NACDS hosts memorable week

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The week following Thanksgiving is always special in New York City, at least in part because of the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

The week following Thanksgiving is always special in New York City, at least in part because of the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

For those who toil in the mass market retailing community it is special for a more immediate reason: Each year the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the hub around which much of mass retailing revolves, convenes its winter meetings, a weeklong series of business and social events that brings many of the important industry components together.

The central event, if any one occasion could be termed central, was the NACDS board of directors meeting, which brought together senior executives from such major retailers as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Supervalu and H-E-B, along with such regional drug chains as Kerr Drug, Lewis Drug and Kinney Drug, and the nation’s three largest wholesale druggists.

Around this group swirled a weeklong agenda of business and social activities designed to debate, discuss and, hopefully, resolve some of the key issues currently confronting mass retailing, especially as those issues relate to the practice of pharmacy.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the world will little note nor long remember the issues involved or resolved in New York City last month. What will linger, deservedly, is the interaction between and among retailers and their supplier counterparts, an activity that remains, despite all the legislative and regulatory encroachments on the association’s time and energy, at the core of the mass retailing industry’s ability to do business. Indeed, it is this unique capability to attract and engage the industry’s most important and prominent personalities that anchors NACDS’ position as America’s most influential and effective retail trade ­organization.

Among the impressions that most clearly registered during the week:

•The impressive capacity of Walgreens’ merchants, several of whom were on hand throughout the week, to secure supplier appointments, and their aggressiveness in pursuing an agenda that effectively positions the drug chain as a valued and essential supplier partner in their common quest to build the business. Clearly gone are the days when Walgreens mostly stood on the sidelines at industry events, content to rest on its largely self-perceived position as America’s most important drug chain. Walgreens today is a player — and, as a result, the entire mass retailing industry is stronger.
• The presence of John Agwunobi, Walmart’s president of health and wellness, as more than a figurehead. Agwunobi, in his second year as a member of the NACDS board, is clearly more comfortable in both his board and Walmart positions than he has yet been. Just as clearly, he is increasingly coming to both appreciate and understand his role in the retail health care community — and Walmart is increasingly coming to benefit from his impact and influence.
• The surprise retirement party for longtime industry favorite Jerry Brown, who has served so capably for so long as head of industry relations and strategic initiatives for Unilever. Some 50 industry people attended Brown’s retirement party, many of them Unilever executives. But other suppliers came as well, as did several retailers from such companies as Walgreens, Kerr Drug, Lewis Drug and CVS. This last was particularly noteworthy for the presence of Cheryl Mahoney. Though she was not present during the week of NACDS events, Mahoney, CVS’ vice president and merchandise manager for beauty and personal care, along with her husband, Bob, journeyed down from Providence just to attend the Jerry Brown party. By retailing standards, that’s a rare commitment — and it says as much about the esteem in which Brown is held among his colleagues as it does about the extent of Mahoney’s commitment to and compassion for her industry.

A couple of other events during the week bear noting: The NACDS Foundation Dinner, at which the foundation’s new head, Kathleen Jaeger, former head of the National Community Pharmacists Association and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, was officially introduced; and the new venue for the NACDS board dinner, the eighth-floor dining room at the Time Life Building at 50th Street and Sixth Avenue. It was a fitting setting for what has become the signal and most widely anticipated social event on the mass retailing calendar.

Finally, it needs to be reiterated that none of this would have been possible without the leadership that NACDS continues to provide for the industry. The presence of president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson, the engagement of the association’s staff and, perhaps most importantly, the commitment of Jim Whitman, the organization’s senior vice president of member programs and services, to insuring that the week is a memorable one combined to guarantee that, going forward, the week following Thanksgiving will continue to offer industry people far more than the lighting of a Christmas tree.



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