Thanks to our good friend the “retailfanatic”, I am reminded of another what you could call “new age” drug store, although the concept has been in existence for over 60 years. Called London Drugs after King George VI’s home town, it became revolutionary almost right away. A camera shop was going to close right next door to their very first location in Vancouver, British Columbia. They decided to buy the leftover stock and sell cameras in a traditional drug store. That seemed to be the beginning of many unorthodox moves.

However, when you look at those moves, are they truly unorthodox when they have achieved unfettered success for over 60 years? Not only were they the first pharmacy to extend their hours to evenings and weekends (because people actually get sick at those times as well), but they started carrying categories that consumers wanted to buy in order to further convenience them. Cosmetics (for the same reasons as Shopper’s started emphasizing this category – the poor performance of department stores), small household appliances, consumer electronics and yes, computers and software were carried when they became available and desired.

If you happen to walk into one of their 68 stores, it is less slick and less polished than the “new age” Shoppers, but I believe that is the point. It is supposed to be a bit of a treasure hunt – you are supposed to be pleasantly surprised as you turn into each and every aisle. The stores are loaded with merchandise and they do huge volumes because they have been trusted to know exactly what their consumer wants and needs and they respond in a timely fashion. That, in essence, is their brand.

If you were to formally outline a strategy for this “concept” in some boardroom somewhere, you would never hit on the current assortment that London Drugs currently carries. That is the lesson here. Fundamentally, retailing isn’t as much about strategy and boardrooms, but about what the consumer actually wants and how the consumer responds. Retailing is still about giving the consumer what he/she wants when he/she wants it at a price he/she is comfortable with. Period.

London Drugs has done that for over 60 years. But not because it has “stuck to its knitting”. They have morphed their assortments every decade since inception because they identified trends, knew their customers intimately and were willing to take some calculated risks for them. Not only were they the first to discount dispensing fees, extend their hours, add consulting bays for consumers to speak privately with pharmacists, create one of the first digital photo kiosks to develop one’s own photos but the reason they have done these types of things time and time again was solely on behalf of their consumer.

The rarity in this day and age is that they have no target market, they have no high concept store design – they target everyone who shops (or, at times, doesn’t feel well), the store is very utilitarian in its layout and approach and it works. People love to shop there.

I guess London Drugs isn’t that bizarre after all.

TheRetailTherapist 🙂