Competition within the membership warehouse club channel is intense, and the club format is not one that necessarily makes differentiation easy.


Samís Club, Jill Turner-Mitchael, George Agnacian, Jason Reiser, Ben Thankachan, Merchants of the Year, Auto-Refill, Easy Pay, Healthy Living Made Simple,
























































































































































































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Health/Wellness execs at Samís Club honored

January 14th, 2013

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Competition within the membership warehouse club channel is intense, and the club format is not one that necessarily makes differentiation easy.

Nevertheless, in just the past few years Sam’s Club has succeeded in distinguishing itself by staking out a clear position as a health and wellness provider.

As a result, health and wellness has been transformed and elevated from a supporting role in the retailer’s array of products and services to a critical strategic role. Health and wellness now constitutes a core set of categories and services that attracts both members and potential members.

Leading that transformation has been Jill Turner-Mitchael, senior vice president of health and wellness, along with her management team, consisting of Jason Reiser, vice president of health and family care; George Agnacian, vice president of consumables; and Ben Thankachan, vice president of pharmacy/optical operations and compliance. In recognition of their inspired leadership and dedication to a new vision for the warehouse club, MMR has named them collectively as its Merchants of the Year for 2012.

The impetus for Sam’s Club’s decision to move into the health and wellness space came from the input of its members. The chain utilized focus groups, one-on-one interviews and shop-alongs to ask more than 9,000 members what they wanted from a warehouse club, and specifically what they wanted Sam’s Club to deliver as a health and wellness provider.

"What surprised us most was the members’ belief in the importance of pharmacy," says Turner-Mitchael. "As a result, we have made pharmacy, and pharmacy-related health care services, our primary health and wellness focus. Along with our optical and hearing aid centers, pharmacy has become our focal point."

As a trained pharmacist, Turner-Mitchael’s own experience behind the pharmacy counter has greatly influenced the focus within Sam’s Club on three components or themes: awareness, prevention and solutions. During her years as a pharmacist, she saw firsthand how important education and awareness are in helping circumvent future health problems and alleviating current ones, she says.

But Turner-Mitchael’s experience has had a profound impact as well on the way the retailer approaches pharmacy. It is an approach that she and her team call “back to the future.”

Although it is roughly 15 years since she has practiced as a pharmacist, Turner-Mitchael points out that when she visits her home in Texas, former patients still come up and ask where she is practicing now.

"This is a people business, first and foremost," she emphasizes. "I built intimate relationships with those patients, relationships that can last a lifetime. And that’s what we want to do: We want a community-based, one-on-one, neighborhood pharmacy feel at Sam’s Club, and we try to hire pharmacists who want to provide that kind of care."

Supplementing that personal approach at the pharmacy is an impressive array of health services — services that can literally save lives:
• Monthly health screenings. Since January 2010 Sam’s Club has provided more than 2.2 million free preventative screenings to members and non-members across the country. This year, health screenings have targeted such key need states and health issues as allergies, memory tests to assess brain health, men’s health, diabetes, and women’s health.
Turner-Mitchael says the screenings enable patients to experience the high level of customer service that Sam’s Clubs pharmacies can provide while making full use of the chain’s preventative tools and expertise. Because the screenings are the most intimate service provided, they forge a closer bond between Sam’s Club and its pharmacies and members and potential members.
• Immunization programs. Sam’s Club members can receive a variety of inoculations, most notably annual flu shots.
This year the chain and its vendor partners have administered flu shots to more than 250,000 members and non-members, most of whom had full insurance coverage. Sam’s Club is also testing pharmacist-administered inoculations to include pneumonia, tetanus, diptheria, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, HPV and hepatitis A and B.
• Solution-based merchandising. Turner-Mitchael’s team has adopted a holistic approach to merchandising that strikes all three notes of the Sam’s Club triad of awareness, prevention and solution. Products from different categories will be combined on a single pod, a visual display vehicle that presents several complementary products together, around a specific health care issue or seasonal need, whether allergy, cough-cold or sun care/skin protection.

"For example, in cough-cold-flu season, we will take an anti-viral tissue, a hand sanitizer, a disinfecting wipe and a disinfecting spray and combine them on a pod to form a solution: How to keep your family healthier during cough-cold-flu season," she explains. "Our goal is to encourage the member to discover new items related to their need state, and they often end up putting more than one item in their cart."

To achieve this kind of focused cross merchandising, collaboration is essential, and Turner-Mitchael notes that Sam’s Club’s merchants do not operate within category silos, but work together to bring such solutions to life.

Needless to say, such merchandising initiatives require collaborative support from Sam’s Club’s suppliers, and Turner-Mitchael pays tribute to their role.

"I would like to thank our supplier partners for helping us deliver on awareness, prevention and solutions for our members," she says. "Without our suppliers, none of this would be possible."

• Pharmacist counseling. Sam’s Club pharmacists, says Turner-Mitchael, are trained to go “above and beyond” in implementing such disease-state programs as Sam’s Club’s “ONE” smoking cessation counseling.

Moreover, she and her pharmacy team are always on the lookout for ways to increase the amount of time pharmacists have to engage with patients, whether through staffing adjustments or implementing the latest technology.

One example is Sam’s Club’s automated and computerized Auto-Refill program, which members can choose to have their maintenance medications automatically refilled. Besides simplifying things for the member, auto-refill also allows pharmacy staff to fill those scripts when they have time.

In addition, Easy Pay allows members to register with Sam’s Club and provide a credit card number to have their prescriptions paid automatically without having to spend time at a ­checkout.

• Healthy Living Made Simple. January 2012 saw the debut of Healthy Living Made Simple, a magazine dedicated entirely to health and wellness issues and published six times a year. The content is intended to build member awareness with articles on such topics as children’s and pets’ health, infant sleep patterns, nutritional supplementation, diabetes and heart health.

In just a year, Healthy Living Made Simple has achieved a circulation of 8 million, third-highest of any consumer magazine in America and No. 1 among health-related publications.

As much as has been accomplished thus far by Turner-Mitchael and her team, the future promises to hold even more innovation. The growing population of baby boomers, she notes, represent another opportunity to provide a complex range of categories and services to meet their evolving needs.

Turner-Mitchael and her team say they remain ready to deliver what members want in terms of health and wellness.

"We’re looking at what’s important, and what we think may be important, in helping solve their health care needs," she says. "Our vision is that our members will think of Sam’s Club as their total health and wellness solution. We want them to view their membership card as the most valuable card in their wallet."

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