Industry mourns SDM founder Murray Koffler, 93

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TORONTO — Murray Koffler, who over 50 years ago founded what would become Canada’s largest drug chain, Shoppers Drug Mart, has died at age 93.

Murray Koffler_Shoppers Drug Mart

Murray Koffler

Also a prominent philanthropist and businessman, Koffler passed away on Sunday at his home in Toronto.

Koffler was born in Toronto in 1924. At age 17, he went on a career path into the pharmacy business when his father Leon, who had founded Koffler’s Drug Stores in 1921, died of a heart attack. At his mother’s insistence, he studied pharmacy at the University of Toronto and then at age 22 began to run the two Koffler’s stores after he graduated with his pharmacy degree in 1946.

In 1950, he emulated Dominion stores and introduced self-service to pharmacy, dispensing with the soda fountain and putting the pharmacy department up front in the store to focus on prescriptions and health aids, which boosted business. He also required pharmacists to wear white coats to emphasize their professionalism. Koffer also opened the first drug store in a shopping center after being introduced to developer E.P. Taylor.

Upon acquiring other drug stores in the mid-1950s, Kofflerpioneered the associate-owner concept. Under this then-novel franchising model, pharmacist associates owned and operated their stores within the system and shared in the profits.

By 1962, the Koffler’s business had grown into 17 pharmacies. That year, he opened a store at Shoppers World at Danforth and Coxwell and took the names “Shoppers” from Shoppers World, and “Mart” from Loblaws Food Mart and put the banner Shoppers Drug Mart on three Koffler’s stores, creating the foundation for a prosperous pharmacy chain that emphasized wide aisles, bright stores and discounted prices.

When competitor Plaza Drugs grappled with ownership strife, Murray suggested that the chains combine and create a public company, which triggered a series of acquisitions until the business grew to 500 stores nationwide.

Murray Koffler_Shoppers Drug Mart

Koffler with customers in an early Shoppers Drug Mart store.

In 1968, Shoppers Drug Mart grew to 52 stores in Ontario by merging with 33 Plaza Drugstores. Three years later, the company bought 87 Cunningham Drug Stores in British Columbia and Alberta. The first Pharmaprix store was opened in Quebec in 1972. Lord’s Supervalue Pharmacies joined in Atlantic Canada joined Shoppers Drug Mart in 1974.

At Taylor’s suggestion, Koffler in 1978 sold Shoppers Drug Mart to a major public firm, Imasco Ltd., and took shares in the new company. He served as chief executive officer of Shoppers Drug Mart from 1978 to 1982, and then as chairman until his retirement in 1986.

Today, Shoppers Drug Mart is a subsidiary of Loblaw Cos., which acquired the chain in 2014 for $12.4 billion (Canadian), and has more than 1,300 drug stores across Canada.

An active investor, Koffler co-founded Four Seasons Hotels and remained a director of the company until 2004.

He supported a range of causes, establishing the Council on Drug Abuse, the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and the Koffler Centre of the Arts. He also supported such organizations as the Toronto Symphony, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the Canadian Society for the Weizmann Institute.

Koffler was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 1991 and named as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995.

He is survived by Marvelle, his wife of 67 years, and five children and many grandchildren.


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