that, while you might be able to buy over-the-counter (OTC) medication late at night, you won’t get that medical consultation, which we have via messaging apps or by phone,” Ashwina, who specialises in rehabilitative medicine and mental health, chimes in. Coming at an opportune time in the wake of COVID-19’s ‘new normal’, the siblings hope that their pharmacy will be a vanguard of what Pairoj calls “the modern pharmaceutical era.”
Both siblings bring their individual experiences in the medical field to this venture: Pairoj graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy in Khon Kaen University before doing his internship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he focused on R&D and co-wrote a paper on his findings; while Ashwina graduated from the Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, in Mahidol University, and she’s currently working with the Thai Ministry of Health and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Regulatory Affairs (RA). They both spoke to Masala about their businesses’ highs, lows, and how prevention is always better than the cure.
How did your various professional experiences help shape where you are today?
Pairoj: I started as an R&D pharmacist in different companies, producing new generic drugs in Thailand so we wouldn’t have to import them from abroad. Many drugs in the pharmacy itself are my recipes, which I’m very proud of.
Other than that, in college I started my own company, Grover Garments. My parents and brother handle the company now, but it taught me how to run a business: the personnel, finance, and management.
Ashwina: I worked in hospitals specialising in people with physical disabilities, but I soon realised I wanted to explore mental disabilities as well, so that’s why I took an online course on mental illness from Harvard Medical School and shifted my job scope. In the pharmacy, while Pairoj prescribes the medicines, I can help with the medical counselling.
My work in RA also helps with the pharmacy – if there’s any drug that many of us feel is important for people in the country, we try to get it fast-tracked as much as possible.
I believe that you’re one of the few pharmacies that deliver drugs and medical supplies. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, we believe it’s imperative these days. We have our own delivery service, where we deliver for free if you’re only 3-5 kilometres away. We also use platforms like GrabMart and LINE Man, and we offer free postal service for any orders over THB 1,000. As is our motto, we deliver 24/7 and there’s no minimum limit – if you get the sudden urge to chew Vitamin C at night, you can get that fix! [Laughs]
Over the past year, the importance of health has been at the forefront of people’s minds. Have you noticed any changes in people’s health habits over the past year?
Post-COVID, we can now see how bad our habits used to be. Even something as small as blowing out candles on a cake, and then everybody eating that cake! We appreciate that people have become more cautious and hygienic – there’s a fine line between living loud and living safe. We’ve noticed that it’s helped people with diseases where they have to exercise control, like diabetes and hypertension. People also trust medical professionals more, and they’ve become more compliant with our advice. That compliance has helped the community as a whole.
What is the most challenging aspect of running your own pharmacy, and how have you overcome it?
Pairoj: Time. We both still have full-time jobs while running this pharmacy. My consultancy work with a lot of the big pharmas – on the operation and software side – would usually have me flying out every couple of weeks, so a small silver lining is that I’ve been grounded here and I’ve had more time to focus on the pharmacy. Even so, time is the most precious thing, but we’re fortunate to have a lot of help, such as from our little brother who’s just graduated from university.
The reason why we haven’t left our jobs to be full-time here is because we’re not one- track people. My idol, for example, is someone like Elon Musk who has his fingers in many pies. I believe that my sister and I don’t have to concentrate on just one thing to make it great.
Over the years, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
Ashwina: Being able to open my own business. Starting something with your own blood and sweat, it’s a feeling like no other.
Pairoj: She’s also being too humble. Everyone always gives the credit to R&D when a new drug is developed, but we always forget about the RA team. Without them, you can’t sell the drug in the country. She’s helping to bring in drugs like COVIFOR, which was one of the first few drugs that was being used to fight against COVID.
As for me, I’m proud of fulfilling my plan in the timeline that I gave myself. Without a timeline, it’s not a plan, it’s just a goal.
Ashwina, speaking of your background in RA, a lot of people are wondering about the vaccine rollout – can you weigh in on that?
Ashwina: It depends on the RA – they have to analyse the different vaccines’ storage conditions and stability, and see if they can be used in our country. However, I’m hoping that by September the general public should have access to it.
What is the most important medical advice that you would like to give to people, especially during these times?
Ashwina: More than just physical health, don’t forget that if you need help with any mental health issues you might have, even if you believe it to be the tiniest thing, find someone to talk to about it.
Pairoj: I think people have a lot of misconceptions that pharmacies will give you a drug for every small issue. We’re not in the business to sell drugs; we’re here to help you. Prevention is definitely better than the cure. As you can see from the design of the shop, everything on the outside is prevention – vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, etc. Only this small space behind the counter has the cures.
Where do you see yourself in the future, both personally and professionally?
Pairoj: The plan is to franchise the business as a 24-hour pharmacy, distribution centre, and maybe an R&D centre. In my personal life, I just want happiness – until my death bed!
Ashwina: I see myself expanding the business, but also my education – for example, I have plans to do a PhD. We also want to add things to our medical centre, which will be coming soon. At the end of the day, we’re more than just a pharmacy; we care more about people’s quality of life than the quantity of the business.