NOVI, Mich. — After 26 years as an integral part of the Chain Drug Marketing Association (CDMA) and a lifetime in the chain drug industry, Jim Devine is hanging up his cleats, though he won’t be completely out of the game.
Devine stepped down January 1 as CDMA president, but he plans to remain with the association in a consulting capacity. (His son, John Devine, has been elected by the CDMA board of directors to take his father’s place.)
For his impact and influence on the industry over the course of his career, the editors of Chain Drug Review have given Jim Devine the publications’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in 1939 in Detroit, Devine began his career after graduating from Wayne State University’s Pharmacy School in 1963 when he went to work for Cunningham Drug, moving up from assistant manager to store manager to district manager to cosmetics buyer. He continued climbing the ladder at Cunningham, becoming the company’s senior buyer for the health and beauty category in 1970, then vice president and ultimately senior vice president from 1975 until 1979.
Devine also had stints as executive vice president at Teitel Associates and as president of Apex Drugs before becoming the president of CDMA in 1990.
Despite his pharmacy credentials, the focus of Devine’s career has been more managerial. “Although I graduated with a degree in pharmacy, I only filled prescriptions for five years before moving into management and buying positions,” Devine says. “I am fortunate that Cunningham Drug had a scholarship program that paid my tuition and fees for four years.”
Under Devine’s leadership, CDMA — which is owned by more than 100 regional drug chains, independent pharmacies, regional drug wholesalers, specialty distributors and buying groups — broadened its membership with grocery stores and wholesalers, as well as convenience store chains, and it has moved well beyond the drug channel. During Devine’s tenure, CDMA also expanded the breadth of categories it distributes, offering more general merchandise in addition to products under its Quality Choice store brand in an effort to become, according to Devine, “the front-end source for as much as we can be, for all of our members.”
Responding to this enormous growth, the association has also expanded its distribution center from 44,000 to 70,000 square feet.
CDMA is an entirely different organization from when Devine first came on board, with relocations from New York to Chicago to Michigan, yet all the while “changing with the industry.”
Passion and trust, according to John Devine, are two very important words that were a big part of his father’s success. “I picked up on his passion for retail a long time ago when I would just follow him around going store to store at Cunningham Drug, and later Apex Drugs,” he says. “I remember being amazed by the respect and the trust people had in him.” The incoming CDMA president says his goal is to emulate his father’s hard work and preparation.
Founded in 1926 by a group of chain drug owners with the ambition of forming a group whose sole purpose was supporting the owners’ marketing and merchandising efforts, CDMA has continued to evolve and thrive. After 68 years, CDMA is a vibrant and growing association, despite consolidation in the chain drug industry.
One of the organization’s strongest attributes, Jim Devine notes, has been its ability to cater to small chains with up to 200 stores that can’t meet minimum shipment demands of large wholesalers and suppliers. The distribution center expansion allows the organization to warehouse items that members can order in small quantities, such as Taylor bathroom scales or eos lip balm.
That CDMA remains a viable organization is a surprise to some, a revelation to others. In many ways it has been overshadowed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and various other trade organizations, though CDMA has remained invaluable and indispensable to smaller retailers.
Devine’s leadership, in the view of many industry insiders, is the major reason CDMA has survived. Devine has remained committed to CDMA for longer than most industry people can remember, attending every trade show, developing new endeavors, consistently voicing his support of the association, though appreciating its fragility in a changing marketplace.
Before taking the helm at CDMA, Devine was uniquely qualified to run the organization, having worked in retail with experience in larger stores and smaller ones. So when Affiliated Associated Drug Stores (CDMA’s original name) was in need of a new president, Devine was one of the first 22 candidates to be interviewed.
Prior to the merger of Affiliated and Associated in 1989, Devine was familiar with both groups — Affiliated and Associated — which made him even that much more attractive to the investors of the newly formed Affiliated Associated Drug Stores. After whittling down the 22 candidates to three, the search committee chose Devine to take over the organization. One of his first decisions as president was changing the name from Affiliated Associated to Chain Drug Marketing Association, which, he says, was a better fit and more appropriately described the organization.
When Devine took the reins, CDMA was located in New York and staffed with 18 employees. But it wasn’t long after becoming president when Devine realized New York wasn’t the best location for CDMA due to all the changes in the chain drug industry. “We had no members left in New York. All the regional drug chains were getting bought up,” Devine says. So Devine shuttered the offices in New York and moved west to Chicago, which he notes was one of his biggest challenges. “Most of my staff were native New Yorkers. So I had to start all over again and hire new personnel in Chicago.”
Once in Chicago, CDMA teamed up with Shurfine International, a company that at the time was representing private label. But Devine says that CDMA’s growth began to outpace Shurfine’s ability to keep up. “We were building real fast,” he says. CDMA soon developed its own private label brand when it bought the Quality Choice trademark and subsequently, in 1998, moved its operations to Novi, Mich., where it has been headquartered ever since.
