NEW YORK — Consolidation has significantly altered the chain drugstore landscape over the past 10 years. Megachains such as Revco and Eckerd have been acquired resulting in four drug chains producing the lion’s share of total industry volume.
The latest victim is Medic Drug, a Cleveland-based operation consisting of 23 stores. The company was acquired by a real estate restructuring firm called Hilco that sold some of the locations to Walgreen Co. Walgreen will continue to operate eight of the stores and the rest most likely will be shuttered, with prescription files transferred to local Walgreens’ stores. For Walgreens, this was an unusual move for a chain that prefers organic growth. The stores will enable the Deerfield, Ill.-based chain to up its presence in the Cleveland market.
With the compression of the industry comes the displacement of industry veterans who have made mass market beauty tick. With Medic, that has been Sally Yanke. Yanke, a 30-year employee of Medic, has seen tremendous changes in the beauty business — both good and bad.
Yanke started her career as many mass market buyers did —working in a store. Her hard work was noticed by partners who purchased what was then a handful of stores and they asked her to buy cosmetics. “In those days we knew everything that sold because we bought and handled the entire inventory,” recalled Yanke on Wednesday, just days before leaving her job because of the sale. “There was no open-to-buy, we just had a feel for what we needed and we bought it, it was very hands-on.” Management also understood if a mistake was made — a quick markdown would be taken.
“Those days were fun, there were not a lot of demands and you didn’t have someone standing over your shoulders. Pharmacists ran the stores and in the offices we found it exciting to do our jobs. And we made money,” said Yanke. She added that service levels were high and clerks were employed to help out in beauty.
The mass market world was set on end, she noted, when computers were brought in to tame inventory, track sales and predict order levels. With the advent of scanning and automated purchasing, the “gut” feelings were removed from buying. “The personal touch was removed,” she said. “I think we lost a lot of special things, like catering to customers on an individual basis,” she said.
She also fondly remembers the brands that made mass market retailing riveting in her years, especially the explosive days of Revlon and Max Factor. She cherishes the training seminars both companies used to have to help the industry understand how to better sell beauty. In those days, every account — large or small — was integral to the growth of the industry. Big splashes were made behind launches such as Max Factor’s rollout of the Jaclyn Smith fragrance. Even industry meetings were lively in those days, such as the inaugural National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Cosmetics and Fragrance gathering in Chicago.
As she packs up after her 30 years at Medic, Yanke plans to stay in touch with the business in some capacity, perhaps consulting or doing merchandising. She thinks her knowledge of the business can enable her to spark more sales in stores. Like many, Yanke wonders what the future of the chain drugstore business is as it faces stepped-up challenges from mail order and competitors offering prescriptions.
Manufacturers who have dealt with Yanke hope she keeps her fingers in the business. “She always knows the right questions to ask,” said a vice president with a beauty company. “We know we got a sale when we see her smile.”