Inside Rite Aid Corp.’s latest drug store prototype are some outside-the-box ideas.

Rite Aid, wellness store, Mechanicsburg, wellness ambassador, health care, Ken Martindale, Russell Redman, pharmacy, shopping conveniences, customer engagement, personal service, drug store, prescription pickup, Tammy Royer, clinical services, Rite Aid Online Care, Amanda Morrison, women’s wellness, family care, health and beauty aids, customer segmentation strategy, value+ format stores, Save-A-Lot

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Inside This Issue - News

Rite Aid goes outside the box with new format

July 18th, 2011

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Inside Rite Aid Corp.’s latest drug store prototype are some outside-the-box ideas.

Dubbed the “wellness store,” the format makes health care its hallmark while taking customer engagement to a higher level through personal service, interactive technology and a variety of shopping conveniences.

Heading the list of innovations is what Rite Aid calls the “wellness ambassador,” an iPad-toting adviser who roves the aisles and provides customers with information on over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements.

“This really is the model going forward for our high-potential stores,” Ken Martindale, Rite Aid’s chief operating officer, said during a tour of the recently converted 10,600-square-foot wellness store here. “So you’re going to see a lot of these as we ramp up our remodel schedule this year.”

At presstime Rite Aid had converted eight stores to the wellness format, including the unit in Mechanicsburg as well as units in Harrisburg, Greensburg and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Newport Beach, Calif.; and Toms River, Little Egg Harbor and Barnegat, N.J. Another was set to open soon in Harrisburg, Martindale said.

It’s evident just a few steps inside the Mechanicsburg location that this isn’t a typical Rite Aid — or other drug store, for that matter.

A wood-grained pathway directs customers through the store right to the pharmacy, seen instantly upon walking in the front door. Lower shelving, brighter lighting and crisp, new signage — along with enhanced prescription pickup and drop-off windows and a patient counseling room — make the pharmacy more prominent and underscore the wellness focus.

One merchandising innovation is a dedicated men's grooming section, situated near the entrance.

“What we’ve tried to do is really change the image of the pharmacy,” Martindale explained, noting that, unlike in traditional stores, the wellness format doesn’t have merchandise stacked on shelves that impede the view of the pharmacy. “When you walk back here into the pharmacy now, it’s much cleaner than in other stores, and it looks much more professional,” he said.

Each wellness store includes a consultation room where customers can speak privately with a Rite Aid pharmacist. The private consultation room, in plain sight of customers as they wait to fill prescriptions, houses a computer that provides access to Rite Aid Online Care, an interactive service that allows customers to speak live with pharmacists specially trained on various health issues for in-depth medication consultations.

The format also has expanded clinical pharmacy services, featuring Rite Aid pharmacists specially trained in medication therapy management, diabetes care and a wide range of immunizations.

“We are driving traffic back to our pharmacists. That’s our goal,” Tammy Royer, vice president of pharmacy initiatives and clinical services at Rite Aid, said during the store tour. “We want our pharmacists to be able to interact with all of our customers to provide recommendations, counsel them on [medication] compliance and adherence, talk to them about their medications and help them work with their physicians to make sure they have the proper regimens.

“We want to expand what our pharmacists do to focus on making our patients well and managing their conditions,” Royer added.

Organic, natural and gluten-free foods are among the format's hundreds of new health and wellness products.

The format also features hundreds of new health and wellness products. That includes dedicated and/or enlarged sections for organic and gluten-free food and beverages, homeopathic medicine and personal care products, home health care products, light fitness gear, wellness magazines and books, and pet vitamins. There’s also a GNC nutritional department and a refrigerated display showcasing fitness beverages.

Tying it all together, Martindale said, is the wellness ambassador, who provides service and information on the spot and can print coupons from the iPad via a wireless link to a printer at the nearby “wellness station,” where customers can speak further with the adviser.

“I walk around and say to every customer that I see, ‘Hello, welcome to Rite Aid. My name is Amanda. Is there anything I can help you with?’ If they say yes, I take them exactly where they need to go,” said wellness ambassador Amanda Morrison. “People really appreciate the time that we spend with them.”

The rest of the wellness store also brings some innovations, with products grouped intuitively to reflect the way customers shop. “In the front end one of the things we’re getting rave reviews on from customers is finding your way through the store. It’s much easier for them to find whatever they’re looking for — cosmetics, women’s wellness, pharmacy, family care, beverages, food, seasonal, etc.,” Martindale said.

For instance, the format puts pharmacy and health and beauty aids on one side of the store — creating a dedicated wellness area — and the other front-end categories on the opposite side.

“Consumers are telling us they love the layout. They can see it’s more open and much easier to navigate and shop,” Martindale said. “That was the strategy behind it.”

Another illustration of Rite Aid’s fresh merchandising approach is “his” and “her” areas for personal care items. The men’s grooming section, for instance, contains shaving, deodorant and other products and is strategically placed just off the main aisle toward the front of the store for speedy in-and-out purchases.

The wellness ambassador totes an iPad to give customers on-the-spot information on products and health issues.

“This is another example of the innovation we’re trying to foster. This is a complete change in the way we merchandise a store,” Martindale said. “We’re really encouraging our team to be more innovative and bring these kinds of changes that make sense to the consumer inside the store.”

On top of wider aisles and a new signage package and color palette, the store sports an enhanced cosmetics and fragrances presentation, a women’s wellness section, an enlarged cold beverage area, a spacious greeting cards area and a digital photo center. And adding to the interactive flavor are Dr. Scholl’s custom-fit orthotic and Eye Site vision screening kiosks.

“Consumers are in the process of realizing that they’re going to have to play a larger role in their own wellness,” Martindale observed. “What we need to do is give them more tools and more opportunities to engage within our environment.”

The wellness prototype is part of Rite Aid’s customer segmentation strategy, in which it tailors stores to better serve the needs of a given area. Martindale said the format can work in suburban and urban neighborhoods.

Rite Aid also is piloting 10 co-branded stores in South Carolina with Supervalu Inc.’s Save-A-Lot limited-assortment grocery chain and has 51 value+ format stores, which offer lower front-end prices, a more focused front-end SKU selection, a “wall of values” and a larger dollar section, plus a full pharmacy.

“The offering in all drug stores is clearly shifting,” Martindale said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure we have the right offering for the right demographic in any particular market.”