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Bloom’s arrival a catalyst for Family Dollar

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If initial indications offer any guarantee of an eventual outcome, Mike Bloom’s arrival as president and chief operating officer at Family Dollar Stores promises to benefit the dollar retailer in ways almost too numerous to detail.

One difference between CVS, where Bloom was head of merchandising and supply chain, and Family Dollar is apparent at the outset: CVS is a more sophisticated and battle-hardened retailer than Family Dollar.

While the latter has prospered by the simple expedient of brilliantly competing on price, the CVS drug store has survived and succeeded through an impressive blend of exciting and unique store design, innovative merchandising programs, aggressive marketing, and new and creative ways of reaching and influencing the customer. Examples of this effective combination abound: the CVS loyalty program, the undeniable traffic-building influence of the MinuteClinic immediate care medical facilities, the innovative programs that have effectively built the retailer’s prescription drug business.

It is not outside the realm of possibility to imagine a day when Family Dollar adds pharmacy to its merchandise arsenal.

By contrast, Family Dollar, like its closest competitors, Dollar General and Dollar Tree, has traditionally attracted its primary customer by offering basic merchandise at irresistibly competitive prices. Moreover, Family Dollar’s success in marketing to its core consumer can be attributed in great measure to the fact that the retailer’s merchandising emphasis has centered on apparel and such basic merchandise as paper goods, categories many of its competitors have largely neglected.

With Bloom’s arrival at the retailer, this is sure to change. More specifically, health and beauty care, Bloom’s core merchandising strengths, will surely assume a more significant role at Family Dollar. Indeed, it is not outside the realm of possibility to imagine a day when Family Dollar adds pharmacy to its merchandise arsenal.

Credit for imagining the initiatives Bloom’s arrival could trigger at Family Dollar, as well as praise for luring the 30-year CVS veteran with the offer of the presidency rightly goes to Family Dollar’s brilliant and innovative CEO, Howard Levine. In understanding that the Family Dollar model could not significantly continue to evolve under the present strategy, structure and management team, Levine boldly reached out to Bloom, one of mass retailing’s valuable assets.

Put another way, if CVS is rightly viewed as one of the nation’s two strongest drug chains, and one of a handful of world-class mass retailers now operating in America, much of the credit must go to Bloom. He, after all, has led or been closely involved with CVS’ front-end merchandising initiatives for at least the past decade, a period during which the Woonsocket, R.I., drug chain emerged as one of America’s very best.

Not only did Levine bring Bloom to Family Dollar’s Matthews, N.C., headquarters, he has already made it clear that he intends to rely heavily on the former CVS executive to submit new ideas, chart new directions and develop new strategies for the dollar chain. More than listening, Levine indicates that he has every intention of implementing the best of them.

Where Family Dollar is concerned, however, perhaps the biggest advantages Bloom will bring are not his knowledge and experience as a merchant but two other attributes: his abilities as a manager and his relations within the supplier community.

No one who really knows about these things disputes the fact that CVS fields the deepest, most experienced, most stable merchandising team in chain drug retailing. As a veteran group, this team functions smoothly and effortlessly in developing and implementing new programs while infusing the retailer with a continuity and sense of direction that are rare in the mass retailing community.

Individually, the merchants at CVS are highly regarded within that community, even while collectively they have closely adhered to the CVS merchandising agenda, even at the risk of offending, annoying or even angering the retailer’s suppliers. That’s why the appointment of Judy Sansone to succeed Bloom as CVS’ chief merchant has been so warmly received within the supplier community.

Then there’s Bloom’s relationship with suppliers. It’s no big news that Family Dollar’s relationships with its suppliers have long been characterized by ambivalence. On the one hand, suppliers are understandably anxious to sell goods to a retailer that has clearly earned a place in the front ranks of America’s mass retailing community. On the other hand, they are understandably reluctant to do so, a sentiment based in large part on a fear of alienating larger and more important customers by being accused, usually unjustly, of offering Family Dollar different, and possibly more favorable, terms.

Mike Bloom, who by dint of his experience, longevity and longtime role as CVS’ head merchant, enjoys particularly productive relations with those health and beauty suppliers who will form the core of his new company’s new merchandising strategy, promises to change the Family Dollar-supplier equation.

Suppliers who had no difficulty saying no to Family Dollar will find it much more tempting to say yes to Bloom, especially when the Family Dollar president makes it clear that he intends to give his new company a stronger and more dominant presence in health and beauty care, and use those categories as springboards for extending Family Dollar’s reach and impact in the unfolding marketplace of the 21st century.

So in the end, Bloom’s presence at Family Dollar promises to be a transformative one — and Howard Levine deserves credit for his perspicacity in effectively consummating one of the boldest personnel moves mass retailing has seen in some time.


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