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Chain drug industry looks ahead at uncertain future

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For chain drug industry people, 2016 will be remembered as a year best forgotten — as much for the uncertainty of the future as for the problems of the past.

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As NACDS Week in New York ended, it became clear that the future, given the new presidential administration about to unfold, is anyone’s guess.

As November ended and December began, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores brought industry leaders together in New York City for NACDS Week in New York, its annual year-end meetings and insights into what 2017 might bring. As the meeting-week ended, it became clear that the future, given the new presidential administration about to unfold, is anyone’s guess.

More specifically, no one really knows what 2017 will bring, either from a business standpoint or in terms of the financial climate in Washington, D.C.

Traditionally, a Republican administration, at least initially, summons up a positive attitude on behalf of the chain drug community. Traditionally, it augers a loosening of governmental regulations and a correspondingly freer hand for chain drug retailers and suppliers to do business.

Not this year. Frankly, industry people don’t know much about what to expect from Washington in the coming months — or years. President Trump, for most people, is an unknown quantity as the new administration, along with the new Congress, dawns — with the result that the industry is adopting a wait-and-see approach to the new term.

This is particularly true of the Affordable Care Act, which could be discarded or revised — or left as is — as the new administration begins to formulate possible approaches to the new health care act.

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None of this is to imply that the chain drug industry has adopted a strong position on the act as a whole. Rather, it’s the uncertainty that’s clouding the future, the knowledge that nothing is guaranteed going forward.

Politics aside, what industry people expect in the period ahead is a bunch of new faces leading it. Many of the figures who have led the industry in years past are about to disappear — and their replacements will increasingly come from the grocery and drug wholesaling segments of heath care retailing, and less from such traditional leaders as conventional drug chains.

Particularly noteworthy here is the emergence of such retailers as Albertsons, a grocery chain with a strong chain drug component. Not only has Bob Miller, Albertsons’ chairman and chief executive officer, spent much of his career in the chain drug industry, many of his senior staff have also worked for some leading drug chains.

Particularly noteworthy were the contributions the NACDS Foundation continues to make to the health care community, with the annual foundation dinner citing the organization’s contributions to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation and the March of Dimes. Dr. Judith Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, received the NACDS Foundation’s 2016 Excellence in Patient Care award.

For the rest of it, NACDS remains one of the leading retail associations, characterized by strong management and a deep and talented staff.

Even now, the association is putting in place its plans for the 2017 NACDS Annual Meeting, scheduled for April in Scotts­dale, Ariz. Beyond that, the 2017 Total Store Expo event, slated for August in San Diego, is beginning to take shape. In between is the customary roster of NACDS events designed to engage and inform an industry even now on the cutting edge of innovation and achievement.

Still, the burdens of 2016, a year when all did not go as planned, hang over current events — and an end to the continuity that has characterized chain drug retailing for two decades remains very much in the forefront of memory — and future agendas.


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