Thursday, September 16, 2010

In a New York Minute - The Walgreens experience

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to visit New York City for a week. It was a spur of the moment trip, and I didn't give much thought to my plans, just headed out looking for adventure. Of course I couldn't stop my curious mind from making note of some retail and cultural trends  as I walked and explored the Big Apple.
My first stop, like all good tourists, was Times Square. Now I've been to Times Square before. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me." Bright Lights, Big City" said Jay Macanery, and the area continues to live up to that moniker. It's all giant neon and scrolling screens, looming above a mass of humanity. Humanity of course being all tourists. I doubt many New Yorkers spend much time there, what with the flashing cameras,  the out of towners, and the heavy preponderance of chain restaurants all proclaiming how BIG they are (The Largest Chili's in the world!).
There is lots to write about Times Square retail wise, but what I experienced was the Walgreens Drugstore. It's a super drugstore to be sure. A tower in the middle of Times Square, and is the first retailer that greets you as you come up from the subway. But it's a Walgreens, and beside the giant neon ads on the front of this drugstore, the three floors inside remind you of that.
My experience at Times Square Walgreens is what's interesting. Or frustrating. Or maddening when you see chain retailers that want to operate all of their units from the same mediocre play book.
You see I wanted a bottle of wine. Yes, I could go into any number of places to have a glass of wine, only to discover that (a) they don't put the prices of drinks on menus and (b) there is a very good reason for that when you get the bill. So, being ever so slightly worried that I would spend all my consumable cash on 2 glasses of wine, I went looking for a wine/liquor store around Times Square.
There are none. Well, I'm sure there are,   but I was starting to feel a bit peckish and the glare of the Toys R Us Ferris Wheel may have disoriented me. Or,  it was the crowds and the big SUV Strollers that seem to always be biting at your heels. And then my great inspiration. Walgreens! Wine and Beer! I love America! Perfect. Pick up a bottle, walk across the street to subway, go back to my place and day one of my adventure pleasantly comes to a close.
And yes Walgreens sells wine and beer, and some alcohol cooler things that I think are marketed to 14 year olds. (Seriously, what adult drinks bubble gum tutti fruit rum infusion coolers? And why? ). So I pick up my wine and begin the quest for a corkscrew. Yes, normally I pack a corkscrew for emergencies such as this, but  this was a spur of the moment trip, so my packing regime was a bit out of whack. Trolling the shelves for said corkscrew, I finally found a surly employee who, without so much stopping to chew her gum, raised a well manicured finger and spat out "Housewares - third floor". Thank you dear I muttered, wondering if customer service manuals were written by members of the East German Police.
Cruising the escalator to the third floor I wonder aimlessly until I find the minuscule housewares section, somewhere between hygiene products and disposable diapers for every age group. I'm carrying my bottle around, curiously drawn to the 12 liner feet of every age group diapers (cradle to the grave indeed),  and finally, after three cruises through the aisles found the shelf tag for corkscrews. Out of stock. *sigh*
So here I am. Corked bottle in hand, third floor of what I am sure is the LARGEST WALGREENS IN THE WORLD, and no corkscrew. I thought of going back down and asking Miss manicured finger if they had one in the back room, or picking up the bubble gum rum infusion drinks with the easy twist off cap. Neither seemed like a great plan, nor did the "I Heart NYC" Corkscrew that I found in the souvenir section for the princely sum of $25.00. So i left sans corkscrew, hoping that I could find one back at the apartment that I was staying at. I stood in a long line, paid for my wine and stepped over the SUV strollers. I pushed out the Walgreens entrance,  a  a sigh of relief, and stood next to Miss manicure finger puffing on her Virginia Slim.
Of course you are asking yourself. What does this whole story have to do with Walgreens head office and operational efficiency and building sales? Well let me tell you:
First off, It's your environment that matters in retail. You can 800 stores, all across the country, but each one is unique in where it is located. Someone at head office has missed the fact that they could make a lot more money by expanding their wine and beer and bubble gum cooler selection. No not at all 800 stores - but at the Times Square one. If I have trouble finding vino, I'm sure I am not the only one, so why can't the chain recognize this and work to modify the selection based on location? Seems a no brainer to me.
Second, What's that adage in retail about putting complementary products together to drive add on sales? Did Walgreens miss that day at retail 101? Why on earth would you put wine on one floor and corkscrews two floors up? Everyone, from the manager to the district manager,  to the head office plan-o-gram folks, should have figured that one out. It's like putting the Anthro textbook at one end of the store and the Anthro study guide far off in the other corner.
And finally, I've been around the block a few times retail wise. I can smell a push a mile away. I bet they haven't had stock of the $5.00 corkscrews for ever, forcing consumers to by the cheap plastic "I Heart NY" products for four to five times the price. Yes that increases sales, but at the cost of consumer cynicism and lost on-going loyalty.
So there are my retail tips for the day. Look at your location and what you can leverage. Remind yourself to check your product selection and see if it makes sense, and above all, watch those out of stocks!
I went home, found something that was close to a corkscrew, and had a lovely glass of wine from a mason jar.
Hopefully Miss manicured finger has finished her gum.
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