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An opportunity for NACDS to stand out

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In a letter, Chain Drug Review‘s editor urges National Association of Chain Drug Stores chief executive Steve Anderson to tackle core issues for the association head on.

Steve Anderson
President and CEO
413 N. Lee St.
Alexandria, Va. 22314

Dear Steve:

Now that you’ve become comfortable in your job as NACDS president, the time has come to go beyond cutting costs and paring staff and begin addressing the core issues around which the association turns, the issues upon which your tenure as president will ultimately be judged.

This is the perfect time to launch so ambitious a project. As you know, the retail association world is changing, quickly and dramatically.

The Food Marketing Institute, long dormant, is emerging from its slumber, possessed of new leadership, a newly vigorous and engaged supermarket membership, and some exciting new programs, most notably where you’re concerned, the upcoming health and wellness conference that will be held in conjunction with GMDC.

The recently formed global Consumer Goods Forum, whatever its ultimate fate, has already usurped much of the relevance of CIES, one of the two worldwide associations with the reach and clout to draw participation from NACDS. The other, the World Retail Congress, despite an agenda and level of participation that observers believe has been the equal of that of any retail trade organization, must battle the current economic climate in addition to rival organizations and events in its effort to survive.

That leaves you with an opportunity to take NACDS to the next level, to rekindle the retailer/supplier interaction that has traditionally been at the association’s core. Everyone acknowledges that the organization has made progress in advancing the industry’s legislative agenda. But there’s only so much NACDS can do, and can be expected to do, in that direction. The largest retail members each have their own lobbying apparatus.

Moreover, 80% of the supplier members are less interested in the association’s legislative and regulatory competency than in its ability to help them do business. That’s truer today — what with the state of the economy, the dramatic changes at two of your largest retail members and the industry’s current preoccupation with SKU reduction — than it has been in some time.

Finally, many of your members agree that NACDS cannot possibly exert a significant impact on the coming alteration of our country’s health care system, whatever form that alteration ultimately takes. Simply put, community pharmacy, however critical to health care delivery — a reality you have been instrumental in advancing — lacks the leverage, the energy and the financing possessed by several other health care constituencies.

Besides, it is difficult to imagine a health care world in which community pharmacy doesn’t play a significant role. Community pharmacy is more critical today as a member of the health care community than it has been in some considerable time. Whatever form a new health care system might take, the evolving pharmacy model — one that promises to offer the patient a range of fairly affordable, professionally administered products and services available nowhere else — is sure to have a place.

Where, then, should your attention and efforts be focused? Initially, on the 2010 Marketplace Conference, coming as it will during the first week of June, barely five weeks after the Annual Meeting. Your job will be getting people to attend. It will be a challenge — not because the Marketplace isn’t worthwhile, but because some members don’t believe it is.

Your challenge is, first, to market the Marketplace more effectively and, second, to add a compelling element or two to ensure that the event functions as an indispensable bookend to the Annual Meeting.

Scheduling a board meeting or a meeting of the Executive Committee might work. Perhaps a tour of the neighborhood’s retail stores, an attraction that appears to work for other organizations, might fit the bill. Whatever, the perception of the Marketplace Conference must be made to conform to its reality. And that reality, simply put, is that it is the most productive, most rewarding (for the great majority of attendees) merchandising event mass retailing has to offer. Your assignment is to make it more productive and rewarding still.

Beyond the Marketplace is that age-old challenge — involvement. There are those who believe that NACDS has been deficient in bringing the right buyers and sellers together at all levels throughout the association. Board members are not as visible as often as they once were. Such newly arrived merchants as John Agwunobi and Bryan Pugh are yet to be seen. Newly important supplier staffers have not been urged to get involved in the association, nor has an exciting new vehicle for their involvement been put forward.

Once upon a time, a core group of retailers and suppliers led this industry from one year to the next, so slowly did conditions change and new talent evolve. That’s no longer true. Newcomers on both the retailer and supplier side are amply available. They must be encouraged to get involved before they come to believe that NACDS is an organization that doesn’t want their involvement.

Finally, NACDS must broaden its definitions. A meaningful place must be made for online retailers, especially so significant a one as drugstore.com. The criterion that a retailer must operate pharmacies might be replaced by a broader definition, one that insists only that a retailer be committed to health and wellness. This definition appears to be working for FMI. There’s no reason it can’t work for NACDS.

See you at the pharmacy conference.

David Pinto
Chain Drug Review



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