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NACDS Regional Conference looks back — and ahead

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Alex Gourlay_2018 NACDS Regional Chain Conference

NACDS chairman and Walgreens Boots Alliance co-COO Alex Gourlay: “We start, as pharmacy, with a natural advantage.”

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As it marks 85 years of representing traditional drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchants with pharmacies and supplier partners, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is looking forward — as it demonstrated during its 2018 NACDS Regional Chain Conference here earlier this month.

One of the keynote speakers during the conference, Alex Gourlay, chairman of NACDS, co-chief operating officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance and president of Walgreens, touched on the vital role pharmacies play in bringing enhanced health care and service to their communities due to the trust pharmacists have established over the years.

“Pharmacy is beautifully positioned, as it always has been, to take care of shifts in the customer and in the marketplace,” Gourlay said. “We start, as pharmacy, with a natural advantage, being really close to where people live, where they work and where they spend time in their communities.”

Gourlay, with 40 years experience in the industry — including 36 as a pharmacist — related his personal experience to the influence the industry can have on patients. “I have a huge passion for what pharmacies and pharmacists can bring, and continuing to build trust is a key part of our future,” he said.

Gourlay also highlighted some of the changes shaping the industry, much of which is being driven by digital and e-commerce — elements that are also creating a more transparent and efficient industry, in his view. As pharmacy becomes ever more patient-centric with increased focus on affordable and accessible health care and becoming a destination for health and wellness, Gourlay emphasized the association’s engagement on these issues and its steadfast support for its many members.

As an example, Gourlay described the work of the NACDS Retail Advisory Board to help identify successful elements of collaboration between chains and suppliers of varying size. That project — referred to as a critical issues quadrant analysis — is available in the membership resources section via the association’s website,

Gourlay also discussed the importance of the front-end, a component that is central to the success of any retail pharmacy. “I will always speak from a pharmacy point of view, because I believe pharmacy is what gives all of us the unique purpose and differentiation in the marketplace,” Gourlay said. “At the same time, all of the products, services and solutions that come from retail product manufacturers are mission ­critical.”

The continuing challenge of DIR (direct and indirect remuneration fees) was not lost on Gourlay during the conference as he talked about the important work NACDS is doing on behalf of pharmacies and efforts to collect adequate and just reimbursements. “We have got to protect the pharmacist’s income,” he said. “I’m worried about politics hurting pharmacists. They need and should get paid fairly.”

NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson also spoke to the issue of DIR fees and remuneration when he addressed the attendees.

“It’s not sustainable for a pharmacist to get paid only to have to give back some of that payment,” Anderson said, adding that NACDS has taken and will continue to take that message to Congress on behalf of ­pharmacists.

Anderson, who, like Gourlay, also covered an array of important topics facing pharmacists, including the burgeoning opioid crisis, centered his remarks within the framework of the association’s 85th anniversary and its tradition of supporting pharmacies and chains since 1933. “It is the membership that keeps NACDS spry,” he said. “It is the membership that keeps NACDS vibrant, and cutting-edge and completely focused on the needs of this industry — just as it was on day one, back in 1933.”

In harkening back to its inception, Anderson opined that the visionaries who founded NACDS would be as engaged on today’s topics as they were in its nascent stages.

“An anniversary is a great time to look at NACDS through the eyes of those who created it. A National Association of Chain Drug Stores did not exist, and they decided it needed to,” Anderson said. “If they were operating pharmacies today, I can imagine the founders of NACDS sitting in this room joining in our talks about modern-day policy — about the need to have access to the patient, about prescription-drug reimbursement challenges, about being blind-sided by a DIR fee.”

Furthering this point, Anderson quoted Nate Shapero of Cunningham Drug Stores, a founding father of NACDS and the association’s second president: “At our first annual convention last year, I sounded the keynote of the ‘Triumph of Cooperation,’ which for all future years, we can safely adopt as our slogan and motto. Our association, through which the ideas of the North and South can be mingled with the thoughts of the East and the West, is an effective instrument … for the development of a sound relationship between the manufacturer … the producer … the chain store … and between ourselves and the public.’”

Rephrasing and updating Shapero’s philosophy, Anderson talked about a “triumph of collaboration” to describe the necessity of working together to address key assumptions related to one’s view of the future. Specifically on the work of NACDS and DIR fees, Anderson said that addressing fair reimbursements in a meaningful, workable and effective way “remains our goal, and NACDS has worked with our allies on a consistent basis on this issue,” he said, adding that “it is Economics 101 — markets and businesses need some basic levels of predictability and stability.”

Anderson also emphasized the importance of working together through NACDS on pharmacy and front-end issues alike. “Whatever the issue, NACDS is totally committed to bringing about workable and successful solutions that only can be achieved by true collaboration,” he said.

Along with DIR fees, opioids and front-end solutions, the conference discussed business-building strategies, health care quality, pharmacy patient care, community engagement, omnichannel, pharmaceutical trends, workplace policy, and millennial and centennial ­marketing.

Click here to see a slideshow of the NACDS Regional Chain Conference.


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