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Regional drug chains deserve more attention

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The cataclysmic changes within the chain drug retailing community, whatever their ultimate implications for America’s largest drug chains and for the industry in general, are putting the country’s regional drug chains more glaringly in the spotlight.

cdr-filler-opinion-750Indeed, not only are America’s smaller drug chains more professionally managed and operated than they have yet been, they are impacting their various markets more dramatically than they have in recent times, primarily because they are more competitive than they’ve been in the past.

If you doubt that, pick a market at random. Likely as not, CVS or Walgreens is the leader, unless it is a market in which Rite Aid has strength. Right below the leaders, however, you’re likely to find a regional drug chain, one that has succeeded by emphasizing service and customer loyalty, two ingredients the major drug retailers still struggle to master, simply because of their size.

Anyway, having determined that the regional drug chains require more attention, whether from a competitive or supplier angle, the logical place to start is at the upcoming regional chain drug conference, that annual event sponsored and managed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

This event has long been overlooked or undervalued by the chain drug community, primarily because the major drug chains participate only to the extent that one of their senior managers is the NACDS chairman at the moment of the meeting. So it is that, this year, Rite Aid’s chief executive, John Standley, will attend in his role as NACDS chairman.

Otherwise, the retail attendees will consist mostly of smaller drug chains, along with the smattering of food-oriented retailers who defy the traditional chain drug definition. This group, by the way, has only served to enhance the regional chain conference in recent years, bringing some fresh thinking and new ideas to the gathering.

At any rate, the 2015 NACDS Regional Chain Conference is scheduled to kick off in Naples, Fla., on February 1, the date of the 2015 Super Bowl. That, by the way, is not a negative — NACDS hosts one of the more-compelling Super Bowl parties, one offering gifts, prizes and other surprises that the supplier community makes available.

That inducement aside, however, the regional conference offers the huge advantage of accessibility. Those who attend are greeted by a group of retailers (and suppliers) who are eager to interact and more than willing to share information. This is a sharp departure from the larger, more heavily attended NACDS meetings, most notably the Annual Meeting and Total Store Expo events, where a heavy supplier presence, a busy business program and a crowded social agenda often combine to limit access.

Another advantage of the regional chain conference is the willingness of the retailers to bring to the meeting several of their most senior executives. More significant than their presence, however, is their willingness to engage and be engaged. They come to learn and to meet people, two inducements that should make this meeting an essential part of a company’s annual planning calendar. The key word here is should, because many organizations remain unconvinced that it really does. This is the year that should change peoples’ minds, provided they make a commitment to the ­conference.

To be fair, NACDS hasn’t talked up this meeting as it does other, larger, more immediate gatherings on its annual agenda. As far as the regional executives are concerned, smaller is better — and the size of the meeting has, in the main, benefitted the attendees. But the greater good of the chain drug industry is never served by limiting attendance — or opportunities. A larger meeting invariably provides opportunities for more companies — and more people. Even at its current size, the value of this particular meeting can be attested to by the fact that those who do attend show up each and every year — and generally don’t come alone, preferring to share the experience with fellow ­employees.

To conclude, then, that this is a valuable and seriously under-valued meeting, one has only to look at a list of retailers who plan to attend. They include some of the leading retailers in the chain drug industry — while their senior executives occupy some of the key positions in the hierarchy of NACDS leaders — reason enough, if no others existed, to come to Naples on February 1.

Happily, though, there are ­others.


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