Express Rx is next stop for ShopKo Stores

February 7, 2005

The next time you see construction workers breaking ground to make way for a freestanding pharmacy or remodeling an existing one, the Grand Opening banner could read: ShopKo Express Rx.

The next time you see construction workers breaking ground to make way for a freestanding pharmacy or remodeling an existing one, the Grand Opening banner could read: ShopKo Express Rx.

ShopKo Stores Inc., headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., is a mass-merchandiser with 361 stores. Two hundred and fifty of these stores -including almost all of the ShopKo stores-encompass pharmacies. The company has decided to open freestanding pharmacies with a "neighborhood drugstore format."

Mike Bettiga, senior VP, retail health services, told Drug Topics, "We're a mass-merchant with pharmacies and optical centers in almost all of our ShopKo Stores. We also have another division called Pamida. Pamida has smaller stores, a number of which have pharmacies, in a rural setting across the Midwest. We pride ourselves on the success and importance of pharmacies to our company.

The tests have yielded three freestanding stores under the ShopKo Express Rx banner. One store, situated in Port Washington, Wis., is a pharmacy that ShopKo acquired and remodeled. Two of the brand new stores are located in what Bettiga described as "new growth areas" outside of Green Bay. One of these stores is a 15,000-sq. ft. building in Howard, Wis. In addition to a pharmacy, the store features an optical center. "We put an optical center into a drug environment. There is a big emphasis on food and beverage as well, and a business center. The business center features a postal substation and offers lottery sales, hunting and fishing licenses, key making, and one-hour photo. It's a different concept from some of the other stores," said Bettiga. The second new ShopKo Express Rx store, in Ledgeview, Wis., has 14,200 square feet. It does not have an optical center.

"This is a test for us and a work in progress," explained Bettiga. "We intend to do a lot of work with customers, finding out what they like and what they'd like to see different. We are going to test the results of optical because it is a different business for the drugstore environment. There is an advantage in that we have the entire infrastructure set up to support all of the optical that we have in our whole chain. This is a natural extension for us," he said.

Emphasizing that ShopKo Express has a lot of young families to cater to in these new stores, Bettiga said, "Our whole mission is to provide a very convenient outlet for retail health services. We are going into high-growth areas outside the core city, and we are trying to provide a little more convenience. "

Bettiga said ShopKo Express Rx offers a merchandise mix with a greater emphasis on food than some of its competition. In addition to the business center, the pharmacy carries some electronics, traditional health and beauty aids, greeting cards, seasonal products, and one-hour photo. All of the new stores have a drive-thru. The company has decided not to carry toys and gifts. "We are going to focus on the types of items you would need for a fill-in trip and make the store accessible and convenient for customers in those areas," explained Bettiga.

As to the design of the stores, Bettiga said the pharmacies are very open. There are separate counseling panels in the front of the store and very large, roomy waiting areas in the fore of the pharmacy. The Howard store features a Healthnotes information kiosk as part of its wellness center. The stores have a center entrance, Bettiga pointed out. "We only merchandise up to 66 inches to allow customers to see the various departments throughout the store. This allows them to orient for a moment and choose their shopping pattern."

Will ShopKo expand with more Express Rx outlets? While Bettiga emphasized that it's too early to discuss expansion, he said that the chain operates in 16 states from the Pacific Northwest into Wisconsin and upper Michigan.