“It’s a great time to be a small business. The tools that are available now allow us to reach an audience that we historically couldn’t reach.”Anthony Qaiyum
Founded in 1875, Merz Apothecary is considered by many to be a Chicago landmark. For five generations, the pharmacy has been home to a rich collection of unique, hard-to-find goods from all over the world. “We’re not your traditional pharmacy,” says President Anthony Qaiyum. “We carry everything from natural remedies to grooming products to home fragrances. People always say, ‘If you can’t find it at Merz, you won’t find it anywhere else!’” Anthony’s father, who purchased Merz in 1972, managed to grow the business during a time when most independent pharmacies were giving way to large chain drug stores. Anthony attributes their steady growth to the fact that “Merz has always done things differently.” In addition to selling non-traditional products, the “143-year-old startup,” as he likes to call it, has always been quick to embrace the power of technology.
Merz Apothecary took their first online order in 1997. Fast forward two decades, and 85 percent of the business’s marketing budget is now dedicated to digital. They use AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to reach customers who are searching for their specialty products. “AdWords is the magical vehicle that gets you in front of the people who really need what you’re selling,” explains Anthony. “Together with Google Search, it drives nearly half of our online revenue,” he adds. The company shares fun and informative product reviews on their YouTube channel, which has garnered over 1.5 million views. They announce product launches, special sales, and extended hours via their Google My Business listings. And with insights from Google Analytics, they’re able to both “figure out problems and identify opportunities on our website,” says Anthony.
Today, Merz Apothecary has two storefronts in Chicago, an e-commerce platform that services 35,000 customers annually, a direct mail operation that sends hundreds of thousands of catalogues to customers across the country, a wholesale division, and an export business that ships products to Europe. Their yearly sales continue to grow at a double-digit rate, and since Anthony joined the family business full-time in 2000, they have gone from 12 employees to 60. “As the owner of Merz, I feel like I’m the caretaker of a piece of history. And I take that duty very seriously,” says Anthony. “I want to leave this business better and stronger than it was when I joined. That’s my passion, and it’s gratifying to know that we're working towards that.”