In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann talks with Jocelyn Konrad, Executive Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer, Rite Aid, about the company’s new RxEvolution retail concept and the future of retail healthcare delivery.

They discuss:

  • How the new concept focuses on younger shoppers and their extended family (including pets), providing whole health solutions – from pharmacy to front store, and from traditional to alternative remedies
  • How the pandemic enabled Rite Aid to connect with a younger generation of shoppers who would not necessarily see a traditional drug store as a destination
  • Store design, and how critical light and greenery has been to deliver a healthy, “thriving” experience
  • The front store merchandise mix – and the integration of healthier options throughout
  • And how digital – from telehealth to efficient shopping options — fits within the overall concept
Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.

Wendy  00:09
Hello, my name is Wendy Liebmann. I’m the CEO and Chief Shopper of WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where I talk to innovators and disruptors from around the world about the future of retail. Today, the topic is revolutionizing retail healthcare from the pharmacy to the front door. The fact is that we are now at that moment in time when we have to ask ourselves what does healthcare delivery need to be in the future, and what do shoppers and patients expect of us now as we move through and out of this pandemic.  My guest today is Jocelyn Konrad. She is the Executive Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer at Rite Aid. She’s a pharmacist by training, and has spent her entire life, or almost all of it, navigating the changes in healthcare delivery around the United States. Aside from her day job, she is on the board of the National Association of Chain Drugstores. And is a founding board member of WE, the organization that focuses on developing female talent in the healthcare industries. And aside from that, she was just recognized by MMR, the leading retail publication as one of the most influential women in mass retail today. The other thing you need to know about Jocy is that when she walks into a room, she just absolutely lights up the place with her passion. And her honesty, beware. So I’m thrilled to have her here today. Hello, Jocy.

Jocelyn  01:43
Hello, Wendy. It’s so great to be here with you today.

Wendy  01:47
Thank you for joining me, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, including vaccinating America and many other things. So I do appreciate that. So let’s just jump right in. I mean, there’s been so much talk about health and wellness and wellbeing over the last few years. And, you know, we see in our How America Shops® research that shoppers and patients are more focused today on being well than ever before, not only because of the pandemic, but certainly that hastened it. But you know, it feels to me like Rite Aid has actually been on this journey to deliver holistic wellness to shoppers for some time. I remember when you added the GNC departments and you were training your pharmacists differently. But now with the opening of your RxEvolution retail concept, it just all feels like it’s come to life in this wonderful, contemporary whole health destination. So tell me a little bit about the vision the company had in really beginning to develop this in real life these new stores.

Jocelyn  02:42
Yeah, well, Rite Aid, as you know, we’re in a turnaround. So actually, right before the pandemic, actually the week we all went home to work from home, we actually presented the RxEvolution and our new strategy to the world through our analyst day. I guess the best way to say it is we really wanted to reimagine the neighborhood pharmacy. And as you noted it be that whole health provider of care to our customers. So the first part of it really was identifying who were our customers that we were targeting when we went down this journey. And we determined that the 25 to 49 year old, we call her Jenny, would be our targeted customer. And the reason for that is because Jenny’s life is very busy. Jenny’s focused on whole health, Jenny cares not only for herself, her children, her spouse at times, if she chooses to, and her parents, and even her pets. So when you think about Jenny, she really is focused on so many things. And we also wanted Jenny to have a place for herself where she can walk down the aisles, and feel pampered and find curated items that would make Jenny feel well also,

Wendy  04:04
I’m so biased in all this. I love the idea of the shopper in the center of all of this, the shopper, the patient, and I think that’s so powerful for everybody in the organization, but also those of us on the other side to sort of think about this place in that sense. Can you just describe I mean, we’ll share some photos, but can you describe walking in the door and some of the things you’ve done at a kind of high level for everybody?

