Anticipating customer needs makes USA a force in Goliath’s backyard

USA Drug made record profits in 2010, bought 16 independent pharmacies and built four new prototype stores.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — USA Drug grew up in Arkansas, home turf of Walmart. But to characterize the 140-unit drug store operator as David to Walmart’s Goliath doesn’t do justice to this feisty retail innovator, which wields plenty of clout across the nation’s midsection, under a variety of store banners.

USA Drug left the Memphis, Tenn., market in March 2010, selling 14 Super D and three Ike’s stores to Walgreens. But the company also achieved record profits in 2010, according to USA Drug president and CEO Joe Courtright. It also bought 16 independent pharmacies and built four new 15,000-sq.-ft. prototype stores, he said. 

USA Drug begins the new year as a formidable regional player with a legendary ability to anticipate its customers’ needs. Its top merchant, VP purchasing Carl Wheeler, is in charge of a broadly merchandised front end that Courtright projects will achieve comp-store sales gains of 4% to 5% in 2011, after a “flat” same-store sales year in 2010.

“Our Dollar Zone category is performing very well,” he told Drug Store News. Also making big gains, Courtright added, are paper products, snacks, beverages and grocery, in addition to antacids, which “are up sharply as a result of Rx to [over-the-counter] conversion.”

The pharmacy also is regaining ground, with “optimal” pharmacist staffing and “several [disease management] programs, including those targeting diabetes, cholesterol, osteoporosis, asthma management, blood pressure and cardiovascular risk management, liver function testing and smoking cessation,” the company’s CEO said.

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