Rite Aid unveils new strategy, revamped stores to remain competitive with CVS, Walgreens

Drugstore chain Rite Aid gave a sneak peek Wednesday at its new strategy and store layout, what it has dubbed the "store of the future," as part an overall brand relaunch.

Rite Aid is revamping its stores to put pharmacists "front and center" as part of a business strategy that doubles down on its pharmacy business, according to Jim Peters, Rite Aid's chief operating officer, speaking at the HTLH 2020 virtual conference.

The corporate rebrand comes as Rite Aid competes with CVS and Walgreens as well as new digital players such as Amazon's PillPack and e-pharmacy startups like Capsule and NowRx.

Rite Aid operates 2,400 drugstores in 18 states. The revamped stores, some of which will open this month, will feature a pharmacy that looks more like an Apple Store Genius Bar, virtual care rooms that will enable consumers to remotely connect with care teams and a new assortment of products with a focus on both traditional medicine and alternative "remedies" like essential oils, Peters said.

"It will be a completely different experience than any other retail pharmacy in the market," he said.

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The store revamp, which will last well into next year, is helping turn around the chain as revenue rises and market share improves, according to Forbes.

Peters joined Rite Aid a year ago to help execute its new business strategy to revitalize the brand. Prior to that, he served as CEO of Skyward Health, a strategic healthcare advisory firm. He was a 12-year senior executive at Geisinger Health System, helping establish Geisinger’s national reputation for healthcare innovation.

A revamped Rite Aid store (Rite Aid)

Rite Aid's strategy, called RxEvolution, doubles down on its pharmacy business with a focus on unlocking the value of pharmacists and revitalizing the retail and digital experience.

"Pharmacists are the most under-utilized providers and can be the missing link in that last mile of healthcare," Peters said.

The company's strategy focuses on elevating pharmacists to work alongside providers and health plans to help keep patients and members healthy and connected to their care teams.

While physicians may see patients only once a year, pharmacists typically see patients 25 to 30 times a year and can serve as an "everyday clinical touchpoint."

"Pharmacists can play a critical role in driving better health outcomes and can influence everyday choices and behaviors by reminding customers to take their medications, discuss alternative remedies to complement traditional ones and use virtual care to connect people back to care teams," Peters said.

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Rite Aid also wants its 6,300 pharmacists to be focused on holistic health to help customers with overall well-being. To this end, the company took steps to get all of its pharmacists certified as integrative pharmacy specialists to educate consumers on alternative remedies that complement traditional medicine, he said.

Peters made it clear that Rite Aid does not seek to own primary or specialty care clinics.

"We’re pharmacists at our core. We embrace that role and opportunity to connect people to a broader spectrum of therapies and services. We want to act as a connector, not a competitor to nurses and doctors that serve them," he said.

That marks a sharp difference from the approach taken by CVS and Walgreens to open in-store clinics. CVS plans to transform 1,500 stores into HealthHUBs over the next two years, after launching the first three stores in Houston in February as a pilot. The updated stores allocate 20% of retail space to health services, including wellness products and personalized care.

Walgreens has forged a series of partnerships with local health providers and insurance companies to offer in-store health services. Last year, Walgreens partnered with Chicago-based VillageMD, a national provider of primary care, to open five new primary care clinics next to Walgreens stores in the Houston area, with aggressive plans to expand there and in other markets.

According to Peters, the trend of retail pharmacies owning primary care clinics has led to increased healthcare utilization while further fragmenting care and detaching people from their care teams.

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Opportunities in the PBM space

Rite Aid also has set its sights on becoming the dominant mid-market pharmacy benefit management (PBM) company to remain competitive at a time when larger PBMs are now owned by health insurance companies.

The company relaunched its PBM and renamed it Elixir. Rite Aid is going after the markets where the big three PBMs aren’t focused, Rite Aid executives told analysts in reference to Express Scripts, Caremark and OptumRx during its second-quarter earnings call, Forbes reported.

Rite Aid plans to grow Elixir by attracting new clients in the middle market and potential future acquisitions of other PBMs, according to Forbes.

Peters said, "Our most differentiated integration point is our connection to 2,400 Rite Aid stores, positioning us as the only payer-agnostic PBM with a large pharmacy footprint. We are uniquely positioned in the mid-market PBM space to offer a breadth of services."