Jocelyn  04:30
It’s a complete transformation. I know you’ve seen it. It’s amazing. I still get the goosebumps, you know, thinking about it. I remember walking into it through all the work that the team did to get to this point, and you’re walking in it’s very welcoming. It has a spa like if you will, atmosphere, open, clean, refreshing lots of light, greenery, and when you first walk into our flagship store, your first point of differentiation is our beauty section. And when we thought about our beauty section, it really spoke to Jenny. And it also was curated with not only beauty that you would put on your face or your nails, it was beauty from the inside out. And we created this environment in this atmosphere for Jenny to walk through and find new things, explore new products that we didn’t carry before. And just try different things to help her feel better, and look better, and give her some even tools of the 123 what you do, as you are trying to explore new items. So it was very intentional, every piece of that, from the greenery to the testers to the gondolas and the open atmosphere, the 360 gondolas, that you really could walk around and feel like you can be there and you can linger. And you can just feel safe and welcome in that environment. So that was the real aha moment, very different than we’ve looked at through the decades I’ve been in retail pharmacy of beauty and how we presented it to the consumer.

Wendy  06:13
What was so interesting to me in that is the way you organized it with internal beauty. So the ingestibles, the messaging around vitamin C, and three steps as you described it, here’s what goes inside, here’s what goes outside. But it doesn’t make a daunting, you’ve curated it in a way, we use those that word so often, that very easily. And I thought the other thing that was interesting about that is that so often we see beauty upfront, which makes it very approachable, but you’ve interwoven the wellness message into beauty from the start, natural ingredients, you know, all of those as well as the big national brands. So that was the there’s a nuance and subtlety to that very powerful. Yeah. And

Jocelyn  06:53
we did that thread goes through our entire store, the mission to keep our communities not only healthy, but thriving. When you think about thriving and feeling good, that goes to celebration times and seasonal, and joyous moments, you know, so many times in pharmacy, it’s challenging time. So it’s pivoting on not only coming to a pharmacy, either for convenience, or when you just really need something because you’re so sick to a joyous, thriving place where you can come even when you’re not right. Even when you’re not sick, just to find that escape and to find new products and to feel better about yourself albeit, you’ll be there to when you need us the most. But we wanted it to be that place where people feel they could thrive. And we as an organization can help Jenny and Judy thrive and feel really good about themselves no matter what they’re going through.

Wendy  07:51
Yeah. The other thing that struck me about the design, of course, is the power of light and greenery to do that. And it does. I was looking at some stores this week, not yours, but just walking, you know, looking at stuff that’s going on, certainly in New York City. And what always hits you is that so much as dark and the windows are loaded up with posters and whatever else. And the power of light to sort of elevate the spirits was something else that really struck me as different here.

Jocelyn  08:20
Yeah, definitely intentional, that entire area. And even throughout the store where we could lighting was critical. In this model, the front end, we were able to really blow out a little bit. But we were even intentional with the current structure of some of these remodeled stores and how we could use the natural light through the structure that we had. So there was a lot of work because we felt it was so important that the light did help support that thriving, spa like atmosphere that we were trying to get to.

Wendy  08:53
Yeah, and there’s a very unique and elevated role of the pharmacy and the pharmacist. Speaking of light, I was struck by in the Ettas store, that the light is even behind the pharmacy and I was thinking for those people working in that space so densely that must have been nice for them too. But can you talk a bit about the role of the pharmacist and your proposition now about integrated traditional and alternative health care?

