Day-long Meet the Rx Market format joins retailers, vendors in blur of activity

BOSTON “It really concentrates the dialogue on pertinent information,” said Pham. Within the eight-minute format, she added, “You’ve got to tell your story quickly” with your counterpart on the other side of the table, but those eight minutes “bring a lot of opportunities to follow up for additional relationship-building and business.” It’s like speed dating for doing business,” said one NACDS executive. He was talking about this past Saturday’s day-long Meet the Rx Market, an innovative, if exhausting, way for scores of smaller suppliers to quickly get acquainted with retail pharmacy buyers and operations executives, talk about their products and hopefully establish relationships that extend beyond the NACDS Pharmacy and Technology Conference.

"People really seem to enjoy it," said Larry Lotridge, vice president of conference services for NACDS. "The concept is that you have that opportunity to meet for eight minutes and hopefully find enough interest to drive them down to your booth."

Steve Heidenthal, director of pharmacy merchandising for CVS Caremark, said Meet the Rx Market gives him and his colleague, CVS director of wholesale pharmacy merchandising Brian Whalen, "quick exposure to a lot of different individuals, which I think is really key.

"We can get a quick taste of what they’re offering, particularly things that are new to the market … and it keeps you abreast of what’s coming up."

Added Whalen, "I think it’s very helpful. It gives both sides an opportunity to at least make sure they’re getting them to the right people within an organization."

Jacquie Pham, brand pharmaceutical manager for Sears Holding Corp., also praised the format, which gives retailers and suppliers the chance to meet with dozens of their counterparts in fast-forward eight-minute sessions in a day-long game of market-driven musical chairs.

"It really concentrates the dialogue on pertinent information," said Pham. Within the eight-minute format, she added, "You’ve got to tell your story quickly" with your counterpart on the other side of the table, but those eight minutes "bring a lot of opportunities to follow up for additional relationship-building and business."

Even smaller-scale retail operators find much to like. Larry Fligor, chief technology officer for Ritzman Phamracies, said the rapid round-robin meeting plan was good for both buyers and sellers. "There are some people here I thought I knew everything about, and it turns out I didn’t. They have some new lines and products we’re interested in."

Added Andrew Fligor, Ritzman’s manager of technical services, "We probably would have blown by some of these people on the show floor and not actually talked to them. But we’ve heard a couple of things from them that are worth knowing about."

This year’s meeting featured an expanded business format, with the inclusion of more product categories, Lotridge told Drug Store News, and a more focused series of meetings that paired retailers and suppliers with similar areas of interest, like generic drug vendors with generic buyers or pharmacy operations people focused on boosting their generic business. The result: an even more concentrated and laser-focused series of meetings than in previous years.

"If you’re meeting with them on the floor for a half-hour, you don’t need to see them here. It’s a simple matching program that says … you’re going to be matched up with the person responsible for that [on the other side of the table]," Lotridge explained.

The format also gives smaller vendors a chance to meet face-to-face with people they might never otherwise get to sit down with, like representatives of Wal-Mart of CVS. "This is for the mid-sized to smaller guys who may not yet have those kinds of relationships or level of business partnerships as the larger players, and it gives them an opportunity. That’s really what it’s designed for."

Amanda Batchelet, newly hired manager of retail marketing and services for NACDS, said this year’s event is the largest yet, with 69 retail participants representing 46 drug, supermarket and mass merchant pharmacy chains, paired with a total of 125 supplier companies. In all, the event generated a total of 2,430 scheduled appointments.

Some larger chains brought four, five or even six of their pharmacy representatives to Meet the Rx Market, and occupied several tables. That gave them the opportunity to move around the massive meeting room and cover more ground, meet more smaller vendors and perhaps learn about a product or service for the first time.

Key to the success of Meet the Rx Market, Lotridge added, is drawing retail and vendor participants "who really have the authority to make decisions" on the spot. The real benefit of the event is to open the door to a larger dialogue and a long-term relationship between suppliers and chain pharmacy purchasers and decision-makers, but even in an eight-minute format, some business is done, he said.

"Certainly, it’s an opportunity for both groups to find out whether there’s an interest" in a product offered by the vendor, or the establishment of a new marketing plan by both sides, Lotridge added.

"If we can do that one time for everybody this year, it will be a huge success story," he said.