INDUSTRY OUTLOOK

NEW YORK — Although a bit shaken by several events of the past year, members of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores will gather at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., for their annual meeting.
The industry, always known for weathering the threat of new competition, will meet to discuss new business strategies from April 29 through May 3rd. Among the topics of conversation will be Rite Aid’s efforts to rebuild itself in the wake of financial problems, the threat of the Internet and the ongoing need to boost both pharmacy and front-of-store profits. About 2,500 industry executives are expected to attend the meeting, comprising business reviews held in beach cabanas, a business program and several networking engagements.
The impact of the Internet hit NACDS especially hard, as Frank Newman resigned not only from his title as chairman of Eckerd Corp. earlier this year, but also from his post as chairman of NACDS. Newman joined an online health store called More.com. Assuming the top role at NACDS early is Alan Levin, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Happy Harry’s Inc. Levin was slated to take over the duties from Newman during the meeting. The timetable was moved up because of Newman’s resignation.
“Levin is known as a strong and effective leader within the chain pharmacy industry, as well as in government, having served as Delaware’s deputy attorney general and also as former executive assistant to Sen. William Roth,” said Craig Fuller, the new president of NACDS. This will be Fuller’s first appearance as president at the annual meeting. He replaced Ronald Ziegler, who retired two years ago.
Missing this year will be Martin Grass, the former chairman of Rite Aid who resigned following news that the nation’s fourth largest drug chain would restate earnings. However, a number of new Rite Aid faces will be among the attendees. Rite Aid received a boost from news just prior to the annual gathering that a group of lenders agreed to a $1 billion credit line. The credit line should support Rite Aid’s turnaround plan and give it two years to repay debt, said Robert Miller, the chain’s new chairman and chief executive officer.
Also sporting a new team will be a major supplier to the industry, Revlon. Undergoing a restructuring, a new Revlon headed by Jeff Nugent will be telling retailers of Revlon’s plans for a revival. Nugent is no stranger to NACDS, however, since he was the former boss at Neutrogena.
Beauty is expected to be a hot topic at NACDS, especially as chain drugstores attempt to reverse their loss of market share to mass merchants. Also, beauty is emerging as a major category on the Internet. Several drug chains, in fact, have added their own sites offering beauty buys. Chains with e-tail include CVS, Walgreens and Drug Emporium.
To better arm retailers with ammunition to meet new challenges, the business program has been revamped for 2000. One wrinkle is a Leadership Roundtable featuring Fuller as the moderator.

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