Walgreens' Shannon Curtin shares insights during latest Mack Elevation Forum

WHEELING, Ill. — “When you create something for [our various retail concepts], you are creating a new experience and environment that makes us different than our competitive set. Exclusivity of the experience is a large differentiator.” That was a key message that keynote retail speaker Shannon Curtin, Walgreens divisional VP and GMM for beauty, personal care and seasonal, had for attendees of the latest Mack Elevation Forum.

The most recent Elevation Forum was held Oct. 17 at the Westin Chicago North Shore Hotel in Wheeling, Ill., which is located roughly five miles from Walgreens’ headquarters. More than 20 suppliers gathered to attend the all-day event, founded by Dan Mack, managing director of Mack Elevation Forum and strategy leader of The Swanson Group.

Curtin attended the event to offer critical insights into how to successfully and strategically align with Walgreens, as Mack led discussions on business habits and evaluating talent within the supplier community.

As illustrated in a recent issue of Drug Store Stores, Walgreens is working to transform the traditional drug store, and the beauty and personal care space is no exception.

When looking to work with Walgreens, suppliers need to be aware of the various formats under the retailer’s banner, including flagship locations and Well Experience stores. They must also determine the best fit for the community they will mutually serve by thinking about how to create a unique experience within that respective format and passing what Curtin referred to as a “gut check.” 

“Within each of these stores, make a proposal to us that the customer always has to win first. Then assure the proposal aligns with our mission and strategy. For example, in a flagship store, the world is open to you to co-create whatever you would like to propose and we are happy to entertain those new ideas,” said Curtin, who also stressed that the proposed product/solution must be exclusive to Walgreens and unique to the market. In other words, it needs to be a game-changer. “In these flagship stores, it is for us to showcase the best of the best,” she said.
And within the Well Experience stores, for example, the retailer is taking the essence of what makes that store special and heightening it to open up a new shopping experience. To further serve shoppers, some of these locations will also have an online element where shoppers can access information via an in-store kiosk to find additional products not sold in the physical location, purchase the item and have it shipped home.

Curtin also discussed the future of private brands and told attendees that while Walgreens will continue to support private brand, it is eager to entertain potential partnerships between noncompeting private and national brands. “If you have an idea to partner with one of our private brands, we think that’s a great solution," she said.

As mentioned earlier, Mack kicked off the event with an open discussion on business habits to help unearth some best practices.

“We tend to get enthralled in the myopic issues of the day … I think an underrated proposition is to allow your teams to have the flexibility to think” and, perhaps more importantly, to think ahead much like a chess game, said one supplier.

Avoid falling into a price game and understand that “different makes a difference,” added another supplier.

Another attendee said, “When people have a voice and feel they can help develop a strategic plan, it makes them feel like they are more on board.”

The day came to a close with a discussion on evaluating talent. When asked what they look for when evaluating talent, some attendees said passion, positive energy, ownership and someone who is looking to “fix” things or bring solutions to the table.

Mack also suggested that employers not underestimate the value of a “virtual bench.” In other words, employers should always have several potential new hires in mind or sitting on a “virtual bench,” who could step in to fill an unexpected vacancy.

Clearly the all-day forum covered a lot of ground and, once again, proved to be an invaluable discussion for attendees. And if there was one message Mack wanted to convey, it was “Don’t play today safe — risk.”

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