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Seeking a Healthier Future, Drugstores Tap Into ‘Wellness’

Facing stiff competition, drugstores are reaching into their beauty departments to hitch their fortunes to the trendy wellness movement.

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Manon and Michel Coutu

Photo By WWD Staff

Mary Sammons

Photo By WWD Staff

Bill and Sandra Baxley

Photo By Tom Gerczynski

NEW YORK — Facing tougher competition than ever, drugstores are reaching into their beauty departments to hitch their fortunes to the trendy wellness movement.

Feeling steady pressure from discounters, dollar stores and convenience stores for sales, drugstore retailers are looking to more directly position themselves as a center for personal service and expertise on wellness as well as beauty.

That was the mantra at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Annual Meeting, held here at the Phoenician Hotel last Friday through Wednesday.

The health of America’s 44,000-plus drugstores, with $196 billion in sales, is closely linked to the health of Americans. And now, beauty manufacturers and retailers want to position their products as part of that equation.

“We must leverage our resources to cross-promote wellness products and develop new markets,” said Mary Sammons, president and chief executive officer of Rite Aid who is also the current chairman of NACDS. She believes health and beauty care products are part of overall wellness. “People are starting to connect looking good and feeling good.” And the drugstore industry, added Sammons, “must place a larger focus on helping people take care of their health.”

Merging the health care positioning of a drugstore with more treatment-oriented beauty products has long been a theory of Michel Coutu, president and ceo of Brooks Pharmacy — one of the most sought-after executives at the meeting with his firm’s pending acquisition of 1,539 Eckerd stores.

And an exuberant Coutu scoffed at the notion that the 330-store Brooks could have trouble digesting the purchase. “We are ready,” Coutu told WWD.

Over the next six months, he plans to study the dynamics of each Eckerd store to determine what approach is needed. In beauty, he hopes to examine the stores that once belonged to Genovese Drug Stores and find the secrets to bringing back those fiercely loyal consumers. He also hopes that many Eckerd stores will be a good fit for Brooks’ Derma Skincare Centers, which sell Avène and Vichy and will soon add two more upscale skin care lines, according to Coutu.

Tom Ryan, president and ceo of CVS — the purchaser of the remaining 1,260 Eckerd stores — has long been accustomed to being hunted down at the annual meeting. He, too, is buoyant over the Eckerd purchase. Those stores will quickly take on the look of a new CVS prototype called Project Life, according to Ryan. The format, which emphasizes health care and beauty, also will be incorporated into existing CVS store in the Las Vegas market. In Connecticut, select CVS stores have started selling Boots products from the U.K., including No. 7 cosmetics and the Botanics line, in an illuminated store-within-a-store format. These products also join upscale skin care lines. The stores have a consultant stationed at the front — the beauty equivalent of a pharmacist.
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