Jocelyn  09:19
Yeah, so of course, you know, this is my favorite part. I love our store, but I love the fact that we transformed our pharmacy and really put the pharmacist as the focus point. In our pharmacy. We literally and figuratively brought the pharmacists up front and center because they are a critical part of the RxEvolution and unlocking their potential. And the way that they can help consumers in so many different ways we knew was critical to really change and change retail pharmacy, and I’ve been here so I was part of a lot of those a decision to kind of push that pharmacists back behind glass and behind walls, fill prescriptions. That was their biggest role. I disagree, like I think the pharmacists’ role is interacting with customers is helping customers is navigating through their healthcare journey and their wellness journey. And pharmacists have so much knowledge that that’s what they go to school for. That’s what they actually learn for six years on how to help consumers not only with prescription medications, but with over-the-counter alternative remedies. And unfortunately, we as an industry, we haven’t done a lot with that. And, you know, part of the RxEvolution for us was to accelerate that and bring that to light for the consumer. And the one right way I thought we thought the team thought was if we bring that pharmacists front and center, and I say this all the time, eyeball to eyeball. If I’m a pharmacist, and I’m looking at you, Wendy. It’s a warm, welcoming moment that I’m starting to build a relationship. It’s letting you ask me for questions. If you have questions, sorry. And me being able to come out to you and say, Hey, how’s it going? Do you need any help? Much more welcoming than putting the pharmacist in the corner, if you will. So that was the concept of bringing the pharmacist. The second piece of that was training all of our pharmacists, first, they’re all certified as integrative pharmacy. So that helped refresh their learnings from school on alternative remedies, vitamins, minerals, herbs. So we trained every one of our pharmacists during the first part of our RxEvolution, so they would feel comfortable again, coming back into that space because everyone was, you know, out of school and doing things very differently for so many different years. The second piece of our training is a monthly training that we do we create for our pharmacists. So every month, every other month, we are creating a health journey for our pharmacists, so they can continue to build upon that education, and continue to learn about the new products that our retail side is curating that are free new whole health items, so they can become familiar with them, and actually engage with customers and be there to answer questions or recommend products for them. On top of that,

Wendy  12:27
I know you’ve had a long history with vitamins through GNC and nutritionals. But does that relate to OTCs, to the food to the suncare, to the skincare to all of that across the store?

Jocelyn  12:40
Exactly holistic skincare, healthy snack alternatives. So what we’ve done for the last year is each quarter, every two months, we actually have a focus campaign that we’re not only training our pharmacist on, and then we buy tip sheets, to our customers in the pharmacy. So when you come to a Rite Aid, and you interact with our pharmacists get prescriptions at our pharmacy, whatever the month campaign is right now we’re doing immunity because it’s flu season. And in that tip sheet, it provides traditional tips, alternative tips, products that you can use. And then there’s a, we even have a recipe on the back to help boost your immunity. And then we also have a section for our pharmacists, if they have a conversation with our customers, they can make personal recommendations and put notes so the consumer can take that home. If it’s a pharmacy customer and they identify an opportunity to recommend something, we’ll utilize that tip sheet as well and make that same recommendation or a recommendation. So the customer can take it home and think about it because not everybody may want to partake in that recommendation immediately. So it’s a great way to give something to the customer that they can go home and learn and educate themselves. And we’re there just to support them to help them wherever they are in their journeys.

Wendy  14:15
So hold that thought, before we continue our chat, I wanted to let you know that if you go to our website You can access the Retail Safari® we did that features, the new Rite Aid RxEvolution format, you can actually walk through the store virtually to see everything that Josh has been talking about, and actually even more so take a look at that. And also you can access our latest How America Shops® research on trends in health and wellness, and our latest study on the New Shopper Truths that have emerged from the pandemic. So lots to see.  But before you click away, let’s get back to my discussion with Jocy. So that brings two thoughts to my mind, one is so then you’ve got the pharmacists, now you’re also vaccinating everything from flu to COVID., shingles, I can understand why this is so rewarding for a pharmacist who’s not locked in a dark box. How do you manage time and focus and all of those things in this sort of future, not only future vision, I mean, this is really bringing it to life.

