Stephen LaFrance Sr., who built a regional drug store powerhouse with USA Drug, died earlier this month. He was 71.

Stephen LaFrance, USA Drug, regional drug store, Joe Courtright, Super D Drug, May’s Drug, Med-X, Drug Warehouse, Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc., Walgreens

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USA Drug’s LaFrance dies

June 17th, 2013

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Stephen LaFrance Sr., who built a regional drug store powerhouse with USA Drug, died earlier this month. He was 71.

LaFrance started USA Drug in 1968 when he opened a single store here. Eventually the drug chain would include nearly 200 stores in six states, operating under a variety of banners.

He was the company’s chief executive officer until 2006, when he handed over USA Drugs’ day-to-day operations to Joe Courtright. LaFrance remained active in the company, serving as its chairman.

When he sold the company — officially called Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc. — to Walgreen Co. last year for $438 million, it operated 144 stores under the USA Drug, Super D Drug, May’s Drug, Med-X and Drug Warehouse names in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

When he decided to sell his company after more than 40 years in business, LaFrance said he opted for Walgreens because he felt it would carry on what USA Drug had started.

“We chose to sell our business to Walgreens not only because it is the premier drug store company in our industry, but also because Walgreens will continue to provide our customers with the service and products they have come to expect,” he said last July when the deal was announced.

Acquisitions were nothing new to LaFrance. Over the years taking over other retail chains was often at the heart of USA Drugs’ growth strategy.

In the 1980s, LaFrance bought several stores from Revco DS. In 1997, when USA Drug consisted of just 15 outlets in Arkansas, LaFrance struck a deal to acquire the 90-store Super D chain in Memphis. At the time of the deal, LaFrance said the acquisition would benefit shoppers and USA employees alike.

“Our customers will gain benefit through lower prices, better selection and improved service,” he said. “Our employees will benefit from greater opportunities and the introduction of labor-saving systems.”

USA Drug’s second big acquisition came seven years later when it took over the May’s Drug, Med-X Drug, Drug Warehouse and Drug Mart chains. The deals added 61 stores to USA’s network — almost all of them in the Tulsa, Okla., market.

“By purchasing both Med-X and May’s, we achieve great market penetration in Tulsa,’’ LaFrance said when the deals were announced. “Both companies are quality operations that we feel will enhance our ability to succeed in today’s competitive environment.”