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The renaissance at NACDS

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Viewed from virtually any angle, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is stronger, healthier, more productive, more vital and important than it’s yet been.

Viewed from virtually any angle, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is stronger, healthier, more productive, more vital and important than it’s yet been.

Eleven years after Ron Ziegler, the gold standard of NACDS presidents, departed, and nearly five years after the unfortunate tenure of Craig Fuller ended, Steve Anderson, the organization’s current leader, has largely restored the image, reputation, strong financial underpinnings and sense of urgency to an association that had until recently lost those requisites for success.

If you’re looking for examples of this renaissance, look no further than the association’s recent Regional Chain Conference, a retail event that annually addresses the often divergent worlds of pharmacy and front-end issues, targeting an audience of drug store and other mass retailers with fewer than 250 stores. Measured in terms of participation, involvement, attendee enthusiasm or the diversity and quality of the program, the event was the most successful in the series. What was particularly encouraging was the number of supermarket retailers in attendance.

But the regional chain conference is just one important event on the NACDS calendar. The association’s Annual Meeting, traditionally the highlight of the retail trade association calendar, is set for Phoenix in late April. And while that venue may have been expected to cost the organization some small drop-off in terms of attendance, the early reality suggests just the opposite: Initial registration is running ahead of last year. More significant, excitement in the retailer and supplier communities is even now building in anticipation of the event.

Indeed, the seasonal retail calendar ebbs and flows around NACDS events — the Marketplace Conference that signals the onset of summer, the pharmacy meeting that marks summer’s end, the year-end meetings that usher in the Christmas holiday. In short, the mass retailing community has increasingly come to set its clock and its calendar around NACDS events.

To further simonize NACDS’ current appeal, the association is lengthening the distance, in terms of member involvement and satisfaction, between itself and its nearest competitors. Other broad-based domestic retail associations remain mired in attempts to mend fences and revive and extend interest in their groups, while the global organization that showed so much initial promise as recently as two years ago has lost some of its cache — and much of its U.S. retailer ­participation.

That being the case, this could truly be the dawn of a golden age for NACDS — provided the association is successful in attracting some of the grocery retailers that have not yet become involved, while opening its membership to those non-pharmacy retailers that have thus far been denied entry on an equality basis and reengaging those retailers that have, for various reasons, either curtailed their involvement or walked away entirely from the association.

One of the barriers here is the requirement that only retailers that operate four or more brick-and-mortar pharmacies can qualify for full membership in the organization. That rule effectively disqualifies such online retailers as and such non-pharmacy retailers as Dollar General and Family Dollar, currently the most compelling mass retailers in the marketplace.

The association’s name also tends to discourage nonchain drug retailer involvement. Just as drug chains have not flocked to the Food Marketing Institute, supermarket retailers, who on the face of it have much to gain from participating in such NACDS activities as the Annual Meeting and annual pharmacy conference, tend to be confused by an organization that continues to identify itself as a chain drug store group.

Yet there are compelling reasons for grocery retailers to take NACDS seriously, among them the fact that, with the exception of GMDC, no food-based trade association in this country effectively emphasizes pharmacy.

As a personal example of the value NACDS can bring a forward-looking food retailer, consider the case of Bob Loeffler, the senior H.E. Butt Grocery Co. (H.E.B.) executive (he was formerly the company’s president) who joined the NACDS board four years ago and is scheduled to become the association’s chairman in April. Loeffler, an uncommonly bright and intensely pragmatic executive, responded positively when NACDS invited him to join its board — the retailer had long been an NACDS member — for a simple and practical reason: The vitality and importance of H.E.B.’s prescription drug business (it accounts for upwards of 10% of the retailer’s sales) convinced him that the grocery chain needed to advance its knowledge surrounding the intricacies and nuances of community pharmacy. Loeffler has effectively accomplished that task for his company, while bringing to NACDS a perspective and experience that the association had previously lacked.

The point here is simple and inescapable: In today’s trade association world NACDS is more relevant than it has ever been, especially as that relevance relates to pharmacy and the wider world of health care. It is a world that other trade groups are only now beginning to recognize. Given the current debate surrounding health care reform and the emerging importance of health and wellness in a retail setting, NACDS will likely become an even more critical factor in the mass retailing community going forward. That, along with the myriad ways the association brings buyers and sellers together, effectively makes the case that the organization is certainly worth a look — or a new look.


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