May's Drug Stores Inc. has captured Drug Topics' fifth annual Pharmacy Chain of the Year accolade.
The award is bestowed each year upon a chain that has contributed to some aspect of pharmacy retailing and the practice of pharmacy. The Tulsa, Okla.-based chain copped top honors among several formidable contenders.
This year, Drug Topics decided to concentrate on chains operating fewer than 100 stores. The search zeroed in on chains with excellent performance records, positive pharmacy images, and innovative programs and services. The 34-store May's chain was singled out by the editors of Drug Topics as one that has not only fought the odds but remained a strong regional player in its operating markets. Pharmacy, which accounts for about 40% of sales, plays a key role in creating May's competitive edge.
May's Information Centers, or MICs, and blood pressure monitors can be found in all May's units. In addition, pharmacists hand out their professional or business cards to patients as a way of building greater pharmacist/patient interaction. Such aggressive pharmacy tactics are not surprising for May's. That's because its president and CEO, Gerald Heller, happens to be a pharmacist.
May's joins CVS, Jack Eckerd Corp., Walgreen Co., and Rite Aid Corp. as chain retailers honored by Drug Topics. The award will be presented to May's later this month in Maui at the annual gathering of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Heller served as NACDS chairman between 1989 and 1990.
POLISHING THE IMAGE: After racking up consistent 20% same-store sales growth, the chain noticed a small sales slump last year. To remedy the situation, May's hired a research company to determine the chain's position in the market.
"The market research did reveal some weaknesses that came as a surprise," recalled Heller during an interview conducted at Tulsa headquarters. "We found we had the highest pharmacy retention rate of anybody in the market except independents, but we needed to build upon that and increase other areas. We've done well, but I'm far from satisfied."
May's set out to create a new advertising campaign that would play up the strong points of the chain while trying to negate some misconceptions shoppers had. Some TV spots discuss the intense loyalty shoppers have to May's and encourage others to start going there. The goal was to add on to the existing base of satisfied May's customers.
Another series of ads attempts to dispel consumer attitudes that May's didn't stock the breadth and depth of products that Wal-Mart and similar competitors had. To clear that up, the actual number of items--2,000 hair care products, for example--were spotlighted. "There were certain categories, such as hair care or greeting cards, in which people weren't always aware of our selection," said Heller.
A final series accentuated the convenience of May's versus the maze-like parking lots and large store size of supermarket and discount foes. A clever pinball machine using cars as the obstacles for the shopper conveyed the message on the television spot.
SERVICE EMPHASIS: Beyond external messages, May's has worked feverishly to increase customer service. Pharmacists distribute their cards to help customers learn their names. "You usually know your physician's name, so why not the pharmacist's?" questioned Jim Moomaw, v.p.-store operations and pharmacy services.
As part of a break-in program for new R.Ph. hires, each new pharmacist is matched with a "mentor," a seasoned pharmacist who can help answer his or her questions. Such programs have helped keep turnover down, said Moomaw. "It makes a difference to be able to call someone who knows exactly what your needs are and what you are going through," added Heller.
Customer service is also enhanced by the presence of MICs, interactive computers located near the pharmacy. The systems, which can provide customers with information on everything from yeast infections to insulin, have proved to be very effective, said Heller. …