Inside This Issue - Opinion
Regional Chain Conference undervalued
February 18th, 2013
by David Pinto
Earlier this month the brightest people in chain drug store retailing gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They came to analyze the state of their businesses and, more specifically, the direction of chain drug retailing in America.
The discussion was not, as so many such gatherings are these days, primarily about Walgreens or CVS or Rite Aid — though Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson was on hand.
Rather, it was about the challenges and opportunities that await America’s local and regional drug chains as they compete with the increasingly dominant national health care retailers that crowd — and threaten to crowd them out of — the nation’s chain drug landscape.
As well, they came to learn about the evolving nature of health care in 21st century America, an America slowly emerging from a serious economic recession. Along the way they were exposed to some of the latest innovations in prescription drug prescribing and dispensing, a new health care paradigm that positions the pharmacist at the center of health care management. They were briefed on the potential impact of the new federal health care program and the significance of such emerging initiatives as the synchronization of filling prescriptions that enables patients to collect all their medications on the same day. They learned about the health of drug dispensing and the current status of the branded-generic equation.
Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, told the group about Total Store Expo, the groundbreaking industry conference scheduled to unfold in Las Vegas over three days in early August, a conference that will, for the first time, bring together the key elements of the front-end, pharmacy and supply chain meetings that, until now, the association convened separately.
Wasson, who is the current NACDS chairman, reiterated Walgreens’ commitment to Total Store Expo, while assuring his audience that this event was among the most significant in the association’s 80-year history.
If one theme emerged during this three-day session it was a message of positive thinking. As an example, the attendees heard the oft-repeated but never tiresome story of the launch of Fortune magazine by Time magazine founder Henry Luce in 1930, four months after the 1929 crash of the stock market. Luce apparently had enough confidence in the new publication — and the American people — to ask consumers to pay $1 for each issue, $10 for an annual subscription. The message was clear: Then as now, confidence in the product — and in the American consumer to recognize the value of a product — is a key ingredient in that product’s success — and the success of the person behind it.
The event that packaged and surrounded these activities was, of course, the annual NACDS Regional Chain Conference. It attracted some 50 drug chains and almost as many chain drug industry suppliers. So it was that for three days in February the best and the brightest chain drug executives in America examined the future.
The definition of a regional drug chain is a fluid one. Retailers with as few as four drug stores came to Fort Lauderdale, as did proprietors of drug chains with over 100 stores. Nor was the conference limited to drug chains: Several operators of supermarket pharmacies were in the audience.
As always, many familiar faces attended: Tony Civello of Kerr Drug, Mark Griffin of Lewis Drug, Bob Narveson of Thrifty White and the incoming NACDS chairman, Morley Cohn of Kopp Drug, Bridget-ann Hart of Kinney Drug, Heidi Snyder of Drug World Pharmacies. The conference chairman was David Cippel, president of Klingensmith’s Drugstores, an eight-store drug chain operating across three counties in western Pennsylvania.
The highlight of the regional chain conference was neither the program nor the speakers nor the message. It was the people who showed up, the ease with which they interacted with old and trusted friends, their willingness to share ideas, exchange experiences, swap stories of success and setback — and generally embrace the opportunity to talk about doing business in the chain drug industry of 2013 in America.
Truth is, chain drug retailing in America is not really about Walgreens or CVS. It’s about America’s regional drug chains, an American tradition that recalls another time and another generation, a period in American history when the corner drug store and the neighborhood drug store were the same, a local drug store that attracted customers because those customers knew, liked and respected the individual behind the pharmacy counter.
The regional chain conference annually recalls that time, and brings it to life once again. The people who attended the conference are, in the main, pharmacists. They care — about their profession, their business and their industry. But they care even more about their customers, their patients. They came to Florida to more thoroughly understand where their profession and their business are heading, and how they can maintain and grow their position in that profession and that business.
They listened intently as Wasson told them that their concerns are Walgreens’ concerns, that Walgreens’ opportunities are their opportunities, that Walgreens’ future is their future. And if they didn’t really believe all the things Wasson told them, they believed Wasson when he told them that, as a pharmacist, he was one of them — and that their profession was his profession.
Despite the omnipresence in today’s drug store marketplace of such retailers as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Target, the regional drug chain in America is stronger today than at any time in the last 25 years. The reason is obvious, at least to those who attended the NACDS regional chain conference. At a time when the attention and energy of major retailers is all too often absorbed by the priorities and emergencies of the world around them, the people who run and work for America’s regional drug chains still care more about the patient than they do about the bottom line or the next store or the new government regulation.
They are in business to monitor, maintain and improve the health of the people who come into their stores. That’s why they came to Florida for the NACDS Regional Chain Conference, which is the most undervalued and underappreciated event on the association’s calendar.