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Alliance Pharmacy history

Company origins

The origins of Alliance Pharmacy date back to the 19th century with the birth of Edgar Moss in 1879. During the course of his life, Edgar built up a network of pharmacies throughout Middlesex, Surrey and Buckinghamshire.

Edgar was born in Staffordshire on 30th June 1879, the second youngest in a family of six. His childhood was plagued by severe ill health and he received only a limited education. Just before the age of 20, and eager to fill the gaps in his learning, he enrolled in evening classes, whilst continuing to work full-time during the day. The money he earned allowed him to move on to further studies, and at the age of 23 he graduated from Manchester College of Pharmacy with just enough funds left for a telegram home and a return ticket to Manchester.

After qualifying Edgar held a number of different management roles stationed throughout the country. This wealth of experience spurred him on to venture into business on his own. 

Edgar Moss

Edgar Moss, 1930s

'I left home at 18 without a penny in my pocket - and I have not asked anyone to help me along since then'
Edgar Moss, 1952 

First store

Despite the uncertain wartime conditions throughout the country, Edgar decided to purchase his first store in 1915 at 48 High Street, Feltham. Negotiations were rushed and his initial inspection of the property took place by candlelight due to blackout restrictions. The decision by Edgar to leave behind an established position and pour all his savings into this venture required not only immense courage but also confidence in his own experience and ability. Years later, he commented that he considered it 'the greatest business risk I have ever taken...for I was sinking the whole of my resources and taking with me a wife and young son into an uncertain future.'

With the help of his wife Gertrude, Moss worked hard to make the shop a success. He had clear ideas for the development of his business and believed in applying the same ethics to his store as he himself had been brought up on - hard work, honesty, best value, efficiency and civility. What he did not realise was that his first store in Feltham would prove to be the cornerstone of a business that would bear his name for the next 90 years.

Moss Chemist Shop

Edgar Moss, with son Harold, outside the first Moss Chemist shop at 48 High Street, Feltham, 1917. 

Product Label

Product label, 1930s

'It is indeed gratifying to see in the firm as it is today a result far beyond anything I envisaged during the brief hour on an evening late in 1915.'
Edgar Moss, 1949 

Early expansion

The 1920's saw Edgar embark on a period of steady expansion. He opened his second shop in 1921 in Hayes and within just two years had doubled the number of his stores. With an increasing store network, Moss acquired a disused army hut in which to operate his central warehouse.

From the outset Moss wanted his stores to be known for their service, price and quality. He also offered a range of services to his customers, from two penny libraries to post office services. Open to trying new ideas Moss extended his business to include a car hire service which later formed the basis of his transport division.

In 1934, with a network of 10 stores, Edgar took the decision to convert his business into a private limited company under the name E Moss Ltd. Joining him on the board was his son, Harold who became Managing Director. Edgar felt that this new status would offer his employees a chance to share in their prosperity. Within two years the company had relocated to Fern Grove in Feltham, with a new head office and central warehouse better equipped to handle the growing demands of the business.

During the 1950s, the company, keen to tap into the increasing popularity of photography, took the decision to expand this side of the business. In 1954 E Moss Ltd opened their first photographic shop in Staines. It carried an extensive range of stock, had a demonstration room at the rear and a specialist photographic manager and was greeted with enthusiasm by local amateur photographers. 

Photographic Wallet

Photographic wallet, 1930s

Moss Chemists Prescription Service Delivery Vans

Moss Chemists Prescription Service delivery vans, c 1950 

'Our retail branches...have attained a standard of smartness and attractiveness never previously surpassed and that, coupled with the pleasant and happy atmosphere which pervades them all, without exception, undoubtedly has its effect upon all who enter our branches'
Edgar Moss, 1950 

A caring business

Employee welfare was of great personal interest to Edgar Moss and he was keen to encourage a team spirit, believing firmly that a happy workforce was a productive one. He looked on the staff as members of the Moss family and sought to secure the best working conditions for everyone. On visits to his stores, Edgar would always have a kind word to say to everyone.

During the early 1930s, staff events such as dinner dances and theatre-trips were arranged. With a staff of just under 30, Edgar and his wife would also invite them to parties at their home in Walton-on-Thames. There would be games such as croquet or skittles, tea, more games indoors and then, after supper, a film-show: 'We had some amusing attitudes, some astounding accomplishments and most extraordinary fun.' When the staff numbers became too great, more than one party would be held on different days to ensure they could all enjoy themselves.