Jocelyn  15:22
I will say it’s challenging at times, because COVID vaccinations, testing, the amount of effort the pharmacist are doing today, to really get us out of this pandemic is our priority right now. However, they are providing this information to the consumer, and may not be as actively as engaged as we will want them to be. And as they I know, they will be once this workload is released from them. So I don’t want to take that away, because obviously, we’re not asking our pharmacists to do more than they can. So today, we are utilizing the tools that we have to get our pharmacists to do the best they can for the customers and give them the education and those recommendations. They’re doing a fabulous job that one thing we have done, and we’re actually doing it even more so because of the workload is we embarked on lean methodology at Rite Aid, and we are pulling out any waste that we can so that we can truly unlock the value proposition of our pharmacists. So we’re pulling waste out of our stores, we’re creating better efficiencies, better proficiencies of our techs so that they can help and support the pharmacists. So the pharmacists then can practice at the top of their license. It’s definitely a journey that we’re on, and we’ll continue to free up that time because a pharmacist should be working, as you have heard in the industry at the top of their license, they should be there to do the work that not only they are educated to do, but that they want to do and that they embrace. Right before we embarked on this RxEvolution, we took a survey of our pharmacists, and over 90% of our pharmacist said, absolutely, I want to spend time, and I want to help our customers thrive. And I personally am committed to that. So overwhelmingly, the pharmacists want to embrace this. So it’s our role as an organization to be able to give them the resources and the support that they need to free up their time, and have them actually do the work that they really always want it to do.

Wendy  17:31
Yeah, so speaking of that, I mean, I noticed, you know, you’ve sort of got the virtual side of things as well and space designated to that. Can you talk a little bit about how technology from a patient standpoint fits in and, you know, the sort of telehealth connection to all of this.

Jocelyn  17:48
It’s interesting, as I said, we went down this path before COVID. So we are actually evaluating that right now. Because pre COVID, many individuals were not very comfortable with telehealth. So we want it to be that care connector. We want it to be able to make them comfortable to give them an environment where they can get connected to the care that they’re looking for. Interesting enough, as you know, as many of you listeners probably know, telehealth became the new norm, right out of the gate from my mother eight two years old was on telehealth visits, I know I was with my daughter on telehealth visits. So the value proposition of that wellness room fell apart a little bit because the need wasn’t there as much. So we’re reevaluating that whole telehealth wellness room as we speak. But it was really because of the change in the healthcare ecosystem that pushed that forward much faster than any of us would have expected.

Wendy  18:50
That’s so interesting, right? The unintended good consequences, whoever knows what the consequences are, right? As you were talking about the education of the pharmacist, and I’m thinking about our listeners who the OTC companies or the food and beverage companies and all of that, and as you’re educating the pharmacist and obviously creating this whole environment from front store to pharmacy, how did the manufacturer partners, how do you need them now? Or how do they play a role in all of this for you?

Jocelyn  19:24
Well, they certainly do. And we have been exploring this with some manufacturers. When we have individuals based on their prescription therapy, we can identify opportunities to support them better based on prescription medications that they’re taking. So at Rite Aid, we have proprietary pharmacy system, and we’ve developed what we call Rite Care and we can present based on that unique customers profile recommendations for our pharmacists to help in that conversation. And that could be vaccines, adherence issues, and or OTC items or alternative remedies. So as we curate those items, and they are pertinent to one of our consumers, we can feed some of that to our pharmacists, and really give multiple options for the consumer to really help them thrive.

Wendy  20:21
The other thing that stuck out to me was, and you mentioned this at the beginning, everybody’s invited, I mean, there’s the whole focus around pets, and you’ve got that outside sort of pets as part of family. And I think Rite Aid to me, as I recall, I thought it was one of the earliest retailers to focus on pet medication and all of those things, and that, again, holistic view of health and wellness for the whole family.

Jocelyn  20:46
Right, yeah, don’t forget the pet treats. We have pet treats in our drive thru, too. So that’s one of my favorite things, seeing a dog come out of the car, waiting for their pet treat from our pharmacists, we definitely are focused on that, because we want to be that destination for Jenny for all of that. And interesting enough, again, as we look back on our reveal of our RxEvolution, and the world, and pets, I think, I don’t have the statistics, I did not get a pet. But many of my friends got pets during the pandemic. So you know, we were really focused on that, and providing not only prescription medications that we can dispense for pets, treats, and even curating our pet line in the front end of the store as well.

