Barb Larson has decided to leave Walgreens Boots Alliance after more than 31 years with the nation’s largest drug chain. Her official last day was Jan. 29.
And although she’s retiring from her post as divisional merchandise manager, Larson said she’s keeping the “door open,” which could encompass options ranging from consulting to working in sales on the “other side of the desk.”
In a statement, Walgreens said Larson had “greatly impacted the chain. “Barb has truly been a dedicated and valuable member of the Walgreens team. Since beginning her career with us in 1984, her expertise and knowledge has helped influence our thriving beauty and personal care offering,” the company said.
Larson said she’s had the benefit of working with a great team who she is confident will continue to build the Walgreens beauty business. “I’ve loved my career at Walgreens and I love the company,” said Larson, who helped bring many new brands into the chain — now the third largest purveyor of beauty in the U.S.
Cosmetics brand executives who have worked with her said she’d definitely be an asset to any company. “Barb is the consummate professional. She exemplifies ‘working together to win.’ She is very fair and while she negotiates for the best deal and programs for Walgreens, Barb is also very aware of supplier needs to win as well,” said Jim Church, the leader for the drug channel at The Clorox Company. “She is creative and challenges suppliers to explore new and different ways to drive the business.”
Her ascension through the ranks at Walgreens from purchasing coordinator to divisional merchandise manager is a testament to her acumen for spotting emerging brands and categories. She’s credited with helping bolster the beauty category’s top line growth, overseeing the launch of categories and brands, implementing successful in-store events including SaturDates and most recently assisting in the integration of Boots products into Walgreens’ doors. She has steered procurement for more than 15,000 items stocked in the beauty department. “Over the years, she has been very helpful in providing guidance to our team as we look to continue to grow our brand at Walgreens,” added Church who said Larson helped facilitate the launch of Clorox’s Burt’s Bees at Walgreens.
Those familiar with Larson said her keen eye helped Walgreens be one of the first to market with key new item launches. Her tenure in beauty has given her a vantage point to see the seismic shifts in mass cosmetics. Among the most notable change is the rapid increase in product innovation. She’s also enthused about the focus on seeing the beauty assortment through the consumer’s lens.
“At Walgreens, we’ve become more customer relevant — we are more store specific in our product offering,” she noted. “There are no cookie-cutter sets.”
Shawn Haynes, senior vice president sales of mass and drug retail at Maesa, which created Circa in collaboration with Walgreens, said Larson helped Walgreens tailor its merchandise for specific stores. “She has an incredible understanding of the Walgreens’ consumer. She’s attuned to their consumer and understands how they shop.”
When Larson began her post as a category manager, she was warned she would have to build up calluses to face daily bumps and grinds. That advice proved true. “You do have bumps in the road and you won’t always get a yes. But you have to be willing to take some risks. Some will be great; some won’t. But if you don’t try and get those calluses built up — you are never going to know what could be.”