On paper, Mike Bloom’s new assignment as president of Family Dollar, the 7,000-plus-store dollar chain, is as significant and potentially transforming an event as mass retailing has seen in some considerable time.

David Pinto, Mike Bloom, president, Family Dollar, CVS/pharmacy, Walmart, Walmart Express, CVS, Howard Levine, president, Mark Crosby, Judy Sansone,

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Bloom move to have big impact

October 17th, 2011
by David Pinto, Editor

On paper, Mike Bloom’s new assignment as president of Family Dollar, the 7,000-plus-store dollar chain, is as significant and potentially transforming an event as mass retailing has seen in some considerable time.

For the uninitiated, Bloom is among the handful of outstanding merchants chain drug retailing has produced in recent years. His credentials as both a merchant and manager are too numerous to detail. Under his leadership CVS/pharmacy has solidified its position as one of America’s most creatively merchandised mass retailers. Under his tutelage, the company’s merchants have emerged as among the most experienced and capable in chain drug retailing. Under Bloom’s direction the merchandising staff has collectively earned a reputation for both longevity and cohesiveness. Simply stated, Bloom has built and developed as capable and professional a group of merchants as has ever been assembled.

Bloom is rightly credited for the stability, professionalism and talent that resides within the ranks of the CVS merchandising staff. He has proven to be a leader of rare ability, at once successfully challenging and motivating his staffers to assume both authority and accountability for their decisions. His approach has worked because it’s been more collaborative than dictatorial, one that has involved his merchants rather than excluded them. The inevitable result is that, today, the CVS merchants are universally respected and admired within the supplier community.

Bloom will bring these considerable skills to Family Dollar, a retailer that has already distinguished itself as an exciting merchandising entity, and even now boasts a merchandising staff that has earned supplier respect and admiration.

Indeed, Family Dollar has evolved into a dollar chain that is the envy of mass merchants throughout the nation for its ability to successfully sell consumers a price/value proposition at a time when they are responding to this positioning more robustly than to any other. It is a marketing position that reportedly has Walmart, among other mass retailers, scrambling to duplicate elements of the Family Dollar equation with a scaled-down Walmart Express concept.

Still, Family Dollar’s successful marketing niche poses some interesting challenges for Bloom as he enters into his new duties. Joining a new company, and a different culture, at a senior management level is never easy. It will prove no different for Bloom. Compounding the situation are the differences between CVS and Family Dollar when it comes to their merchandising emphasis.

Specifically, CVS is a retailer dependent on generating merchandising excitement in its core health and beauty categories to attract consumers. Family Dollar, by contrast, has emerged in recent years as a merchant that has built a following by offering its customers branded merchandise at sharply competitive prices. Bloom’s challenge is to build on Family Dollar’s positioning, not weaken or otherwise tinker with it. Put another way, his primary marketing task is to inject creativity into a merchandise mix that already excels in offering consumers irresistible value.

As a manager Bloom must effectively insert his presence, personality and proven leadership skills into an organization that has thus far done very well without those skills. He will be invaluably aided in this endeavor by Howard Levine, Family Dollar’s chief executive, a top manager who has emerged in recent years as one of the most respected CEOs in mass retailing.

Within Family Dollar Levine has earned more than respect. He has justly gained a reputation as a leader of unparalleled ability and judgment, an executive whose staff never doubts his instincts and rarely questions or second-guesses his management strategy or decisions.

Now he faces his most compelling challenge: Allowing Bloom the freedom and latitude to display the considerable strengths that made him a CVS icon, while exhibiting the judgment and leadership skills that leave no doubt that he, after all, runs Family Dollar.
Bloom and Levine have long known and respected each other. Indeed, Levine has for some time identified Bloom as a merchant of considerable ability. Moreover, this was not a hasty decision on either side. In offering and accepting the job, both Levine and Bloom knew what they were getting — and getting into.

For CVS, Bloom’s departure comes at an especially inconvenient time. Within days of his leaving the company, the drug chain welcomed a new president, Mark Crosby, to its Woonsocket, R.I., offices. Crosby is an executive whose resume, while long on operating experience, lacks any significant merchandising expertise. This shortcoming, combined with Bloom’s absence as a bridge between CVS’ merchants and the new president, will certainly complicate matters, at least ­initially.

However, CVS’ merchants are not children. At this writing, Judy Sansone has been named to fill Bloom’s position, initially on an interim basis. By all accounts the choice of Sansone was the right one. Both at CVS and in the chain drug industry she is viewed as a capable and experienced merchant, a woman who brings a variety of creative managerial and strategic skills to her new assignment. The only question that remains unanswered is her credentials as a leader. Specifically, Sansone still needs to prove that she possesses an ability to lead, to command the respect within the buying and merchandising organization that Bloom only came to enjoy over a period of years, and then only with the help and guidance of some very strong mentors.

Make no mistake: Bloom’s departure is a loss for CVS. But this is a $57.3 billion drug chain, one of America’s most admired retailers. It will be a sad day for CVS, and, by extension, for all of mass retailing, if the departure of even so luminescent a presence as Mike Bloom is allowed to become more than a temporary distraction.