Although sometimes overlooked amid the swirl of activity surrounding the largest players in retail pharmacy, regional drug chains remain an integral part of the industry.
The assets and aspirations of those companies — defined as operating between four and 250 stores — along with the challenges they face, were on display at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Regional Chain Conference earlier this month.
The meeting, which took place at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., brought together a group of retailers that have weathered the storm of consolidation that has swept through the marketplace in recent decades. Their ability to survive and prosper in the face of competition from multibillion-dollar companies that run traditional brick-and-mortar stores and the growing reach of e-commerce is a testament to their ability to quickly adapt to conditions in the local market.
Such nimbleness is born of close attention to all aspects of the business, an orientation that was reflected in the NACDS Regional Chain Conference agenda.
While the state of the nation’s health care system, along with the plans of President Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, received the lion’s share of attention, both during the general sessions and private conversations, the full spectrum of issues confronting regional pharmacy chains was addressed.
In addition to hearing from NACDS chairman Martin Otto, who is also chief merchant and chief financial officer at H-E-B; Steve Anderson, the association’s president and chief executive officer; and conference chair Kristin Williams, senior vice president and chief health officer at Hy-Vee, about public policy challenges and community pharmacy’s ability to help solve them, attendees took full advantage of presentations about subjects that impact the entire store.
Peyton Howell, executive vice president and president of global sourcing and manufacturer relations at AmerisourceBergen, spoke about the dynamics of the pharmaceutical marketplace; Doug Long, vice president of industry relations at QuintilesIMS, looked at trends, issues and forecasts in the prescription drug sector; Andrew Mandzy, director of health and wellness strategic insights at Nielsen, examined the health and wellness consumer; and Kantar Retail director of drug chain insights Brian Owens assessed the retail landscape of tomorrow.
The need to think anew about retail pharmacy and the ability of regional chains to compete in that arena was an often-heard theme. As Williams noted in her opening remarks, “In the challenging health care industry landscape, we’re always open to new and innovative ideas. … Regional chains are well equipped to face these challenges and develop innovative solutions for retail community pharmacy. We deliver personalized care, we adapt to emerging community needs and pilot new products and services in partnership with the suppliers gathered here today.”
Anyone who doubts the validity of that assertion doesn’t have to look far for evidence that supports it. Thrifty White Pharmacy, with 95 pharmacies in the upper Midwest, and Bartell Drugs, which operates 65 stores in Washington state, unveiled significant innovations in recent weeks. The former launched the Healthy Outcomes Diabetes Support Program, a patient-centric platform to improve outcomes and help employers control costs; the later expanded the scope of its partnership with Amazon, whose Prime Now service enables Bartell customers to order products from the chain and have them delivered within two hours.
Those initiatives are indicative of regional chains’ determination to stay on the cutting edge of retail pharmacy — in these instances the expansion of health care services offered in a retail setting and the development of e-commerce capabilities to meet the demand of today’s consumers to be able to shop when, where and how they choose.
Efforts under way at many of the other retailers in attendance at the NACDS conference could be cited to reinforce the fact that regional chains remain an important source of new ideas. Discussions with top executives at those companies indicate that they will retain that distinction for a long time to come.