For the new Walgreens store in Brainerd, it was all about location.
The corner setting along a metro-like summer traffic flow of Washington Street and Fourth Street Northwest looked like a prime piece of real estate from the start.
Walgreens replaced the long-time Brainerd business Riverview Inn motel and homes, altering the landscape and bringing new business construction to the city.
Brainerd is not alone. Walgreens plans to open 450 stores in fiscal-year 2000. The drug-store chain opened 386 drug stores during fiscal-year 1999. That year Walgreens reached $17.8 billion in sales. Walgreens operates 3,051 drug stores in 41 states and Puerto Rico.
During the past five years, Walgreens reports more than 1,600 drug stores were opened or remodeled, accounting for nearly 60 percent of existing Walgreen stores.
Walgreens Store Manager Elizabeth Holt checked merchandise in the Brainerd store recently. Holt started working at Walgreens as a cashier in 1973 for a summer job that became a career. Opening the new Brainerd store was also an opportunity to relocate from a metro home to the lakes area.
In looking for a new store opening in Brainerd, store Manager Elizabeth Holt said the presence of Central Lakes College, the area's population, other larger competitors nearby and the right location were all factors in the decision.
"I think this (store) is meeting their plans," Holt said. "I think it is probably exceeding their plans."
Each Walgreens store averages $6 million in annual sales. Competitors -- particularly with pharmacy connections -- are Walmart, Target and Thrifty White.
Holt worked in nine other stores, opened six and now established her first new store outside the metro area. With 10 days to set up the new store, Holt had to begin without the benefit of a store's past history when looking at inventory.
"That's probably our biggest challenge actually to make sure we have the inventory to meet their needs," Holt said of customers.
The store carries a wide range of items from more expected cosmetics to crayons, multi-use paper, garden hoses and even a few ties and belts.
Starting from scratch in a new community meant hiring crews and training even before the store was constructed. About 33 people were hired with full- and part-time workers nearly evenly split. Average wages range from $6.50 to $8.50 per hour for clerks. Holt said hiring was made easier by a candidate pool of people eager to work.
An additional challenge came in getting to know the area market.
The Brainerd store has witnessed a greater demand for film and the one-hour photo lab, which Holt credits in part to the tourist trade. Pop and snacks have also been a busy seller. The store has a convenience center with groceries and a staffed cosmetics counter along with a lengthy list of brands for over-the-counter medications.
Holt said a strength comes in having Walgreen customers in the area who are seasonal residents from the Twin Cities and points much further south like Arizona.
"The people up here know Walgreens," Holt said.
Two recent customers from homes on the Upper Whitefish near Pine River cruised the wide store aisles with coupons in hand. Shopping at Walgreens in St. Paul was already an established routine they transferred to Brainerd.
"I've been shopping here a lot," one woman said. "I could hardly wait until it opened."
Holt noted the drug store chain's customers tend to be people who shop the ads and the Sunday ads are a big deal. Holt should know. She joined Walgreens in 1973 as a cashier on a summer job that stayed with her.
More than 60 percent of the Walgreen stores are freestanding, which has been a major change from the 1970s and mid-1980s when drug stores were often part of malls. Drive-through pharmacies have made the freestanding stores a new mainstay. The average age of a Walgreen store today is seven years, the company reported, noting that is less than half what it was 10 years ago.
Pharmacies are now installed in all Walgreen stores.
Holt noted customers are often loyal to pharmacists and it takes awhile for a new pharmacist to become known and established. The management and pharmacist positions for Walgreens are filled by existing staffers who typically transfer to the new site, with other employees hired at the store's location.
"I'm personally very happy that we are here," Holt said. "Hopefully, we'll get to know the community needs more."
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