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For chain drug stores, Rx still the anchor

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Chain drug store operators are unique among mass market retailers in many ways, none more dramatic than the separation of the pharmacy and front-end businesses. In fact, they are actually two separate businesses, neither overly dependent on the other for success.

pharmacy_Walgreens LASo it is that the success in pharmacy of a retailer like Walgreens Boots Alliance depends very little on the prosperity of its front-end business. The same can be said for CVS Health and Rite Aid Corp. and, indeed, almost every other drug chain. Pharmacy goes its own way.

This fact of chain drug retailing life is especially critical at the moment, as the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo draws near.

When this event — which this year will be held from ­August 6 through August 9 at the Boston Convention and ­Exhibition Center — replaced the association’s Marketplace Conference several years ago, one of the objects was to combine pharmacy and the front end under one umbrella, a merger that advocates of the change believed would benefit both businesses.

This hasn’t worked out exactly as planned, primarily because a drug chain’s front-end business is more vibrant, even as its sales sometimes lag pharmacy’s. This is not to suggest that NACDS abandon the Total Store Expo format and return to the days of the Marketplace Conference. The new trade show has already more than proven its worth, while the old one had clearly outlived its usefulness.

cdr-filler-opinion-750No. The answer lies in a more productive use of the pharmacy component of the NACDS Total Store Expo. This suggestion is merely that, a suggestion, for the way to reemphasize pharmacy within the Total Store Expo setting remains a mystery, at least here.

Perhaps it’s time for the chain drug industry’s pharmacy leaders to assert, or reassert, themselves. Maybe the pharmaceutical manufacturers need to become bolder and more active at Total Store Expo. Perhaps the industry leaders on both sides of the pharmacy equation would benefit by raising a voice on behalf of pharmacy and its very real contributions to the country’s evolving health care system.

Make no mistake: It’s not that prescription drug sales in a chain drug setting are suffering. To the contrary, the pharmacy business is booming, primarily because drug chains offer consumers some very tangible reasons to fill their prescriptions in a chain dug store, including pharmacists, who are among the most trusted professionals of any kind in America; convenient locations; and a growing array of complementary health care products and services.

Rather, it is that drug chains can do even better than is currently the case. Clearly, the chain drug story, as it relates to pharmacy, needs to be told more forcefully than is now the case. Why? Because seven out of every 10 sales dollars recorded in a chain drug store are dollars recorded by a prescription drug product or related service. No other mass retailer comes close to equaling that production.

Meanwhile, the chain drug industry prepares for its fourth Total Store Expo, in an environment that chain drug retailers can only applaud. Though the industry is in transition, business is solid, the outlook is promising and the future appears to favor the chain drug store over the competition. Though much remains unsettled, the health of the industry going forward looks stronger than it has in some considerable time. In short, the future is in the industry’s hands, and no formidable competitor appears poised to challenge the considerable strengths chain drug retailing has to offer.

Still, the collective voice of chain drug pharmacy is not as prevalent as some might prefer. This, at a time when the industry needs to tout its success in mastering this very complex business.

So, as the chain drug store community prepares to gather in Boston, this might be the right time to remember pharmacy, the chain drug industry’s anchor — and the primary reason the industry has so much to recommend it at this pivotal point in its history.


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