Wendy  21:33
Yeah, that was the thing that was so sweet and dear. And you’re right, the, again, the pandemic implications of that, but also thinking more about the whole family and whole health was the other piece. And the other thing, which I know has always been a bit of a struggle for those in the healthcare industry of course is, there’s the beverages and the snacks. And how do you take as sort of, how do you balance that the brands people want every day and the treats, not pet treats, but people treats with sort of healthier options in that. And I know you’re not in charge of front store merchandising, but your passion for the pharmacy and integrated healthcare. It’s really the whole story. Just again, from a vision standpoint, how do you think about the convenience categories that you can watch a trip drivers for every day? Yeah, I

Jocelyn  22:22
think we de-emphasized a lot of that. And bring we brought in more natural, whole health type products that embodies, you know, chemical free, cruelty free all of those in the market. I don’t think one of the things I’ll use a term my mother always used, right, it’s all about balance, and thriving doesn’t mean you don’t have a glass of wine every once in a while. Right? That’s your choice. You don’t have to but healthy doesn’t mean never, it’s really a balance of those things. And giving the consumer the options based on what their unique needs are at that point in time. And really providing that to them. But in a very balanced way, de-emphasizing them and not having them front and center. 72 inches high stacked chips and soda as you walk into the door, which at times we had done.

Wendy  23:17
My business partner Candace Corlett always says it’s a little bit giving people the options to be a little bit better. And, and you talk a lot about the journey. And you’re right, there’s happiness, and is so much part of that, you know, living my life with my family, and how do I not be told you must not have that because the glass of wine that would be disturbing? Chocolate when a bit of this and a bit of that. So that’s right. So as you see this now, and I know you’ve got a number of these gorgeous stores. I mean, the one we’ve seen at Ettas but how do you see this rolling out? And what aspects begin to roll out as you’re remaking the whole Rite Aid brand business?

Jocelyn  23:59
It’s a great question when because this is where we are today. We have our flagships that we’ve learned from we’re still learning from and we are now determining which aspects of them are go forward remodel strategy, and how we incorporate them in a core type remodel. So one of the aspects I will share is the pharmacy, at least many components of it that will be core to our next generation remodels. And then based on where the store is, and where we are, in how we iterate this flagship store to scale it to our organization, we’ll take the best of what we’ve done, and those aspects that resonated with the consumer, and we’ll put them in our go forward normal store.

Wendy  24:52
Even looking at the store, you can see that there are components to this that could go in lots of places right and of couse the relationship between the pharmacist and the tech and the customer, the patient, obviously, that training that you’re doing has the power to move across all of the stores you have. And have you see from a digital standpoint in terms of your website, any of those kind of tools that you’ve developed? How do you see that going forward?

Jocelyn  25:20
Yeah, critical for the RxEvolution, we’re building out our ecommerce, we’re building out our marketplace, we have delivery that we are going to continue to enhance both front end, pharmacy, bops, we are building all of those things out, we haven’t stopped. So again, that’s critical for Jenny, Jenny at times will want DoorDash to bring her something, Jenny at times may want her prescriptions delivered, Jenny at times may want to pick up on buy online and pick up at curbside. So we’re focused on being there for Jenny, in all of those moments when she needs us. And that does take technology and digital ecommerce. So we’re building all of those things out, we’ve made tremendous progress through the pandemic. And looking forward to coming out on the other end and having a full suite that our customers can use to interact with Rite Aid. It’s not only in our brick and mortar stores, it’s across digital as well.

Wendy  26:21
Well, it strikes me too, you have a whole new management team. I mean, you’re the core, you’re the connection between old and new world, I always think but that the new management team with a very strong digital capability and expertise as well as healthcare expertise. And and I think that feels very much like it’s reflected in this new RxEvolution. So just sort of stepping back as we wrap this up, you have an extraordinary view and platform of health care, you’re growing up through all of this, and especially these last two years of I love the way you say when you say vaccinating America or something

Jocelyn  26:57
saving the world, one immunization at a time saving the world.

