What game are you watching?

Rob Eder

“So, who’s bigger—CVS or Walgreens?”

I was at the ECRM Disease State Management show in St. Petersburg, Fla., just a few weeks ago, when a supplier in one of our meetings asked me the question. It was a funny thing, really, and not just because CVS executives, that very day, were up in Little Canada, Minn., to celebrate the grand opening of the company’s 7,000th store; and not even because I knew that within a week, Walgreens would be cutting the ribbon on its 7,000th store. Or even because at the time, both companies already each operated more than 7,000 stores.

It’s because it really doesn’t matter anymore who has the most stores. That’s only one way to measure these companies—the stores are just one component of a much bigger healthcare play.

Think of it as a wheel: The stores are one spoke; the clinics are another; specialty pharmacy, another; mail-order, another; for CVS, a huge PBM is another; for Walgreens, a major presence in work-site care and home infusion is another spoke. The stores, in themselves, do not drive the wheel any more than any other single spoke on the wheel. Health care, and the delivery of it, is what drives the wheel. And that, ultimately, is how these two companies will come to be measured.

Just listen to what the leadership of these two companies has to say about it. Walgreens talks about leveraging 8,000 points of care. “With that foundation, we’re taking Walgreens directly to employers, government entities, managed care companies and PBMs,” Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson told analysts during a Sept. 28 earnings call. Its new deal with Caterpillar is a prime example of that.

So, who’s bigger? For the record, Walgreens was at 7,042 stores the day it celebrated in Brooklyn, N.Y. As of the date of this issue, CVS had 7,017 stores.

But if that’s the way you’re keeping score, you’re watching the wrong game, my friend.

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