A staff pension scheme was begun in 1945, followed a few years later by a profit sharing scheme and a marriage 'dowry' that was paid to female staff on their wedding day. In 1964, the company provided a life assurance cover equivalent to more than 2 years' salary, without any cost to the employee The next year saw the introduction of the Employees Trust Fund which issued shares to Managers and Pharmacists in relation to their length of service. More recently, Moss Chemists instituted an in-house continuing education course for pharmacists.

'...the welfare of the Company's employees is so essential a factor in a Company such as ours'
Edgar Moss, 1945 

'our staff are the very lifeblood of the firm'
Harold Moss, 1971 

Female Employees with Edgar Moss

Female employees with Edgar Moss at a staff party held at his house in Walton-on-Thames, 1930s 

Employees Playing Croquet

Employees playing croquet on the lawn at Edgar Moss's house in Walton-on-Thames, 1930s

Harold Moss

With the death of Edgar Moss in 1958, his son Harold became Chairman. By that date he had nearly 30 years experience within the business, joining it in 1929 as a store manager and qualified pharmacist. Harold continued many of the policies initiated by his father - proceeding, like him, with steady caution. In 1960 Harold's wife, Marjorie, joined him on the board as he believed her "feminine viewpoint" was of great value.

During his first decade as Chairman, Harold concentrated on store refurbishments and head office and warehouse expansion. He was well aware that modernisation and improved efficiencies could improve sales and profit.

In 1969 the company set up an industrial sales division to supply medical and surgical items to local factories. Within a few years the company was supplying national companies such as Debenhams and Marks and Spencer. They also secured an exclusive account with British Airways to carry a Moss first aid kit on each of their aircraft. It was also around this time that the company opened its first concession, a toiletry and cosmetic section within a local department store.

Throughout his career Harold held a number of key representative roles within the pharmaceutical profession and it was for this work that he was awarded an OBE in 1969.

The company celebrated their Diamond Jubilee in 1975. Harold had retired a year previously, though he remained Chairman of the Board until his death in 1981.

'We are a happy and prosperous business and we are truly proud of our good service to the public.'
Harold Moss, 1965 

Harold Moss

Harold Moss, 1948 

Recent years and Alliance Pharmacy

During the mid 1980's the company began to develop units within national supermarket chains and by 1991 Moss had pharmacies within 31 Asda stores. The company also went back to basics and opened a pure pharmacy store, which gave customers longer opening times. In 1990 the company celebrated its 75th anniversary of Moss Chemists with a dinner at the Apothecaries Hall in Blackfriars and a staff trip to Alton Towers.

At the end of 1991, E Moss Ltd became part of Unichem Plc. The company embarked on a period of rapid expansion, acquiring an average of 65 branches per year.

In 1997 the company merged with Alliance Santé to become Alliance Unichem. That same year, the company celebrated the opening of their 500th store in Battle, Hastings. Over the next ten years the network of stores was nearly doubled in size and the shops were re-branded under the name Alliance Pharmacy.

In 2006 Alliance Unichem merged with The Boots Company PLC to form Alliance Boots, an international pharmacy-led health and beauty group. In June 2007 Alliance Boots was acquired by AB Acquisitions Limited (a company jointly controlled by certain funds advised by KKR and Stefano Pessina) and its shares were delisted from the London Stock Exchange. 

Alphega Pharmacy launched in Russia the following year, taking membership to over 2,200 pharmacies. Central Homecare was acquired, providing home healthcare services to patients in the UK who require management of complex drug therapies. Also in 2008, in addition to a joint venture with the Chinese Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Alliance Boots acquired Depolabo, who provide pharmaceutical pre-wholesale and contract logistics services in France to wholesalers, pharmacies and hospitals on behalf of over 50 manufacturers.

Over the course of the next three years Alliance Boots pharmaceutical division continued to grow. The Almus range of generic medicines became available in France, Italy, the UK, Portugal and Spain. Boots became the majority shareholder in Hedef Alliance, one of the largest pharmaceutical wholesalers in Turkey, which also operates in Egypt (as UCP) and Algeria (as HydraPharm). Unichem was re-branded Alliance Healthcare (Distribution), whilst Alliance Healthcare Italia became an associate business. The Alphega Pharmacy network continued to flourish; by 2011, membership totalled over 3,500 pharmacies. In France, a long-term cooperation agreement in the beauty category was finalised with retail giant Carrefour.

In 2013 Alliance Boots reached 100% ownership of a number of companies: Hedef Alliance, Farmexpert (Russia) and ANZAG which was delisted from the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and rebranded Alliance Healthcare Deutschland.

Moss Chemist in Asda

Moss Chemist concession in Asda, c 1990 

'The trust and confidence of your fellows:
A home and everything it means:
The feeling of a job well done,
And the urge to do better
- are these not essential to man's true happiness?'
Edgar Moss, 1940