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In latest role, Persaud builds on legacy of resiliency

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PHILADELPHIA — When Rite Aid named Andre Persaud executive vice president of retail in February 2020, it acquired an executive with exceptional breadth of experience in leadership roles across the food, drug and mass retail channels. Last May he was promoted to chief retail officer, and that background is continuing to serve him and Rite Aid well as he leads the strategic transformation of the retail pharmacy segment into a whole health destination for its customers and patients.

Andre Persaud

Persaud began his career in 1994 as a pharmacist for Walmart Canada. During the ensuing eight years, he rose rapidly through the management ranks, eventually leading pharmacy operations for Wal Mart Canada before joining Shoppers Drug Mart in 2002. During a tenure of nearly eight years with Canada’s No. 1 drug store chain, Persaud served first as vice president of operations, leading turnarounds in a number of different functional areas before being named vice president of national operations, front-store performance. While serving in that role, he led Project Infinity,at the time the largest transformational initiative in the chain’s history.

In 2009 Persaud joined Loblaw Cos., Canada’s leading grocery retailer, as vice president of central operations, and subsequently he was promoted to senior vice president of central retail operations and central merchandising. His three-year stint gave him experience in leading a highly complex multi-format, multi-banner organization that included food and drug retailing even before Loblaw acquired Shoppers in 2013.

In 2015 Persaud was recruited by Shopko Stores Inc., which then was being led by a former colleague from Loblaw. As executive vice president of retail, Persaud was responsible for all three of the regional discounter’s divisions, including pharmacy and optical. His accomplishments during the following 18 months included resetting the strategy of Shopko’s Hometown division; turning around the retail health business; developing a new Shopko store concept; and launching in-store e-commerce fulfillment.

In 2018 Persaud returned to the grocery channel as an executive consultant for Wakefern Food Corp., the nation’s largest retailer-owned cooperative. He worked with the executive leadership team to drive a wide-ranging business transformation initiative that involved deep involvement in strategy, digital, own brands, merchandising, category management and stores.

That rich and impressive track record equipped Persaud well for his current role at Rite Aid, leading a team of more than 35,000 associates and a fleet of more than 2,450 stores and pharmacies as well as a network of seven distribution centers and manufacturing operations. Looking back, he singles out a number of particularly valuable legacies from his prior career.

“One is the concept of resiliency, focusing on what really matters and not getting distracted,” he says. “That’s become a core part of my DNA. A second centers around people and developing an amazing team. I’m really proud of the team here at Rite Aid that we’ve built at all levels.”

Persaud adds that his multiple experiences in turnaround and transformational situations and his deep involvement in the pharmacy and drug store worlds have been especially valuable in his present position. Just weeks after his arrival at Rite Aid, the company unveiled its RxEvolution strategy, a blueprint for transforming the drug store chain into a whole health destination that treats the mind and spirit as well as the body with a merchandise assortment that combines alternative remedies with traditional medicines, while elevating the role of the pharmacists to be whole health advocates. Fundamental to the RxEvolution concept is a vision of wellness that encompasses better sleep, stress alleviation and pain relief and that recognizes the growing consumer preference for products that are organic, non-GMO, cruelty free and free from harmful chemicals.

The launch of RxEvolution was timely, to say the least, coming as it did in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic. And in fact many elements of the strategy resonated even more strongly with consumers faced with an unprecedented health threat.

“When you’re immersed in it day to day it’s easy not to recognize or realize the progress being made, but when you step back to evaluate it, the progress has been quite striking,” says Persaud. “Considering that we launched it just as the pandemic was beginning its initial surge, in many ways our RxEvolution strategy crystallized more meaningfully for many consumers.”

“Despite the multitude of operational challenges created by the pandemic, the chain has achieved a number of significant wins,” he adds.

“We’ve updated our merchandise mix, we’ve redesigned or updated up our stores, we’ve created this whole health connection across both the pharmacy and the front end,” Persaud elaborates. “We’ve done a lot of work on improving the in-store experience, which includes not just the physical look and feel of the store, but also elevating our store associates to deliver a higher level of customer experience through additional training.”

In fact, Persaud adds, Rite Aid has reclassified and renamed its frontline store employees as “service associates” in recognition of their primary role of caring for customers. They have also received additional training in what management terms “enhance and expand” categories that are producing strong sales results. The company is training its store-level service associates to be more knowledgeable about those products, so that they can engage effectively with customers who come into the stores.

That training is part of a broader approach to creating new opportunities for career growth within Rite Aid, whether for a new associate joining the company as their first job or for a 20-year veteran. As one example, since the beauty category is an important offering in the new merchandise assortment, the company has revived the role of beauty ambassador and is staffing some of its remodeled stores with those specially trained associates. In addition, the asset protection team has been restructured to create more meaningful roles with greater clarity, Persaud says.

“More broadly, it’s really important that we support and provide meaningful growth for our store managers, assistant managers, our entire field organization and our supply chain leadership,” he remarks. “We started on this journey over the last few months, and there’s much more to do, so this is a top priority for me.”

Another high priority, he says, is delivering on opportunities to drive top-line growth, including the retailer’s new customer loyalty program Rite Aid Rewards, driving own-brand sales, and further developing and enhancing its digital offerings to further Rite Aid’s omnichannel capabilities. Last October, for example, Rite Aid completed the national rollout of its buy online, pickup in-store initiative, which not only offers current customers heightened convenience through more shopping options, but will help attract the chain’s target customer, a woman between 25 and 45 years of age.

In addition, Persaud points out that one effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to accelerate consumer adoption of digital technology. “All consumers, regardless of their age or demographics, have become accustomed over the last year and a half to leveraging technology in their day-to-day life, whether it’s using an app to schedule a COVID vaccination or using a digital device to talk to a health care provider,” he says. “How many people knew how to scan a QR code before the pandemic? Today’s consumer now has a digital-first mindset.

“So the question really is, how do we capitalize on this I think about this not just from the perspective of the shopping experience, but how the consumer engages with our Rite Aid brand. It’s really more about a meaningful relationship with the consumer.”

Persaud recently celebrated his second anniversary at Rite Aid, and with everything that has occurred over the past two years, he takes the greatest pride in what the Rite Aid team has accomplished in the face of extraordinary challenges and adversity.

“We’ve made meaningful progress, and I couldn’t be more proud of this organization,” he says. “Looking ahead I fully expect us to continue to deliver on our purpose, which is helping consumers achieve whole health for life. That will spell success to me, and it will make an exciting future for Rite Aid.”

 


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