After a letup in the pace of expansion, the Uniprix Group has been able to re-energize its activity.

Uniprix Group, Francois Castonguay, Canadian drug chain, Quebec, Unipharm, Clinique Santé, Uniclinique, pharmacy, Alasdair McKichan, private brand, Option Plus, Echosline, Option Plus Nature, Aubaines Plus, PharmaChoice, private-label

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Uniprix expands store base, private brands

April 27th, 2012
by Alasdair McKichan

MONTREAL – After a letup in the pace of expansion, the Uniprix Group has been able to re-energize its activity.

President and chief executive officer François Castonguay said the Canadian drug chain had eight new units come aboard last year and it expects to add another 12 in the current year. Overall, the retailer has 387 drug stores in Quebec under the Uniprix (205 units), Unipharm (35) and Clinique Santé/Uniclinique (147) banners.

Uniprix has also been active in its design efforts for new and renovated stores.

"In the last few months, we have made big changes, yet again, in store layout," said Castonguay. "We are taking advantage of the opening of several new retail pharmacies to make multiple changes to both the pharmacy department and the store as a whole. This means creating an optimal customer experience while ensuring that sales and customer satisfaction numbers exceed targets.

"We are still working on a new concept, because we believe companies that stop pushing the envelope get left behind. And that's a fate no one in retail pharmacy can afford."

At a time when prescription revenues are under pressure, the pharmacist-shareholders are applying extra effort in the front of their stores. In recent years, that part of the business has not had much support from the over-the-counter medications section.

"The effects of climate change, an issue that has received extensive media coverage, have become obvious in recent years in particular," Castonguay explained. "Winter in Quebec was milder this year than the previous year, which was milder than the one before that. This has resulted in declining sales of flu-related products. I know the situation has been even more difficult in the Canadian West."

Still, Uniprix member pharmacies derive much of the strength of their front-of-store operations from their ability to offer customers the family of private-brand lines that the company's management group puts together. Option Plus, the core brand, is supplemented with Echosline hair coloring products, which are imported from Italy, and the Elegant cosmetics ­collection.

Two recently introduced private label lines are proving popular with customers. Option Plus Nature features high-quality, eco-friendly products that are appealing to consumers concerned about the environment. Aubaines Plus, meanwhile, is something of a "fighting brand," applied to exceptional value products. It allows member pharmacies to compete nose-to-nose with the dollar stores in certain product areas.

In total, the private brands now embrace some 1,125 products. The power of Uniprix's private brands also is enhanced by the relationship with the Nova Scotia-based PharmaChoice voluntary chain.

"For a few years now, our private and exclusive labels have been distributed not only in our affiliated pharmacies but also through PharmaChoice," Castonguay said. "This has helped us attract interest from top private-label manufacturers and keep profit margins healthy."