In this exclusive Q&A, ECRM/RangeMe SVP of Retail Wayne Bennett speaks with Walgreens GVP & General Merchandise Manager Robert Tompkins about how the retailer is driving “innovative convenience,” reimagining local healthcare and delivering elevated assortments that focus on the unmet needs of consumers.
Tompkins also discusses how ECRM and RangeMe play a role in boosting the efficiency of its category planning and product discovery, and how Walgreens is a great launch partner for new and emerging brands. He wraps up with some advice for brands looking to get on their shelves or ecommerce platform.
Bennett: How is Walgreens becoming more digitally centric?
Tompkins: We’re really focused on what we call innovative convenience. You may have seen some of the new capabilities that we’ve launched over the last two years, and have refined really well over the last year, including buy online, pickup in store, at every single store in the country. And even more impressively is same day delivery, where we can have the product to you in an hour or less – some have even quoted numbers like 15 minutes. And so our 24 hour stores give us the ability to give mom her ibuprofen liquid in the middle of the night if she needs it, and ice cream is actually one of our best sellers. The same day delivery capability backed by trust is a real differentiator for Walgreens.
Bennett: I’ve heard your leadership team talk often about the commitment to health and healthcare services. Can you tell me why that’s becoming such an important part of the Walgreens flywheel?
Tompkins: Health has always been at the core of our company. We’re here to support more joyful lives through better health, and that’s really by reimagining local healthcare. We all know there’s a big opportunity in the U.S. for better care, easier access and maybe most importantly, better health outcomes. So we’re building a health ecosystem with Walgreens that goes from our stores with our 80,000 pharmacists all the way to our stores that have Health Corners, where we’re allowing nurse practitioners and others to help those with chronic conditions, and into VillageMD, which is a primary care clinic within our stores. We have that in a couple hundred doors now, and, and we’ll be in 700 stores with those.
Then there is our partnership with Shields Health in specialty pharmacy, and CareCentrix, which is kind of way upstream in the care continuum with acute home care and senior home care. So this ecosystem is really going to allow us to help patients get to better outcomes locally through the right partnerships. That’s now the flywheel. One thing I just want to add is that our B2B partners are really interested in this suite of services that can provide better healthcare outcomes. Those B2B partnerships will bring us more patients and customers that will drive profitability and our ability to reinvest into healthcare and in getting better outcomes for our customers and our patients.
Bennett: How is Walgreens staying on top of the right assortments, to stay on trend and on point?
Tompkins: First of all, we have a really curious bunch of merchants. It’s what I love about our team. They’re very committed to delivering elevated assortments. We’re immersed in customer insights, and we love to focus on the unmet needs of patients and consumers. That’s the innovation we get really excited about as well as health and wellbeing. And we’re a competitive lot, we love to win with new, and we’ve got a great heritage of that. What you’ll find is our operations team, our marketing team, and certainly our merchandising team gets very excited about new innovations, and I think we’ve done a good job making sure that we’ve got the right insights, inventory and labor investments to bring innovation to market quickly.
Bennett: Why should Walgreens be a primary launch partner for new brands?
Tompkins: The fact that there are 9,000 stores and our ability to even cluster within those stores is a great reason on its own, but also walgreens.com can be a very powerful place to put new innovation. Our team is really passionate about co-developing innovation upstream, and we have a lot of expertise in that area. We like to say that we see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why not avail yourself of that in working with our merchants as you’re bringing new concepts or products to market? So transparency with us and trust are really important upstream and we can help build great go-to-market strategies.
Bennett: I’ve had a chance to talk to your own brand team a little bit and it seems like supply chain issues may be normalizing somewhat. What is Walgreens doing from a health and wellness point of view relative to your own brand assortment?
Tompkins: I do thank our supplier partners that have invested in their supply chains. We don’t think the world is going back to the old normal. So the ability to have redundancy and really healthy supply is core to any good partnership that we have with vendors. From an own brand perspective, we’re focused on quality, value, and we’ll innovate if there’s an unmet need we can’t find out in the marketplace. The Walgreens brand is the name on the pharmacist coat and on the door, and we believe that it offers a really great brand for care and for value. And consumers are certainly looking for value now more than ever; whether it’s a pre-recession or recessionary environment, own brand has a very important role to play.
Bennett: Walgreens has been a tremendous partner to ECRM and RangeMe since the beginning. How does the merchant team leverage the services offered by our company and how do we support your business goals?
Tompkins: The partnership with ECRM has been fantastic, and candidly, RangeMe has afforded our merchants a really efficient way to understand what’s new and innovative in the market. We have our category line review process, and I know all of our merchants leverage ECRM and RangeMe to see what’s out there, to see what they might be interested in. I also know that as very busy folks, the efficiencies that ECRM and RangeMe brings in creating efficient connections to get things going, to get the questions, the meetings, and the information flowing has been a great benefit to our team.
Bennett: We are thrilled to hear that. Our supplier audience does tend to be a lot of the mid-market emerging brands. After many years of doing what you do, what are some words of wisdom that you can share with an emerging brand out there that’s looking to do business with Walgreens?
Tompkins: First, get into our stores and understand the category, what’s there now, and how to show up well on the shelf. Secondly, if you wanna break through with our teams, it is about explaining the unmet need that you’re addressing or the role of your product within the category to our category management team. Be respectful of their time, but hopefully that helps folks break through. The only other quick bit I’ll mention is we are hungry for insights. We have 105 million people in our loyalty scheme to learn about, to understand, and to even target with new innovation and be thinking about those things and those capabilities as you come in to present to us.