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Another typical year in retailing unfolds

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The year 2016 is more than half over — and the news concerning the chain drug store community has hardly made a ripple.

The Walgreens acquisition of Rite Aid remains a work in progress, though all parties hoped it would have been completed by now. The NACDS Total Store Expo event is unfolding without many surprises, though it has quickly become an accepted part of the NACDS meetings calendar.

Business is proceeding at a brisk, but not overwhelming, pace. And retailers outside the traditional chain drug industry definition continue to influence the chain drug community, without impacting it to any great degree.

In other words, 2016 has settled down, becoming another typical year on the chain drug calendar. And yet, so much more was expected of it just a few short months ago.

cdr-filler-opinion-750True, there have been some management shifts at the higher levels. Walgreens, for one, has seen some new faces emerge at the top, faces unfamiliar to American retailers because of the Boots influence. Rite Aid, while still retaining its senior-level staff, remains rife with speculation that its merger with Walgreens, should it occur, will see several executives moving over to the Chicago-based drug chain. And indeed, several Rite Aid execs would likely be welcomed in Deerfield.

If you’re looking for change, the best place to find it is at CVS, where midlevel staffers come and go with more than the usual frequency. Indeed, it appears that president Helena Foulkes continues to tinker with her merchandising staff, still searching for improvement in a group that has, seemingly, repeatedly proven itself as thoroughly professional.

Elsewhere, the status quo remains the order of the day.

Jim Devine, longtime head of the Chain Drug Marketing Association, has retired, succeeded by his son. The elder Devine will remain with the organization as a consultant — and it must be noted, once again, that CDMA has shown a remarkable ability to survive and prosper in an increasingly crowded field of industry groups vying for the attention of suppliers. Devine’s departure, then, will likely not negatively influence the group going forward.

Still elsewhere, ECRM is undergoing yet another transformation, as it seeks to retain the prestige it enjoyed under its founder, Charlie Bowlus. And NACDS itself continues to strive to maintain its position as the leading merchant-focused retailing association currently serving the mass retailing community. While Total Store Expo has helped to fortify its position, it has thus far not advanced NACDS to the degree that association staffers envisioned when they replaced the Marketplace Conference just two years ago. Still, Total Store Expo has advanced NACDS’ ability to add new programs and services ahead of the need for these programs.

Elsewhere in mass retailing, both Walmart and Target continue to make progress in their efforts to recapture the magic that once defined their place in the retailing community. In truth, Walmart appears farther along this road, at least in terms of the publicity accompanying their efforts.

These two retailers aside for the moment, the grocery retailers appear to be becoming more aggressive, with Whole Foods’ experiment with smaller “360” stores deserving special recognition. Beyond that, many mass retailers appear to be attempting to rediscover urban formats, a group that includes Target but encompasses other companies as well.

So, to summarize, mass retailing in 2016 is unfolding pretty much as anticipated, if you discard the early indications of the dawning of a new era and the emergence of a new group of aggressive retailers who, the stories went, would redraw the retailing landscape and put unprecedented pressures of the perennial leaders. The big names remain big — and the calendar continues to advance toward the start of the fourth quarter.


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