Devine says he views the development of Quality Choice as his biggest success during his 26 years with CDMA. Emphasizing this success, Devine adds that “if we didn’t have Quality Choice, there would be no CDMA today.” Devine also notes that under the Quality Choice program, CDMA continues to roll out new items on a regular basis — with another 50 or 60 items launching soon.
Quality Choice and HyTop, CDMA’s other store brand label, have more than 1,300 SKUs specializing in over-the-counter, personal care, beauty care, nutritional products and general merchandise. The consolidated warehouse’s low minimum shipping doesn’t require members to tie up cash with inventory, which helps to keep inventory turning and reduces the problem of expiration dates.
But the key to making the Quality Choice program work, Devine says, is ensuring the products are “N.B.E.” — national brand equivalent. “We’re not cheapening the products,” he says. “We’re not just adding water to the wine. Our ibuprofen is comparable to Advil, our acetaminophen is comparable to Tylenol.” All of these products, Devine adds, are tested by independent laboratories to guarantee highest standards of quality and consumer satisfaction.
CDMA is also set to unveil its Awaken line, which will be comprised of some 70 SKUs of skin care products on par, according to Devine, with Neutrogena. CDMA’s other new line, Nirmala, with 31 SKUs, is an organic/natural collection of hair care and skin care products that the organization is planning to unveil as well. “We’re keeping up with the trends,” he says.
John Devine says strengthening the Nirmala and Awaken lines will be one of his top priorities when he becomes CDMA’s president.
For Jim Devine, in business as in life, with success comes setbacks, and he says in 26 years his biggest disappointment was losing both Harco and K&B to Rite Aid on the very same day. This reality — of smaller and independent chains being gobbled up by large and international powerhouses — is not just happening in the grocery and drug industries but in all businesses.
“It’s happening with everything,” Devine says. Nevertheless, CDMA has grown, not only through adding its own in store brand for members as well as a seasonal direct import program, but in sales volume as well. When CDMA left Chicago, the organization was generating roughly $3 million in sales annually, Devine says. Today, that number has jumped to $24 million with 34 employees at its headquarters in Novi.
During his 26 years, along with growth, expansion and added services, Devine says he has seen major changes in the industry, not surprisingly one of the biggest being the loss of the smaller players. “When I started, we had just about all regional drug chains, such as the K&Bs, the Harcos,” he says. “But now they’re just about all gone.” But Devine also notes that CDMA has adapted to these changes, adding wholesalers to the mix. Today, the organization has seven regional wholesaler members.
But perhaps the most significant change Devine has experienced, at least on what has reshaped the industry’s landscape, is technology. Adapting to the rapid changes in technology, such as utilizing social media and fully utilizing online capabilities, is essential, Devine says, to staying competitive and succeeding in today’s business climate. On this front, Devine says CDMA, for the first time in the organization’s history, has invested considerably in improving its information technology with Netsuite, which brings four different platforms — accounting, warehousing, shipping and a CRM database — into one program.
Devine says CDMA plans to go live with a new website and an enhanced social media presence in April. “Ordering online is going to be a big part of what we are going to be presenting,” he says.
As he nears the end of his tenure as CDMA president, the 77-year-old Devine says what he has enjoyed the most is all the “great people” he has worked with over the years. “The board of directors has been very supportive not only of CDMA but of me personally, and has always been there to help me,” Devine says. “I have had so much help and cooperation, it’s very heartwarming.”
Devine also credits his personnel, especially when he had to leave New York essentially by himself and then again when he left Chicago to start all over again in Michigan. “I have a staff of 34, and they do a great job,” he says. “I’ve been very blessed to have great people.” Devine also credits his success to his “very supportive wife who has put up with my crazy schedule all these years.” Devine is married to his “sixth-grade sweetheart,” Juanita. They have five children and 15 grandchildren.
But for those who rely on CDMA and benefit from its presence in the chain drug industry, Devine’s departure will be easier to absorb because of his continuing involvement in a consulting capacity and the choice of his son as his successor. Devine says he has total confidence in his son taking over and continuing to lead the organization in the right direction. “John has a great economics and financial background,” Devine says. “Plus, he knows all of our members.”
Those relationships, John Devine adds, cannot be overlooked as a “key” ingredient in his father’s success. “My father valued the relationships he has developed over 60 years in the industry. I think everyone here at CDMA sees the importance of building on the relationships that he has developed,” he says. “I personally will need the help of many industry veterans that my father counted on over the years. I look forward to developing relationships with every one of them.”
Once retired, Jim Devine says he will miss the daily business of buying and selling and attending trade shows. He recalls attending NACDS for the first time at 34 and then the following year when the show was in Switzerland — the last time it was outside the U.S. — as highlights of his career. “I’m going to miss all the action,” he says. However, he adds that he is looking forward to retiring in Florida and notes that “my 15 grandchildren will keep me busy.”