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Events reshaping mass retail

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The weather has been the major story this winter — indeed, the only story. It’s as though retailing hasn’t returned from its winter vacation. Indeed, with February, and winter, winding down, no one’s even sure how the retail community has fared thus far in 2015.

The weather has been the major story this winter — indeed, the only story. It’s as though retailing hasn’t returned from its winter vacation. Indeed, with February, and winter, winding down, no one’s even sure how the retail community has fared thus far in 2015.

Certainly new stores have opened, new programs have been launched, new executive appointments have taken effect. But the unmanageably bad winter weather — record cold temperatures, record-breaking snowstorms on one coast and rainstorms on the other, wind chills that have set records, then broken them, within days of each other — has put all other stories aside, especially those revolving around retailing.

But now winter vacation is over — and the mass retailing community has begun to reckon with the reality that the annual convention season will be upon us in just two months. Officially, that season begins at the end of April, with the 2015 National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting, scheduled for Palm Beach, Fla.’s Breakers Hotel. There follows very quickly a variety of events designed at once to engage the mass retailing community and remind that community that it is a dynamic part of the American business landscape, its actions largely determining the course of business in this new year.

So, in advance of the convention season, one might remind the retailing community of a few of the events that have already reshaped the industry in 2015. The biggest of these, of course, is the tie-up of Family Dollar and Dollar Tree, two of the most important "dollar" retailers in the U.S. Though it’s way too early to forecast how this merger will influence the mass retailing community, it’s not too soon to speculate that the effect will be dramatic. We’re talking here about two of America’s largest retailers, both of which have already won legions of consumers, yet each of which differs from the other in significant ways. Whatever direction this new alliance takes, the impact on the mass retailing community will be huge.

Then too, it’s time once again pick up the Target story. This, you may recall, is the mass merchant that, in a short period of time, brought in a new chief executive officer and announced its decision to withdraw from Canada, taking a major financial loss in the bargain. However, it should be noted that Target’s new CEO appears to have gotten off to a dramatically strong start in his new role — and the retailer has even now won back some of the bad press it had accumulated over the previous year.

Of course, the mention of Target opens the door to the trials of other mass retailers: Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, some of the major grocery retailers and Dollar General, the third of the "Big Three" dollar retailers.

While nothing much has been going on at these retailers, the truth is that a great deal has been going on. Walgreens is altering its top management structure, while CVS has just announced a record-breaking performance for fiscal 2015. Rite Aid is expanding its reach by acquiring PBM EnvisionRx and opening RediClinic health clinics in its stores. Walmart is launching all kinds of marketing and promotional initiatives, all designed to secure the shopper’s loyalty at a time when it appears the shopper no longer has any loyalty.

Then there’s Safeway, or the new Safeway, a new retailer that has emerged from the merger of Safeway and Albertsons and Supervalu, etc., that promises to provide some meaningful competition to a grocery business that had perhaps become overly regionalized. And by the way, is Kroger serious about cracking the Florida market? And if so, how?

Behind these programs are all manner of new faces, some of whom have been made public, others yet to be announced. The result is that a new group of senior managers will be in charge by April, when the NACDS Annual Meeting opens the convention season. By all reckoning, it will be a younger, brighter, bolder group than the one it has replaced — and the industry, for its part, will reflect that new leadership with a bolder, brighter outlook going forward.


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