Editor’s Note: NACDS Annual offers chance to take stock, adapt
Well, here we are again, meeting on the hopefully sunny and wind-swept beaches of Palm Beach, Fla. and at the friendly confines of The Breakers, the nearly annual home to the NACDS Annual Meeting for around four decades.
[caption id="attachment_606987" align="alignleft" width="150"] Seth Mendelson, editor in chief[/caption]
For us, as we go from meeting to meeting and cabana to cabana, all is right in the world of retail. Sales continue to inch up and, while not as strong as many hoped for, profits are relatively strong at most chains. Despite all the chatter in the media as well as in boardrooms across the country, these are good times for retail.
Or are they?
As the drug store and mass retail industry gathers again for the start of this four-day conference, retailers and suppliers must stay completely aware of the fact that our industry is changing at a lightning pace.
These are not the halcyon 1990s when simply opening up new storefronts that offered better pricing and, perhaps, closer parking than the guy down the street was enough to win the day. It is not even the early years of this century when the best and the brightest in our industry ruled the market by working with suppliers and even consumers to present the best scenario for shoppers in terms of pricing, assortment and convenience.
No, this is now and now means competing against traditional retailers as well as fighting off the growing challenge from online merchants who have inherent strengths that simply can throw the rest of the retail world into one gigantic freefall. Now also means winning the difficult battle of finding enough talented people to work the stores and finding real estate that is both convenient enough and affordable for new units.
There are plenty of great things happening at retail today. The major drug chains are moving into new worlds, hoping that a time-pressed, financially-constrained consumer will look to them more often for their healthcare needs. Other merchants, specifically Walmart and Target, are pushing the digital envelope, taking the attitude that they have the wherewithal to compete with Amazon.com head-on and, most importantly, win — or at least not lose.
Still other merchants, including such chains as Wegmans, H-E-B, Meijer and Hy-Vee, are trying to differentiate themselves in ways that will make a trip to one of their stores a special occasion for the shopper. Who said that shopping has to be a burden? Let’s make it an interesting experience that also can be a lot of fun.
So, retail is getting ready to enter the third decade of the 21st century with a lot of us holding our collective breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Challenges remain. Can we get better profit margins or at least slow the decline of profits? Can we find the right people to operate the store and, perhaps more importantly, discover enough qualified pharmacists to keep the counter open for longer hours and work with shoppers across the store? What about the Internet?
Retail never has been an easy profession. New competitors with the fancy stores, or now with their easy-to-maneuver home pages, have made it difficult for any chain to rest on its laurels. Just ask the folks at Sears and A&P about that.
But it is an industry that long has been a backbone of American commerce and it will not soon disappear. Rather, it will continue to remake itself into what the consumer expects of it. The question is whether your business will stay ahead of the curve and survive the coming days.
Enjoy the Florida sunshine.