Walgreens' new pharmacy model reflects a strong focus on health and wellness.
When Charles R. Walgreen Sr. decided to purchase the Chicago drugstore where he worked in 1901, this innovative pharmacist began a century of improvements sparked by entrepreneurship that has placed the Walgreen Co. on the map. You may have seen the recent commercial on television that shows Charles behind the counter as a voice declares that Walgreens launched the first malted milkshake in 1922—“double-rich chocolate malted milk”—enticing customers “three and four deep around the soda fountain.” Today, Walgreens is enticing scores of new customers with a whole new type of store—one that challenges the traditional image of a pharmacy.
The innovative flagship store, appropriately enough, opened its doors in Chicago, where Walgreens has a long history and a large footprint. Located in the heart of the historic State Street shopping district, the “Well Experience” store stands 2 stories tall and sits on the same location as the landmark Walgreens that stood on the corner of State and Randolph from 1926 to 2005 in Chicago’s Loop.
“This unique urban retailing concept raises the bar and sets us apart in our industry,” said Joe Magnacca, Walgreens president of daily living products and solutions, when the store first opened on January 10, 2012. Chief Executive Officer Greg Wasson added, “The store brings together our most innovative, forward-thinking initiatives under one stunning roof, and we couldn’t be more proud to make its debut in our hometown.”
Transforming the traditional drugstore concept—from top to bottom—this new store model directly impacts the daily lives of its customers. With store hours set at 7 days a week and open from 6:30 a.m. until midnight each weekday, the State Street Walgreens captures consumers on their way to work in a very busy downtown—and also offers them late night retail shopping. The store also bustles during weekends, with late night Saturday and Sunday hours. Walgreens, which operates 7944 drugstores in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, zeroed in on the Chicago area to test this new store concept with this location and others in Illinois and Indiana.
Take a Tour
Curious shoppers who have stepped into the State Street store since it opened are lured by the new look, which they can easily see through the large windows. Fresh fruit, sushi, and made-to-order smoothies seen from the street level, however, are just a taste of what’s inside.
For a start, the Upmarket Café offers freshly brewed coffee and fresh-baked breads and pastries daily. A juice bar features fresh fruits and vegetables that can be transformed into those healthy smoothies as well as hundreds of takeaway food items, including wraps, salads, and sandwiches, all made on the premises for a new, unique lunch option while customers shop for health and beauty products. Fresh food in a drugstore—that’s what Chicagoans now experience as they have learned to expect the unexpected from this retail chain.
Farther along the aisles on the first floor, a wide variety of convenience items line the shelves—all items that the busy urban shopper needs in a hurry. And just behind the escalator that leads to the second floor sits a wine store-within-a-store with a “best-in-class” selection of more than 700 wines on offer. A selection of artisan cheeses and chocolates tempt the gourmet shopper here.
Special events regularly take place in this section, with stars like Dan Ackroyd launching a new wine. Most recently, celebrity singer Taylor Swift joined forces with Walgreens to launch the “Taylor Swift Store at Walgreens” at select Walgreens and Duane Reade locations to offer music and merchandise, including her new CD, “Red.” Walgreens has become a happening place.
Pharmacists Out Front
“So, where is the pharmacy?” asks one shopper who stopped to admire the tempting sushi being made by hand. Employees are more than happy to talk about their store and direct customers to the second level where a whole new world awaits. In the state-of-the-art pharmacy area, it’s obvious that some customers have already gotten the hang of how this new health destination works. Pharmacist Nancy Salman, RPh, pharmacy manager, sits at a spotless white desk with a computer where she works with behind-the-scenes staff to fill and check prescriptions. But that is not all she can do. With this more visible location, she interacts with customers steadily—after an iPad-equipped “health guide” answers initial questions and helps navigate customers directly to products and services to fulfill their needs.
This new “Ask Your Pharmacist” desk underscores the important—and very human—role pharmacists can and do play for patients who are in need of health information right away. With this new model, the patient can visit with a trained medication expert face-to-face, without a barrier, and without distractions. Also part of this health destination space is Express Rx, self-serve touch-screen kiosks for convenient and fast prescription orders and pick-ups, as well as a clinic, where a wide range of health care services are offered—including vaccinations, health tests, physicals, and treatments for common illnesses and minor injuries.
A few steps away, sparkling well-lighted product displays for over-the-counter products, health and beauty items, and a “Look Boutique” beauty department beckon shoppers to check out the prestige and niche skin care and hair care brands, among other products. Tucked in one corner of the beauty section—which looks much like an upscale department store— sits a nail salon offering manicures with the latest colors from essie and OPI. A “Virtual Makeover” kiosk gives customers the chance to experiment with shades and styles. This all goes in line with “the ultimate in service, convenience, assortment, and community pharmacy,” according to Greg Wasson.
The pharmacy department is at the core of health and wellness, but greater access to healthy foods—especially in underserved communities—has not gone unnoticed. In July, First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America announced a major new effort to expand this Chicago model, with Walgreens converting or opening ready access to fresh food in 1000 “food oasis” stores across the country in the next 5 years.
The State Street Walgreens has certainly started a trend. No surprise from a company that launched a multitude of innovations over the years—from the first child-resistant pill container to the first drugstore chain to offer prescription labels in multiple languages—and Walgreens continues to take pharmacy to the next level and the store environment into new directions.
Bea Riemschneider is Group Editorial Director of Pharmacy Times and Specialty Pharmacy Times. She recently visited the Chicago flagship to explore the new store model.