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Drug chains’ beauty business in doldrums

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In chain drug retailing, the most disappointing product category in 2016 has been beauty care.

Indeed, the problem with the beauty care category in chain drug stores is, quite simply, the chain drug store’s inability to generate any significant interest in the category. It performs far more credibly in other mass retailing outlets, and it has mostly rewarded the suppliers’ commitment. Only the chain drug industry has expressed disappointment — in a year when most chain drug categories have performed to ­expectations.

Reasons for this failure abound. For one, too many beauty care merchants operating in the chain drug community have not generally been up to the standards of past performers. Many have been victimized by insufficient training.

cdr-filler-opinion-750Others lack experience, in a category where experience is crucial to performance. Still others have suffered from a lack of commitment from the companies they work for. Some have suffered from a lack of attention by beauty care suppliers, many of which have gravitated instead to retailers that claim to value beauty care more than do drug chains.

Whatever the reasons, the plain fact is that beauty care sales in a chain drug store setting have disappointed this year. In some instances, that disappointment has been significant, sometimes accounting for the difference between an ordinary year and an unacceptable one. When beauty care registers only a marginal increase, other core categories must pull extra weight to counter the shortfall.

If the category is to recover in 2017, the beauty care suppliers must increase their commitment to beauty care in a chain drug store setting. After all, drug chains have traditionally led all mass retailers in beauty care performance, and a sudden sales spike by other mass retailers cannot obscure the chain drug leadership history in the category.

Then, too, a momentary sales hike does not necessarily foretell a future commitment to a category, especially in the grocery business, where food remains — and will remain — the core category.

Indeed, among mass retailers, only Walmart and Target  appear ready, at this point, to commit to beauty care on a long-term basis. That commitment, and the fact that Walmart and Target already generate significant beauty care volume, justifies the supplier reemphasis on those companies as beauty care retailers.

Of course, specialty retailers have become significant beauty care sellers in recent times. And suppliers have responded accordingly, expending more time and effort in that trade channel than ever before. Here again, however, this real and projected volume hardly counterbalances the slowdown the chain drug trade class has experienced — and shouldn’t be permitted to replace the traditional supplier commitment to drug chains’ beauty care efforts.

But the chain drug industry must shoulder some of the blame for the sluggish sales currently being recorded by beauty care. Chain drug retailing has changed considerably in the last several years. As the industry has grown, small industry events have been replaced by larger ones, events that are larger in scope and larger in drama. The prime example of this evolution is the emergence of Total Store Expo, the multicategory and multidiscipline show mounted by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

As most industry people still recall, Total Store Expo replaced the Marketplace Conference, itself a replacement for an NACDS event centered on the beauty care business when that event was perceived to have run its course.

Point is, the gains in repositioning and broadening an industry event don’t always cancel out the disadvantages. Once upon a time, cosmetics, fragrances and related beauty care categories were deemed critical enough to warrant an industry event. The growth of other categories hasn’t necessarily diminished the significant of beauty care. Perhaps this is the time to reintroduce measures to highlight it once again.

However, that’s all in the future. For the present, the lesson is that one of the chain drug store’s core categories is suffering. The hope here is that the chain drug industry retains the power, force and commitment to take the steps necessary to revive it and move it forward.


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