A prescription for convenience

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Why do drugstores so often locate right next to each other? Because that’s right where you want them.

By Todd Martin

It happens so frequently that it’s become cliché– as soon as a Walgreens or CVS pharmacy opens, the other locates across the street.


And that played out last year in Shelbyville on the corner of U.S. 60 and Freedom’s Way, where CVS now sits directly across the road from Walgreens.

Bill Borders, who with William Hickman owned Smith-McKenney – purchased in 2012 by CVS – for about 30 years, said he couldn’t figure out why the stores are so close to one another.

“That must be something I missed,” he said. “But I’ve been out of the business for twelve years. It seems if one opens, the other comes along right behind them. Normally you wouldn’t think that would be a good idea. When I was in the business, if a pharmacy was on one side of town, you would open yours on the other side of town.

Rakesh Niraj, an associate professor of marketing at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said location around consumers is often a store’s most important criteria.

“Think of malls that are full of clothing stores,” he said. “It is because that is where customers head to when they are looking for clothes. CVS and Walgreens sell similar things but want to locate in convenient place – well connected, ample parking etc. Thus the stores [often] locate right across each other, so they are not far away, or not less convenient, to anybody and compete based on other issues like promotion, store brand products, loyalty programs, etc. that will keep people away from shopping for the cheapest price all the time.”

Borders said that’s pretty much what eventually happened to Smith-McKenney when Rite Aid opened on Midland Trail.

“When we opened our store in Village Plaza, Rite Aid later opened right across the street from us, and we never felt it at all, so maybe they’re on to something,” he said.

And representatives from Walgreens and CVS agreed, as both noted that being convenient for customers is one thing they look for first.

“It’s not really about the purposefully locating next to a competitor, but the fact that we look for similar attributes in store locations – namely highly visible and easily accessible sites,” CVS Director of Public Relations Michael DeAngelis said in an E-mail. “This can result in having competitors at opposite corners or sides of well-trafficked intersections.”

Walgreens spokesperson James Graham noted his store’s research practices include several topics, and noted their history in searching for locations.

“In the early 1990s, we pioneered the concept of freestanding drugstores with drive-thru pharmacies located at corners of major intersections,” he wrote in an E-mail. “Since then, we’ve seen competitors move to similar formats, which is why you may see several pharmacies in the same area.”

And large corporate-owned pharmacies aren’t the only ones that feel that service, and products will help them standout in the crowded Midland Trail area.

“This is a good location,” said Matt Andrews, who co-owns Andrews Pharmacy with his wife Morgan. The family-owned location opened late last year at 1545 Midland Trail near Rite Aid. “We wanted to be on this side of town because of the hospital and many of the doctors offices seem to be moving to the Stonecrest area.”

Andrews, who said he formerly worked at a larger corporate store before he and his wife purchased Hume Pharmacy in Jeffersontown, said his store’s personal touch is what sets them apart.

“Some people are going to want that [larger store]. They’re going to want to just get in and out, but here we want to add that personal touch. We’re not going to be pushed for numbers by a corporate office. You want to have a good, personal relationship with your doctor and we feel like that’s important to have with your pharmacist, too.

“And the people that want that. They’re going to come here, no matter where we’re located.”