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Emerson revives sadly lost approach to business

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This newspaper has no more committed — and significant — supporter than Scott Emerson.

To those few in our retail audience who, unfortunately for them, have not yet taken advantage of the many benefits Emerson has to offer, some background information is in order.

Scott Emerson, founder and CEO of Emerson Group.

Scott Emerson is the founder, chief executive and primary motivator of the Emerson Group, a hybrid organization that is at once a sales group, broker and, most importantly, essential bridge between the retailer and supplier communities in America. That last function is the organization’s most essential contribution to the retail community, for Emerson, like the group he leads and directs, knows as much — if not more — about chain drug retailing (and its sister mass retailing companies) than perhaps any individual currently working with the industry.

Even more to the point, Emerson cares — about the companies with which he interacts and about the individuals within those companies. At times, he appears to care more about advising the retail community than about doing business within that community. As an inevitable result, his highly regarded organization manages to do both. And the retail community is richer as a result.

But enough about Scott Emerson. The important point here is not who he is but what he represents. Any buying or merchandising executive who doesn’t fully understand that mass retailing has changed is operating under a serious handicap. Simply put, chain drug retailing today bears little resemblance to the industry of a decade ago or even five years ago.

Put another way, once upon a time chain drug retailing was a serious partnership between retailers and suppliers, a partnership that benefited both parties because of the common goal they shared: doing business. As such, members of the buying and merchandising communities often numbered among their most valuable associates members of the supplier community.

Those days, alas, are gone, perhaps forever. Nowadays, chain drug staffers often go their own way, deprived of information that makes their jobs easier, more profitable and more rewarding. The industry has become too big, too competitive, too narrowly focused. As a result, a supplier executive, even one who, in earlier days, would have been trusted, is now viewed with suspicion. A supplier staffer who calls on Walgreens consequently has a more difficult assignment in getting to know the people at CVS.

This is no one’s fault. Rather, it is in the nature of business in the America of the 21st century. Indeed, it is as American as apple pie. The downside lies, of course, in the fact that both parties suffer — in ways that go beyond buying and selling. “What does the new Walgreens store look like?” — “Why don’t you get on a plane and see for yourself?”

Happily for chain drug retailing, Scott Emerson has seen beyond that, and tailored his company to the difficult task of communication. As a result, the Emerson Group is staffed with people who know how to speak, what to say, and to whom to say it. It is a complicated and enviable task. The words “Sorry, I can’t help you” have been replaced, in the Emerson context, with the words “That’s an interesting question. Maybe I can help you answer it.”

So this ode to Scott Emerson and the group he so capably represents is really an ode to ourselves, our industry, what it has been and what it could be again, if only …

If only more people were trained to think and act as Scott Emerson does, putting himself first by putting himself last. If only …


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