Shoppers branding comes together in 2001

It's a lucky thing Shoppers Drug Mart has a ready supply of Aspirins on hand, because judging by the flurry of recent activity, the marketing staff were probably popping them daily.

It’s a lucky thing Shoppers Drug Mart has a ready supply of Aspirins on hand, because judging by the flurry of recent activity, the marketing staff were probably popping them daily.

Just in the past 12 months, the 800+ store chain has successfully launched one of the largest loyalty programs in Canada, the Optimum card, as well as executing the much-admired ‘Take care of yourself’ TV and print branding campaign.

Meanwhile, ongoing store renovations are making good on the new branding image by providing a more pleasant shopping experience and tailoring each venue to its location. For instance, the fashion mall shops now have a wider array of cosmetics, openly displayed and accessible, while high-traffic street-side stores have added more convenience-food items to the mix.

And you wouldn’t know it, but this was all despite going through an ownership change in 2000. (Imasco sold the chain for $1.78 billion to an investor group led by New York-based leveraged buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.)

Taken together, this is all reason enough to proclaim Shoppers as Strategy’s top retail client, but the main reason Shoppers won has less to do with the individual developments, and more to do with the chain’s ability to seam them all together, maintaining a level of consistency in its brand message across the board.

Neil Everett, SVP of marketing and communications, is particularly proud of the breakneck enrollment they achieved in the Optimum program. The loyalty card hit its one-year target in just seven weeks, and is currently growing at a pace that will see it rivaling The Hudson Bay Company’s seven-million-plus member HBC Rewards program, tagged as the biggest loyalty venture in Canada.

As well, Micheal Lovsin, VP of merchandising for beauty products, reported that sales of cosmetics have doubled over the past five years, in part propelled by the new open-sell concept first introduced in August 1999.

In its National Retail Report for 2000, which surveyed 12,000 Canadians, Toronto-based retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group found that 36% of consumers visited Shoppers Drug Mart for over-the-counter drugs during a six-month period, making it the number-one choice in Canada. Wal-Mart came a very distant second, with only 16% of participants.

And while the Shoppers score actually slipped 3% from 1998′s study, due to increased competition from big box stores and grocery chains, J.C. Williams retail analyst John Torella says it is on the right path to preserve its top pharmacy position. ‘Its overall strategy is on target in terms of the changing consumer and the whole emphasis on wellness,’ he says. ‘I have a sense that it is trying to build an emotional connection with the consumer that goes beyond product, and that’s good.’

Shoppers continues to single-handedly transform the industry, adds David Fong, president of TBWA/Chiat/Day, Shoppers’ AOR. ‘They’re continually looking at ways to reinvent the category, [as opposed to] just paying lip service to reinvention. Across every facet you can see that actually operating.’

Going forward, Shoppers has no plans to slow down. It’s currently in the process of revamping its Web site, which should be completed next December, and it will kick off a cosmetics TV campaign in August that ‘taps into [a woman's] needs,’ says Everett. The SVP also confirms that the company plans to premiere a yet-to-be-named quarterly magazine, to be delivered to households using Optimum’s database, sometime next year. Its other magalogues, Images and HealthWatch, will continue to be available in stores.

But as the marketing mastermind behind the scenes, Everett believes his greatest coup to date has been one not easily observable by outsiders: solidifying his team. ‘There are two types of managers,’ he says, ‘those who feel threatened by people below them that are successful, and those who thrive on making sure they’re successful. I like to think I’m the second.’

Creating camaraderie throughout the ranks wasn’t easy, though. When he first took the helm at the marketing department 18 months ago, Everett found it managed in ‘silos,’ without any interaction between sub-departments.

‘Recognizing that I wanted a more integrated approach to marketing, I had to break down those barriers,’ he says.

To instill a group mentality, Everett implemented team-building exercises. For instance, last fall he established inter-related groups and assigned them a task – to design a mural for the department’s walls. At Christmas, the participants voted on their favourite submission and an artist was hired to complete the work.

The SVP is also a firm believer in encouraging dialogue across the various sub-departments and, to that end, organized post mortems of POP campaigns in which everyone, from translation to event marketing, came together to review the creative.

But not everything is about constructive criticism – the marketing crew also celebrates achievements. For instance, after the Optimum feat, the department rented a boat for a party on the lake.

Everett’s goal is to keep the lines of communication open not only between the various marketing areas, but also between his staff and himself. ‘My whole focus, since I’ve taken over, has been to restructure the department, and make sure that all our employees understand what our mission is.’

Everett admits his biggest dilemma is making himself available to his staff on a continuing basis. After assuming his post, he established a channel through which they can raise issues, an advisory committee consisting of non-management personnel. Its job is not only to communicate concerns, but also to table solutions. ‘Not all of them feel comfortable talking to their supervisor,’ he explains.

To help make himself more available, Everett is in the midst of hiring a right-hand person, a VP of advertising, to take care of day-to-day operations, which should free up some of his time.

So far, Everett’s team-oriented initiatives appear to have paid off. According to a recent employee survey, the marketing department has the highest morale in the company, something that wouldn’t have been the case two years ago, he says.

The major benefit to improved relations among staff members is that they are now clear on the company’s marketing focus and can better contribute to the implementation of the overall strategy. That’s crucial, according to Everett, because it’s the people below him who push the gears into motion.

‘I can point the direction, and remove some of the hurdles, but if they don’t execute, I’m doomed.’