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Retailers looking at new health care solutions

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Has anyone in the chain drug retailing community visited the new Wegmans in Brooklyn? Has anyone been to Dallas, Ga., to experience the bold and exciting new Walmart experiment in affordable and accessible health care? Has chain drug retailing become so complacent and sure of itself that the newest and most stunning mass retailing innovations go unnoticed and largely ignored? If any of these statements ring true, the chain drug retailing community is fast becoming what it once thought unthinkable: uninterested in the larger retail community.

An argument can be logically made that the newest Wegmans grocery emporium represents the best and the brightest incursion into grocery retailing in America. It has, in a very short period of weeks, won the hearts, minds and purses of New York City consumers, a group that is notorious for its fickleness and hard ­headedness.

What makes the new Wegmans so successful is … everything a supermarket should and must be if it is to compete for shopper dollars in the 21st century retail environment. In terms of product selection and fair prices, those twin cornerstones of U.S. food retailing, the new supermarket can’t be beaten. Look for it, dream of it, pine for it, the supermarket shopper can find it on one of Wegmans’ shelves. Prices, the other pillar of shopper loyalty, are so reasonable, so fair, so inviting that shoppers who come to spend a dime end up spending a dollar … and then some.

No, this is not a paid commercial for the Rochester, N.Y.-based food retailer. It is simply a statement, or restatement, of the facts. Sherlock Holmes once stated (he generally stated things rather than just saying them) that it is as big a mistake to undervalue a situation or individual as it is to overvalue that situation or individual. That applies to the new Wegmans. How else can one accurately describe or enthuse over staffers, on a rainy Sunday morning, using an umbrella to walk their customers to their transportation mode of choice? How else to define or describe the obvious glee with which those same staffers greeted the first shoppers on that Sunday morning? How else to cheer staff efforts to guarantee (yes, guarantee) that the shopper’s initial experience will be a positive one, an experience that sends that shopper’s relatives, neighbors and friends (of which Brooklyn offers multitudes) scurrying to the new store with purse or wallet in hand?

But enough of Wegmans, which is, after all, merely a supermarket. When those chain drug people grow tired of the big city, they need only grab a plane to Atlanta, then take the short ride to Dallas, Ga. (not to be confused with Big D, as the Texas city is occasionally referred to). There, adjacent to a Walmart Supercenter, resides its boldest health care experiment (though that’s hardly the correct word to describe the new Walmart health care facility).

The twin pillars of health care in America, the equivalents of assortment and price for the supermarket shopper, are accessibility and affordability. Add to that a third pillar: variety. In health care terms, if it ails you, troubles you, annoys you, upsets you or genuinely concerns you, the new Walmart health care facility promises to cure you, or a least take the time to properly diagnose you. At a price, of course, but a price within the budget and the conscience of those Georgia citizens who want good health but simply, until now, have been unable to afford it.

Medical care. Vision care, Dental care. Hearing care. If you’ve got a condition, or think you’re getting it, Walmart will take the time to diagnose it, analyze it, treat it and, hopefully, cure it.

Complementing this assortment of health care options, Walmart offers, at this location, a staff of professionals whose primary purpose is to diagnose and treat the patient. Walmart has spared no expense (remember the days when Walmart attempted to spare every expense to hold down costs for the sake of its customers?) to recruit, train, equip and arm a staff of professionals who are challenged to do one thing and do it expertly: treat the customer.

Once upon a time, health care in a retail setting was the exclusive province of the chain drug retailer. The drug store was where you went first with that nagging cold, that tickle that wouldn’t quit. Where is that chain drug retailer today? If he’s as capable as his predecessors, he’s in Brooklyn or in Dallas, Ga., or at one of the numerous other locations where retailing remains a state-of-the-art endeavor, where the customer is still No. 1, where the primary object is to satisfy the patient.

As Sherlock Holmes once ­stated …


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