Partnering with suppliers to create a rich, innovative experience for customers

Tony Montini, Rite Aid EVP Merchandising

The success of Rite Aid’s Wellness store is in the experience. It’s welcoming. It’s engaging. And across various touchpoints throughout the store, it helps guide Rite Aid customers toward however it is they define “well.” That’s as much a function of design of the stores as it is the people and the products in those stores.

“We’re not trying to tell people what wellness is,” Tony Montini, Rite Aid EVP Merchandising, told DSN in discussing the intricate design of Rite Aid’s Wellness stores. “We’re trying to expose them to what wellness can be and then empower them to make the decisions to determine what wellness is for them.” 

The latest rendition of the Wellness store — which the company unveiled in October in Lemoyne, Pa., literally just down the road from its Camp Hill headquarters — seizes on that idea of wellness empowerment. Helping to guide the experience are specially trained Wellness Ambassadors — as of this fall, Rite Aid had trained 815 associates for the new position — who proactively engage customers, helping them find products in the store or linking them back to the pharmacist for questions and discussions on health and wellness and 
product recommendations.

“Our Wellness Ambassadors really, really take their position seriously,” Montini said. “They want to be involved. They want to help our customers, and they want to transition the front to the back,” he said. “If they don’t have that passion — then they really are just a greeter. And that’s not the intention of this position.”

Another key element of the Rite Aid Wellness experience is ever-changing innovation — not product innovation necessarily, Montini explained, but 
merchandising innovation. 

“New items are the life blood of our business. But innovation in product is nondifferentiating,” Montini said. “Everybody gets the same product. … It’s what we do with that product in the store on the shelf that differentiates us. Right now the biggest thing is interaction and information. How do we help educate our customers in the store? And, how do we get them to better understand what that product is?”

Innovation is about being fearless. It’s about taking risks. But it’s also about being smart, especially with the comprehensive data at the fingertips of Rite Aid category managers courtesy of Rite Aid’s loyalty card program, wellness+. Now well into its third year, the program is not only driving sales and growing the customers’ market basket, it’s also delivering critical information about its customers’ shopping habits that is informing multiple aspects of Rite Aid’s business. “Data is power. The more you know about your business, the more you can adjust toward what you need to do to change,” Montini said. “Change has to be constant, and you have to 
embrace change.”

Rite Aid helps foster that at-the-shelf innovation through a combination of speedy decision-making and a mindset that the “store format” isn’t really a format at all but an ever-changing retail laboratory — a place to constantly test new ideas. In Montini’s book, the pace of innovation has to happen fast; his personal mantra, “Speed wins,” has become the marching orders for Rite Aid’s 
merchandising team. 

Given the pace of Rite Aid’s remodeling efforts, at any one time, company officials are able to select a small group of stores where it can test a new concept. Montini shared with DSN a recent example of a meeting with a supplier that wanted to pitch a new merchandising concept. “I told the supplier, ‘Partner with us. We’re going to do 15 stores next week. We can test it in 15 stores,’” Montini said. That’s a quicker turnaround between decision-making and execution than most, he noted. “Who moves as fast as we do? Nobody, because we will make a decision and we will test it immediately. And if it works, we’ll roll it out. If it doesn’t work, we’ll stop it.”

However, a successful test market can present a whole new set of challenges, Montini acknowledged — challenges, incidentally, that he’s all too happy to have. “Our challenge is, how do we go back and put that successful concept into the stores we’ve already done?” he said. “That’s the challenge to me. It’s constantly trying to find what’s new, what’s different, and what’s going to help our consumer. But that’s also the fun part,” he explained. 

In Rite Aid’s next-generation Wellness store in Lemoyne, there are several examples of merchandising innovation at play, including:

A new interactive Vision Center kiosk that allows customers to try new frames in the store and order prescription glasses and contact lenses for home delivery;

Unilever’s new men’s grooming set with an interactive Axe display where customers can use an iPad to sample new looks;

Hands-on product displays in personal care appliance — such as blow dryers and curling irons, diagnostic meters and even in home care — so customers can see and feel products before purchasing;

GlaxoSmithKline’s new smoking-
cessation endcap; and

A vastly enhanced GNC department that feels more like an actual GNC store versus just stepping into the vitamin aisle.

Montini also noted the company’s partnership with Procter & Gamble, which created Rite Aid’s first “him/her” grooming display concept.

Engaging its supplier partners to think creatively of ways to differentiate the experience at Rite Aid and help support its Wellness Empowerment mission remains a major priority for the merchandising team. So much so, in fact, that “Inspiring Innovation” was the theme of the company’s Annual Supplier Conference in September. “Our commitment to innovation demands that we continually refine and develop our Wellness store concept,” Montini shared with suppliers. “The format is dynamic and responsive rather than static — each iteration of our Wellness store will build and improve on the last. This commitment to dynamic design means that the Wellness stores we convert at the beginning of the year will be substantially different from the stores we convert at the end of 
the year.”

Rite Aid also shared with suppliers that future renditions of the Wellness store model could include vision care centers and upscale wine selections in select locations, where appropriate. 

Rite Aid is even looking into ways to further enhance interactions within the beauty sections of certain stores. It’s another example of not defining “well” — in this case, beauty — but providing resources that the beauty customer can tap for additional information or guidance. Merchandising beauty in the old days was just that; it was to help the beauty customer look good, Montini said. “Beauty blends into health much differently than it did 10 or 15 years ago.”

One key new aspect of its newest Wellness store in Lemoyne is the nail bar display, which pulls nail polish off the shelf and creates a stage for the category.

Today it’s all about preventative care, and it’s all health-relevant. “Regimentation and understanding what you can do to stay healthy and to keep from having problems down the road is a big deal today,” Montini said. “It’s information. That’s health.”

Rite Aid also is dedicating resources against fresh foods. The company in 2010 partnered with Supervalu’s Save-A-Lot on 10 grocery/drug store hybrid stores in the Greenville, 
S.C., market. 

And more innovation across fresh foods can be expected soon with the recent hire of 25-year Giant Food vet Bob Serafin, Rite Aid’s new senior director of grocery, who will work with Rite Aid’s VP of Consumables Bill Renz to further strengthen Rite Aid’s bench strength and offerings in this important category. Serafin has focused on making Rite Aid a strong “fill-in” food source since joining the team in April. “I see grocery as a growth vehicle for us, especially with healthier fare,” Montini said. “We’ve recently put a line in called Wholesome Goodness. It’s exclusive to us right now. And we’re going to continue to look for opportunities where we can expand upon offerings that offer additional choices for 
our customers.”

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