Inside This Issue - Opinion
NACDS is hub of chain drug industry
December 7th, 2009
by David Pinto
For four days at the beginning of December, NACDS brought the chain drug industry briefly to life, by the simple expedient of gathering the retailer and supplier communities together in New York City for a series of business and social events.
It was the first time serious elements of chain drug retailing had come together since the NACDS Marketplace Conference last June — and the first formal meeting of the board of directors since April — though various NACDS events had gathered together smaller and less influential industry groups.
The December events included an NACDS board of directors meeting, the annual NACDS Foundation charitable dinner, the front-end leadership roundtable, the annual board dinner and an NACDS retail advisory board meeting, among other activities.
As events crowded one atop another, attendees found the time to engage in serious debates and meaningful if not always productive discussions of the key issues of the day — health care reform, the future of community pharmacy in a new health care environment and the impact of the SKU-rationalization programs that are impacting all suppliers while seriously inconveniencing some.
Many unfamiliar faces became more familiar during the week, most notably new Walgreens chief executive officer Greg Wasson and Bryan Pugh, that retailer’s chief merchant. Paul Beahm, the popular Wal-Mart executive recovering from a devastating personal tragedy, was on hand, to the delight of his many industry friends and associates.
And CVS Caremark CEO Tom Ryan showed up, having recently been forced to confront a serious operating shortfall at the company’s PBM unit.
Those people aside, the usual galaxy of key retailers and suppliers were on hand to see, be seen, talk, discuss, debate, disagree and give their opinions, both publicly and privately, on the key issues confronting chain drug retailing and its various components.
Socially, the highlight of the week was Laura Bush’s appearance as the featured speaker at the foundation dinner on Tuesday night. She charmed and disarmed her audience with her personality and her tales of her days in the White House as first lady. At evening’s end, the Republicans in the audience were clearly delighted with the choice of Mrs. Bush as speaker, while the Democrats were forced to acknowledge that, at least in the choice of speakers, they might have been guilty of prejudgment.
Then too, a midweek luncheon was convened by the Greater New York Boy Scouts, which gave its annual scouting award to Joe Magnacca, Duane Reade’s chief merchant and one of the most popular and capable merchants to take the stage in the U.S. chain drug retailing community in some time (Magnacca, having previously worked for Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada, joined Duane Reade a year ago). The choice was, needless to say, roundly applauded.
If, at week’s end, few of the critical issues confronting chain drug retailing had been resolved, that mattered little.
Though health care reform and the attendant pharmacy issues remained happenings that had not yet happened, though retailer/supplier confrontational issues still rankled, though the fate of next year’s NACDS Marketplace Conference was still being debated, though the discussion over NACDS’ place in the chain drug industry going forward still raged, the fact that the association, largely in the background since late summer, had emerged to play a leadership role in bringing the industry together in ways not seen in some time was the key for those who attended all or part of the week’s events.
This is not to imply that all was rosy. Individual intrigues were apparent, mostly between retailer and supplier companies, those mostly turning on retailer decisions to reduce or eliminate SKUs, products or brands. As well, individual animosities remained.
Then too, no one on hand could possibly confuse the New York Hilton, the new venue for the event, with the St. Regis, site of previous December meetings — whether in ambience, food, service or the general feeling that all’s right with the world that emanates from holding events in a world-class hotel. This all goes back to the stated NACDS mandate to save money by reducing unnecessary expenses. At week’s end, the debate revolved around the point at which the obsession with saving money begins to adversely affect the quality of the event — and its intended purpose.
No matter. By virtually any measurement, this was a wonderful week, a productive meeting — and a reminder that the chain drug industry has succeeded in the past because of the special qualities not only of the industry but of the people around whom the industry revolves.
What’s clearly needed are more such opportunities, chances to engage the industry and the people in it in the reasonable expectation that they will conclude that, while the situation may at times appear hopeless, it is really not all that serious.