Bloom takes merchandising at CVS to new levels

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Mike Bloom, CVS’ executive vice president of merchandising and supply chain, is responsible for some $18 billion in sales at America’s largest health care retailer, an offering at once creative and sprawling in its range and tightly focused on the retailer’s core health and beauty categories.

Mike Bloom, CVS’ executive vice president of merchandising and supply chain, is responsible for some $18 billion in sales at America’s largest health care retailer, an offering at once creative and sprawling in its range and tightly focused on the retailer’s core health and beauty categories.

Integral to those responsibilities, he oversees a senior merchandising team that is arguably the most capable, certainly the most stable, and undeniably the most loyal group of top merchants chain drug retailing has yet seen.

To recognize the considerable achievements of Bloom and his senior staff, the editors of MMR have named them the publication’s mass retail Merchants of the Year for 2010.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the accomplishments of Bloom and his team in this most difficult of years. He has effectively led, supervised and continued to hone a staff that mainly consists of a veteran team of top merchants whose collective tenure at CVS numbers approximately 140 years, the last seven under Bloom’s direct supervision. Each of these merchants is individually recognized as among the most effective and experienced currently employed in chain drug retailing.

Bloom has led and managed this senior staff with an often undervalued set of skills, one that has, on the one hand, left no doubt as to who’s in charge while, on the other hand, succeeded by encouraging this staff to make and implement key merchandising decisions. This approach to management has in turn allowed senior staff members the freedom to hire and develop buyers and category managers capable of producing a merchandise assortment that is among the most productive and exciting in all of chain drug retailing.

The result, in an industry where merchants routinely come and go, is that CVS boasts a buying and merchandising organization that is known and respected throughout the chain drug industry.

Bloom’s approach has long been considered one of the most solid in mass retailing, and he has taken that business to new levels in terms of both product innovation and sales success. He has done so by insisting that the drug chain’s front-end categories — and most particularly the general merchandise assortment — are imaginatively selected, while the entire product offering is compellingly and creatively merchandised and promoted.

Ask Bloom about his accomplishments at CVS — where he also heads up supply chain activities — and he’ll point first to the success that his senior staff has achieved. "My role in our success is keeping our people motivated and focused to produce results," he says. "If I’ve learned one thing during my career, it’s how to effectively communicate with the people who report to me, the people who are really responsible for our merchandising and supply chain success. I’m particularly pleased with the fact that people enjoy sharing their ideas with me because they know I’m a willing listener. The culture we’ve developed at CVS breeds success through teamwork and a robust exchange of ideas."

Bloom has enjoyed a retailing career that spans 31 years, beginning with Woolco in 1979, and continuing with stops at Shoppers Drug Mart and Peoples Drug Stores before coming to CVS in 1991. During his 19-year career at CVS, he has routinely accepted new responsibilities and embraced new opportunities — and invariably risen to meet new challenges. "Just as good leaders need to manage change in their organization and with their people, they themselves must continue to evolve in order to keep getting better at what they do," he says.

But Bloom is more than a leader. He’s a merchant. And as a merchant he has had an equally significant impact at CVS. He is recognized throughout the industry for the accelerated private label commitment he brought to CVS four years ahead of the current recession, a commitment that has brought new luster, sales and importance to CVS’ expanded house brand assortment — usually at the expense of national brands. "I understand that our emphasis on private label isn’t always popular with the supplier community," he says. "But it was the right move at the right time for our company — and, more importantly, for our customers."

So, apparently, was the recent decision to debut an urban-store format, one designed to customize CVS’ product offerings and merchandising emphasis to customers in specific neighborhoods in big-city markets. To that end, the urban stores emphasize convenience by expanding such categories as take-home food items and meal replacement offerings, while emphasizing those household products that apartment dwellers particularly look for on their shopping trips. The new format locates much of the food offerings up front, and aims to enhance and speed the shopping experience by offering these products in an environment that features such conveniences as assisted self-checkout.

Bloom and his key staff members served as focal points in the decision to develop and launch the urban-store format. Here, as well, Bloom’s role has been to manage both the process and the people tapped to turn concept into reality.

Similarly, he was a catalyst behind the decision, three years ago, to launch Beauty 360, an upscale beauty store concept under the CVS umbrella, one that has been slow to build, primarily because several prestige cosmetics suppliers have yet to sell their brands to CVS. "We launched Beauty 360 because we believe there will be a place for it in the beauty care marketplace going forward," Bloom explains. "First of all, Beauty 360 wasn’t just my decision — it was the consensus among the brightest people in our company, which is the way we make decisions around here, as a team. Second, a company our size has the luxury of testing new concepts and new formats. We’re not looking at Beauty 360 in terms of its immediate impact on our business or our company. We’re looking ahead — to the impact we hope to see in the marketplace that will exist five years from now."

This is Mike Bloom at his best, managing today’s reality while envisioning tomorrow’s possibilities and preparing his staff for that future. It is a staff uniquely qualified to manage future expectations, whether uniqueness is measured in longevity, loyalty, experience, expertise, results or just being the best there is at what needs to be accomplished.

So it is that, in the chain drug retailing community of 2011, one of the basic truths is that CVS is the drug chain to work for. One reason this is so is the presence, impact, achievements, vision and managerial expertise of Mike Bloom.



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