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Rivals make each other better

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Rivals make each other better

Only days — or weeks — may remain until Walgreens Boots Alliance’s long-delayed acquisition of Rite Aid gets the go-ahead from the Federal Trade Commission. If and when that clearance comes, Rite Aid will officially become part of WBA, and the competition between the Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy drug chains will finally take form so that America’s two most powerful drug chains can battle it out for market supremacy. It is a contest the chain drug community has long awaited, guessed at and imagined. Which is the superior drug chain?

MMR OpinionYou won’t find the answer here. Both retailers possess extensive skills, solid experience and long-held strengths as they battle for the leading chain drug position. Moreover, that position is more difficult to define and measure than it has been. Is the No. 1 drug chain the one with the most sales or stores? Or the one with the biggest profit? If largest wins, does size include CVS Caremark, CVS Health’s pharmacy benefits manager? Does it include WBA’s extensive holdings outside the U.S.? When we measure size, do we measure only the number of drug stores?

Once upon a time, a drug store chain consisted only of drug stores. And only of U.S. drug stores. But WBA operates drug stores in many countries outside the U.S. And CVS operates stores in Brazil. Do they get thrown into the mix to help determine size?

And speaking of Rite Aid — as we were a while ago — raises another question: Is Walgreens a stronger drug chain with Rite Aid included in its store count? That may depend on the number of stores Walgreens is asked to divest in absorbing Rite Aid. At present, all interested parties are claiming that that store count is low — possibly less than 1,000, perhaps much less. But suppose not. Suppose Walgreens is told to divest itself of over 1,000 stores. Would that make the deal less attractive? Perhaps much less?

Maybe the way we measure retail success needs updating or changing. After all, is bigger still better? Not to be overlooked is the fact that WBA is a global retailer, with opportunities for growth throughout the world. More than that, WBA is a major drug wholesaler, and a big-time buyer and seller of merchandise. Does that count for something? Sure. But for what?

Then there’s CVS, perhaps the world’s most important retail health care provider. Certainly its PBM is as important a component as its drug stores. If health care continues to grow as a key business segment, doesn’t the CVS Caremark business give CVS a huge advantage when compared with a drug chain without an important PBM component? Sure it does. But how big?

With the completion of WBA’s acquisition of Rite Aid approaching, how can these two major retailers be measured? Is size the chief component? Is profit? Is growth potential? Must all three be ­considered?

As stated, few people really know. One thing’s for sure: These are two very different retailers. CVS is certainly health care oriented. Its drug stores today are only part of a larger corporation, one committed to providing healthy outcomes, both for patients and for other health care stakeholders.

WBA, on the other hand, is moving in a different direction. It means to impact the retail-wholesale community, both here and abroad. Moreover, it is already doing so. As a wholesaler, WBA is even now impacting the retail community across the globe in its abilities as a wholesaler and seller of merchandise. Within America, that impact is significant. Outside America, it is equally significant. Combined, it is huge.

So who is No. 1? Truth is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that these two retailers continue to perform at or better than current rates, that they continue to improve their game, that they give their customers viable choices and clear advantages that can’t be duplicated. That consumers, faced with a choice, choose the option that, convenience aside, makes the most sense.

Truth is, both these drug chains are world class, in the sense that they are exceptional at what they do. If each has weaknesses — and both do — those weaknesses can be overcome, because their strengths are so dominant. Walgreens or CVS: Who’s better? It really doesn’t matter. Both are good enough.


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