Among the retail trade organizations, one association has emerged as the driving force of the industry it serves, the catalyst for inclusion, and the prime determinator of the directions mass retailing embarks on and the success the industry is achieving in taking stances and making lasting impressions. That organization is the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
This is not meant to downgrade or diminish the other trade organizations that influence, and often dominate, the agendas of various mass retailing components. Associations like the Food Marketing Institute and Retail Industry Leaders Association exert an impact reflective of the retailing segments they lead and represent. But in the 21st century, NACDS, once restricted by the notion that it was pharmacy driven, has freed itself from that shackle and proceeded to extend its influence to virtually every corner of the mass retailing community. Simply put, any retailer or retail supplier not currently a member or quasi-member of this association remains, virtually by definition and self-imposed restriction, a marginal member of the mass retail community.
Under the leadership of Steve Anderson, the association’s president and chief executive officer, and the direction of Jim Whitman, the organization’s most aggressive and perspicacious senior manager, NACDS has effectively inserted itself into the fabric of mass retailing in America — and, if current events continue to unfold, may shortly begin influencing the global retailing community in similarly significant ways.
Once upon a time, NACDS was noted — and respected — for its dominant role in bringing retailers and suppliers together. That remains today its dominant mission. Those who are skeptical of the significance of that role need only attend one NACDS Annual Meeting, the Total Store Expo or the vastly underrated December meetings in New York City that the organization plans, programs and directs — with the significant assistance of its board of directors and industry leaders and spokesmen — to observe at close quarters the value that NACDS participation offers.
NACDS has transformed itself from a trade organization primarily dedicated to improving the participation between retailers and suppliers and making that participation more meaningful and productive to an organization that sees — and seeks to influence — the nation’s legislators and policy makers.
These influencers naturally begin in Washington, D.C., home of the federal government. Washington has developed, over the years, its own set of standards and regulations, which the nation’s lawmakers constantly strive to impose on the mass retailing community. These standards and regulations most naturally begin with the world of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals, a world which affects, in one way or another, a majority of Americans. Most notably, the national government seeks, understandably, to monitor and, in some instances, restrict Americans’ access to the country’s pharmacy universe.
An integral element in this ongoing attempt to control access to pharmaceuticals is the debate over the cost of drugs and how that cost should be allocated and absorbed. NACDS has become an integral part of this debate simply by being there, by making its presence known and by standing with the pharmacy community in the belief that, sufficiently controlled, pharmaceuticals are, or should be, integral to the health care of Americans. Mess with pharmacy, in other words, and you inevitably mess with NACDS.
But the association’s influence extends beyond that pharmaceutical community. It has become the organization of choice when an individual retailer or supplier finds itself grappling with a situation or an event or a program it finds intolerably beyond its purview or resources.
None of this is to imply or infer that NACDS is perfect. As is the case with most industry organizations, it doesn’t always act immediately or appropriately. At times, it responds too slowly to industry events — if at all. But it is nearly always the court of last resort — and, increasingly, It is becoming the court of first resort as well.
Participation in NACDS does not come easily — or cheaply. It requires a commitment of personnel, time and money. Moreover, the rewards emanating from that participation do not come at once. Often, perhaps too often, they come at last, after days, weeks, months and sometimes years, of involvement that sometimes seems like a fruitless quest for attention and recognition. But the alternative is inaction, at a time when industry involvement is desperately needed — and the rewards emanating from that involvement are beyond calculating.