Bartell Drugs has been serving customers in the Pacific Northwest for 127 years and continues to grow every year. By Stephanie Crets
Bartell Drugs has been serving the Pacific Northwest for 127 years and is the oldest family owned pharmacy chain in the United States. Its longevity in the area has given it a local feel for anyone that grew up in the Seattle area, but now has 65 stores in the region.
“Our level of service, the unique products we carry and the very real feeling of home-grown hospitality and service have given Bartell a very loyal customer base,” says CEO and President Brian Unmacht. “The affection our customers have for us, and we in return, is something that is difficult to replicate by the cookie-cutter national chains.”
Its brand recognition allows it to continue to grow. This year, Bartell Drugs is opening two new stores – one in a popular residential area in north Seattle and a second in an emerging neighborhood east of Seattle. The company hopes this will strengthen its brand in areas where it already has good recognition but will also increase convenience for loyal and new customers.
But Bartell Drugs also wants to attract newcomers to the brand as its locations multiply. To achieve this, the company wants to add more personalization to its store with a customer loyalty program currently in the works.
“We never plan to rest on our laurels,” Unmacht says. “The retail pharmacy market remains a highly competitive field. Our focus is on continual improvement, which we are looking to address in several ways.”
One way this is occurring is with a significant upgrade through Enterprise Resource Planning software that will integrate front and back-office functions, from inventory to accounting through to the sales floor. This modernization will create better tracking, inventory and management control which will, in turn, create even better customer engagement.
Unmacht notes that company leaders are constantly evaluating what customers are buying in order to expand – or limit – its offerings. “If we see an opportunity, such as with the tremendous increase in demands for healthy snacks, we’ll pursue it.” One new feature being rolled out is a healthy snack aisle specifically focusing on these products with an expanded offer of local and national brands that support a healthy lifestyle.
Bartell Drugs highlights items that are particularly popular in this aisle, making them easy for the customer to locate, but it also to steer customers to products they might find complementary to their existing purchases, or new items they might find exciting and interesting. “We make our stores fast and easy to shop by creating logical product adjacencies that allow customers to find what they are looking for,” Unmacht explains.
Bartell Drugs is also focused on innovations to increase convenience for customers. Last year, the company launched a partnership with Amazon Prime Now, the first drugstore in the United States to do so. As a first venture into e-commerce, it’s been a great success. With Prime Now, more than 90 percent of its product line is available to nearly the extensive number of Prime subscribers in its region.
“The convenience of online ordering and home delivery, coupled with the strength of Amazon, has allowed us to expand in our market range without the costly expense of developing our own e-commerce process,” Unmacht notes.
Bartell Drugs chiefly remains a true brick-and-mortar retailer, but Unmacht stresses that “innovation is a time-honored element in the company’s DNA, and our recent partnership is an example of how we’ve found an online niche by utilizing the immense power of Amazon,” he adds. “We continue to improve and upgrade our backend systems that, in the long run, will aid us in developing a deeper online presence.”
This ties into Bartell Drugs’ commitment to customer engagement and positioning the company as an innovative retailer. It continues to develop its in-store and online digital storytelling to connect with a larger audience and has a strong social media presence, which it uses to provide lifestyle tips that connect back to the store experience.
“Being family owned, that feeling of belonging really permeates throughout the company,” Unmacht says. Bartell Drugs employs many people who have spent their entire careers with the company and even have children and grandchildren working for the company. Unmacht believes this shows that the employees have a vested interest in the well-being of the company, store guests and each other. In addition, Bartell Drugs tends to find and promote talent from within the company, promoting this long-term growth.
“A number of our managers started their careers stocking shelves and evolved into effective, efficient leaders,” Unmacht says. “That knowledge of the business from all levels builds a comprehensive base that is valuable as they move up. It is essential that all employees in the company understand our values, the forward direction of the company and how they each can contribute to our overall success. Retail and our company are both in a time of great change. You cannot over-communicate what is happening and where we are headed.”
The family feeling flows through the stores as well. Employees create meaningful connection with the customers and earn long-term loyalty. “That positions Bartell Drugs as a relevant community retailer and healthcare provider,” Unmacht says. “This takes various forms but they all lead back to making us into an integral part of people’s daily lives.”