Wendy  27:01
I love that and your team is so that was clear at the MMR event when Karen spoke about and some of your other colleagues the pride of what you’ve been doing. So when you think about healthcare, future of retail, what’s your vision? What’s your wish? As we move forward? What do we need to be thinking about as people not just pharmacists, but what do we need to be thinking about?

Jocelyn  27:22
I will say selfishly, the value proposition of pharmacists was never as prevalent as it was in the last two years.  I knew the value proposition of our pharmacist, pharmacist across the country. And my vision is that value prop that we’ve displayed so prominently across the nation is seen by the consumer as a valuable healthcare resource health care connector for them as they move forward in their lives. And for the first time, we were able to connect with Jenny I keep 25 to 49 is not the core group that pharmacists interact with. So the pandemic has helped us interact with that population, that demographic, and I do believe they see pharmacy a little bit differently than they do. If we can take that a step further, that we could be more resourceful and be the point of contact for customers whenever they need anything in health care. And we can be that true connector healthcare connector, whether it’s to a physician, whether it’s sending them to a nutritionist, whether it’s sending them or recommending them to a dietitian, whatever their needs are, the pharmacist can truly help with that. So my vision is the pandemic has helped us elevate the role of the pharmacist,

Rite Aid has prepared our pharmacists to be that connector, that healthcare chief healthcare adviser, we’re ready for it. So my hope would be that the consumer embraces that and really leans on us to help them thrive.

Wendy  29:09
I think that’s incredibly powerful. And I remember the discussion we had a year ago when you and Colleen Lindholz from Kroger and Lori Flees from Walmart were kind enough to be part of that panel discussion about the power of retail and healthcare retail, right in the middle of the pandemic. And I think the passion that you all showed around that and you continue to show is something that, as I said, the unintended consequences of this horrible horrible thing that we’re living through, but it does show the power of health, wellness, well-being interconnectedness all at one time, and I think is the last that struck me in in much of our How America Shops® research, just seeing particularly how a younger generation is very much looking at the sort of both established and alternative kinds of health care or health resources, products. And so pulling that all apart and putting it together in this new way feels very relevant to what we’re hearing shoppers, patients, younger families and people talk about today. So it really does feel incredibly timely, which is, of course, why I wanted you to come and chat.

Jocelyn  30:19
No, absolutely. The perfect fusion, as we call it, traditional and alternative remedies really speaks to that. And as we did our research as well, the generation that we’re looking to be part of their life wants that they want to learn more, they want to know more, they want to be able to ask questions. And as that trusted adviser, our pharmacist are positioned so well, that they can be that resource for Jenny, and be there to answer those questions and point them in the right direction when they’re looking for solutions to help them outside of going to a doctor and getting a prescription

Wendy  30:57
As always, my dear, I feel like I’ve seen you several times in the last few weeks, which has been I can’t thank you enough for joining me today. Be well take care of yourself. I look forward to seeing you soon in some in real life situation yet again.

Jocelyn  31:14
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Wendy  31:18
So here’s the thing. First, even in cataclysmic times, such as these tremendous opportunities for growth emerge, provided, of course, you are bold enough to act upon them, after all Rite Aid in a turnaround mode. And yet, all because of it, it recognized the urgency to transform itself. And it sees the opportunity as a result of the pandemic, to engage with shoppers in new and relevant ways. Secondly, Rite Aid has put the shopper front and center in the story. She, Jenny, is reflected in every aspect of this new store design. And of course, that’s something we could only support strongly here. And last retailers so often talk about building iconic stores of the future that in the end and just the sort of one offs. What Rite Aid has done is doing in fact, is creating a modular concept with elements that can be implemented in many stores as they prove their viability. This is clearly one company’s vision of the healthcare store of the future and it’s exciting. So that’s the thing. See you in the future.

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