2011 will be remembered as the year when the basic drug store format took several dramatic turns for the better, burying, perhaps forever, the vanilla-flavor format that has served chain drug retailing so adequately for so long.


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Inside This Issue - Opinion

New era in drug store design arrives

August 8th, 2011
by David Pinto

2011 will be remembered as the year when the basic drug store format took several dramatic turns for the better, burying, perhaps forever, the vanilla-flavor format that has served chain drug retailing so adequately for so long.

Two of the newly unveiled formats — those by Duane Reade and Rite Aid — make a bold statement as to what its architects believe a chain drug store should stand for going forward. The new Duane Reade model is all about daily living, as its architects define it in the second decade of the 21st century. By contrast, Rite Aid’s new design emphasizes health and wellness and the many contributions a drug store can and should make to its customers’ well-being.

Much has already been written about the 22,000-square-foot Duane Reade store that opened its doors on July 6 at 40 Wall Street, a Trump Building one block east of the New York Stock Exchange.

The store turns on three pillars — a health care offering that includes the on-site presence of a physician as well as extensive consulting facilities; a sprawling beauty care assortment under the Look Boutique banner that Duane Reade has developed and popularized over the past year, a selection that includes a range of cosmetics brand not yet seen in a chain drug store as well as such salon services as manicures and hair blow-out treatments; and an array of daily living accessories that includes a juice bar, a sushi bar, an assortment of fresh food, natural products and such offerings as gluten-free products, as well as a variety of often overlooked or neglected services such as a shoeshine stand, a cell phone charging station that gives customers a secure way to charge their devices while shopping, and a prominently placed stock ticker to keep its clientele abreast of the latest share prices.

Additionally, the store offers the standard range of health and beauty care products, though it does so in an intimate and appealing stores-within-a-store environment that emphasizes assortment and utilizes signage that facilitates shopping by logically organizing and displaying the various product categories.

The new store has been an instant success. Variations of the format will reportedly be rolled out to Walgreens’ drug stores in such urban centers as Chicago, Miami and San Francisco, as will elements of the Look Boutique, a concept that has taken beauty in a drug store setting to new levels of excitement, selection and personal shopping aids, the most impressive of which is a computer-based device that allows shoppers to see how they look in the latest cosmetics and skin care products — before they make a purchase.

The 10,600-square-foot Rite Aid wellness store that recently opened in Mechanicsburg, Pa., not far from the retailer’s Harrisburg headquarters is more narrowly focused. More specifically, it seeks, with great success, to bring a personal approach to the task of educating customers about health care.

To that end, it offers customers what the retailer calls a “wellness ambassador,” which CDR reporter Russell Redman, writing about the store in the July 18 issue of this publication, succinctly and accurately described as “an iPad-toting advisor who roves the aisles and provides customers with information on over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements.”

As well, these ambassadors provide service and information on the spot and can print coupons from their iPad via a wireless link to a printer at a nearby “wellness station.”
But that’s just the beginning. The store’s pharmacy is perhaps more prominent and easily accessed by patients than has yet been true of a drug store pharmacy counter.

Moreover, the pharmacy is a focal point for all manner of health care services: A computer located in a consultation room off the pharmacy provides access to Rite Aid Online Care, an interactive service that allows customers to speak live with pharmacists trained in various health issues; expanded clinical pharmacy services give patients access to pharmacists trained in medication therapy management, diabetes care and a range of immunizations; an expanded selection of such health and wellness products as organic and gluten-free food and beverages, homeopathic medicines, home health care products, health care literature and pet vitamins as well as a GNC nutritional department give customers a range of healthy options they have never before had in a drug store environment.

Though health care is obviously the primary focus of the new store, beauty care has not been forgotten. As an example, the beauty assortment has been located on the same side of the store as the pharmacy and O-T-C assortment, creating a dedicated wellness area.

Rite Aid has already unveiled eight stores in the wellness format, which chief operating officer Ken Martindale describes as “the model going forward for our high-potential stores. So you’re going to see a lot of these as we ramp up our remodel schedule going forward.”

Atop these two models is Walmart’s new Express format, a 15,000-square-foot store that the retailer has begun opening in northwest Arkansas and plans to roll out to such cities as ­Chicago.

Observers have initially had more difficulty classifying the Walmart Express stores than they have had evaluating the Duane Reade and Rite Aid models. In part, this is due to the fact that each of the new formats differs slightly from the others. For instance, a pharmacy, present in some units, is absent from others. So, too, is on-premises gasoline.

Another source of confusion is that observers have been hard put to understand the role of the Walmart Express stores. Have they been designed to compete with the dollar stores, a trade class many Walmart staffers believe is taking business away from the Walmart Supercenters and discount stores? Or have they been launched to compete with the chain drug stores they resemble in size and, to some degree, merchandise assortment? Or are they expected to compete against both trade classes?

Frankly, it’s too soon to tell — or to evaluate the new concept. One thing, though: Walmart very rarely does anything without a very good reason — even if that reason is not always initially evident to its competitors.

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