John Standley, Rite Aid’s chief executive since 2010, sees the pharmacy chain taking on a broader role in its customers’ overall health care, especially now that the Obama administration’s reform plan is kicking in.
Standley, a Rochester native who’s worked at Rite Aid since 1999, interrupted by a brief turn as the chief executive of the Pathmark supermarket chain, was in town Wednesday to celebrate a new wellness format in Western New York stores.
Q: You used Buffalo as a test market for your Wellness Plus loyalty rewards program. Why Buffalo?
A: Well, it’s a very important market to us. We are the number one drug store chain in this market so we have a great customer base. It makes sense for us to invest in this market, so that’s why we bring things up that we want to build and grow.
Q: Is it one of your more competitive markets?
A: They’re all competitive. We have Walgreens, CVS, a lot of independents everywhere that we operate. I would say it isn’t any better or worse than any other market.
Q: Pharmaceutical companies are talking about selling pills directly to consumers online. Is that a threat to your business?
A: In general, we believe the pharmacist is a key part of using prescription drugs. One of the biggest issues in the country from a health care perspective is that people don’t take their medicine or they don’t take it as prescribed, which makes it ineffective. That’s really why the pharmacist is so important. So to try to take drugs out of the pharmacy and try to sell them in a different way may not be productive.
We really think the community pharmacy, Rite Aid in particular, is the most effective way to take prescription drugs because the pharmacist can interact with you, can answer questions, can consult with you and we can help you stay compliant. That’s a big part of what we do.
Q: More pharmacies are taking on roles traditionally filled by doctors. What’s the future of that?
A: I don’t necessarily see having physicians in the store. There’s so much more we can do to help people be healthy. We try to partner with physicians – that’s really our strategy. We want to be part of the care network. The pharmacist plays a key role in that, and that role is expanding, through immunizations, comprehensive medication reviews and medication compliance programs.
Q: Is the Affordable Care Act changing the way you do business?
A: It is. It’s going to create a lot more access for people. So you’re going to see a lot of people obtaining health care. And as they do, what’s going to happen is there’s going to be more health care opportunities identified and that creates an opportunity for us to help people address those health care issues as they’re identified. And we’re in a great position to do it.
Q: You’re already right in every neighborhood.
A: That’s exactly right. We are the closest health care provider for most people. And for people who are truly sick, who have chronic conditions, they see us more often and that’s really where we can have the biggest impact.
Q: Do the profits come from the pharmacy or the front end?
A: It comes from both. We have different relationships with different people at different stages of their life.
For younger people, beauty is such a strong category for us. So we start to build a relationship with our patients and customers at an early age through categories like this.
We have a lot of convenience items in the store, but it all fits together in terms of what can we do from a health care perspective as you move through your life stages.
Q: How does Rite Aid fit into the local retail landscape here?
A: I know a lot of people shop at a supermarket or they might go to a Target or a Walmart for a large shop. But on an everyday basis, we’re the most convenient.
And with our Wellness Plus program, if you shop with us regularly, you can really earn significant discounts. You can buy every day at a 20 percent discount from our shelf price. So what happens is we build that loyalty with customers. They get more and more comfortable shopping with us every day.
Q: How does a store manager impact the culture from store to store?
A: It’s one of the most important jobs in the company. If you think about culture, how much does your boss impact the culture where you work? If they’re nice and they’re your partner and they’re working with you, trying to make things better, you feel really good. But if you’re just grinding it out all day, it doesn’t feel so good, right? So the store manager really plays such a critical role in what we do and can really change the environment in the store.
Q: How do you keep everyone on the right track but still give them the freedom to make decisions?
A: It’s a combination of things. We’ve spent the last four years trying to re-engineer as many of the in-store processes we can to make them easier.
For example, we have these [price tag] strips on the shelves. It used to be, when we had a change, they had to take every one of these little tags off. Now they’re all on one strip. So they put the whole strip up at once, and everything is right where it needs to go.
If something that used to take you five hours now only takes you an hour, you have more time to spend with customers or do whatever, so it just really makes a difference. We’re trying to empower associates by giving them more time they can spend with customers.