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entrepreneurial spirit

Andrea Bau is the co-owner of Custom Care Pharmacy & Compounding Centre.

Andrea Bau is a pharmacist at Custom Care Pharmacy & Compounding Centre in Oshawa, Ont.

On our way to work one dreary winter morning, my husband and I received shocking news. The Target Pharmacy we owned had opened on July 15, 2013, in Oshawa, Ont., and on Jan. 15, 2015, exactly 18 months later, we heard on the radio that Target was shuttering all its Canadian department stores and leaving the country.

I panicked as I listened and thoughts raced through my head. We had recently moved to Oshawa, we had just hired a new employee, and photographs had been taken and orders placed just the previous week for marketing material. What were we going to do? Why were we finding out about this on the radio?

None of the pharmacy franchisees had received any warning. In fact, we were reassured by management at the corporation just a short while before that U.S.-based Target was determined to stay in Canada and that the future was bright. We felt devastated.

Both my husband and I are pharmacists and we jumped at the opportunity to own a Target Pharmacy franchise in Target's Oshawa store, but the mismanaged business operations by Target Corporation made growth slow and uncertain. The company's lavish promises did not materialize, as their retail struggles meant customer traffic was well below what was projected.

It was a nerve-racking journey because we did not know if the business would survive. Despite the setbacks, our Target Pharmacy in Oshawa grew steadily, thanks to the hard work of our team. A year and a half after opening, we had finally reached a point where the pharmacy was just about to turn the corner to become a viable, if not yet profitable, business. We decided to move from Markham, Ont., to Oshawa because it seemed Target Pharmacy would be a permanent establishment in our lives. We were very optimistic about our future but our elation at having reached this turning point in our business changed abruptly when Target declared its withdrawal from Canada.

We had to act fast on learning of Target's impending exodus. We decided to relocate instead of closing because we were dedicated to the care of our patients. Target gave us a mere three weeks to make the transition. The contractors we hired worked at all hours to renovate the first usable space we found. Our car fell apart as its axle gave way due to the heavy metal shelving we were transporting. The staff worked hard to organize the move and spread the word, and we all worked together to set up the new pharmacy. Tens of thousands of dollars later, emptied of capital and feeling physically and emotionally drained, we managed to move our pharmacy one kilometre north in Oshawa, opening our doors as Custom Care Pharmacy & Compounding Centre.

Although we had only moved up the road, we lost a lot of patients and business was on a steep decline. Our business was forced back through time to where we were a year before and we didn't know when, or even if, it was going to improve. Along with the other Canadian franchisees, we fought with Target for compensation for the loss.

Many of our colleagues had left secure positions to open Target Pharmacy franchises because the prospect of a large American retail company entering the Canadian market seemed so promising. Now, we were all deeply in debt due to loss of employment and income and the additional capital that we needed to invest.

Numerous pharmacies were unable to make the transition to a new location and some were forced to close a short time after moving. Marriages and families crumbled under the stress and some of our colleagues lost their homes in an effort to climb out from under a pile of debt.

Perseverance and resilience pushed us through this dark period. To set ourselves apart from other pharmacies in the area, we focused on compounding, where we can create a new and unique medication that is currently unavailable on the market, or customize medication to a patient's needs (such as gluten-free for those who are sensitive). Slowly, we regained and then expanded our clientele. We gave back to the community by running a "Healthy Kids" program in local schools, offering a free vitamin program for children and holding an annual barbeque with plenty of activities and prizes.

Our business is thriving now, nearly three years after Target announced the closure of its Canadian operations. We are very grateful for the hard work and commitment of our staff and the reception we received from the Oshawa community. The dramatic entry and exit of Target Corporation is a case that will be analyzed in business schools for years to come, and the ripple effects of the company's spectacular failure in Canada can still be felt. We evolved past this challenging chapter in our lives to become stronger than ever. But I don't think I will ever be able to bring myself to shop in a Target store again.

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