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Walgreens Boots Alliance has promising plan for future, analyst says

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK – Despite the recent 3% decline in share prices of Walgreens Boots Alliance following its analyst day – shares opened at $89.23 Friday morning, down $2.74 from Tuesday's close – there is a lot of potential upside for the three-month-old company, William Blair analyst Mark Miller suggested in a research note published Friday. "We maintain our Outperform rating and EPS estimates of $3.70 and $4.35 in fiscal 2015 and 2016, respectively," he said. "Our calendar 2016 projection is $4.50, rising to $6.00-plus in 2018. Given the challenges to find this type of growth among large-cap consumer and healthcare companies, we believe investors could frame a higher-teens multiple over the next 18 to 24 months."
 
Miller's projected EPS performance for fiscal 2015 exceeds WBA's guidance of between $3.45 and $3.65, but his fiscal 2016 projection falls in the middle of WBA's goal of between $4.25 and $4.60 for that year. 
 
But the fact that WBA appears willing to substantially to evolve its business model and its increased engagement with payers are promising developments following the company's two-day analyst day. "Management said the right things about improving operations, and now the organization needs to execute against those aspirations," Miller wrote. "While some investors were disappointed by the absence of hard financial targets, we believe the team likely will get the benefit of the doubt based on the strong track record of Alliance Boots."
 
One of the changes WBA plans to implement across its U.S. store base is an improvement in front-end margins, something that is benefited by owned brands like No7 and simpler offers such as "3 for 2" and "5 times points." "Over the intermediate term, we perceive the company should be able to better use data from the Balance Rewards program, as it has effectively done with Boots in the United Kingdom," Miller added. 
 
Better utilizing its Balance Rewards program to enhance personalized offer capabilities and to improve the frequency of transactions among the company's most valuable customers were some key themes emphasized by WBA executives over the course of the analyst meeting. It's especially key, noted Ken Murphy, Walgreens Boots Alliance EVP and president of global brands, because the digital channel has placed tremendous pressure on any pricing model by making prices transparent across channels and, because of the immediacy of delivery expected by digital consumers, it's a more expensive channel to serve. 
 
Murphy identified six trends concerning customers' changing behaviors: authenticity ("If you don't stand for something you quickly become irrelevant."), brand me (personalized service), convenience (today and in the future, convenience will be measured in one hour or less), global village (products are travelling the world faster than ever before), cool austerity ("A Dollar General bag is now a badge of honor … you cannot insult the customer on price.") and always on (retailers need to be connected and online no matter the time of day because consumers take a zero tolerance policy against poor retail experience).
 
To help differentiate Walgreens, Murphy noted that WBA will be focused on being first to market and featuring product exclusives as long as possible. 
 
Across the back-end, WBA acknowledged several headwinds facing the company, including pressure on pharmacy reimbursement and the growth of restricted networks. "In response, the company has a new mindset toward broadening access, untethered from a historical, singular focus on gross profit per script," Miller said. "While pharmacy margins may trend lower, the company aims to improve integration with marketing and operations to increase conversion once Walgreens is part of a pharmacy plan."
 
Increasing patient exposure to Walgreens' services was another key theme from WBA executives during the meeting. "The reality is we're no longer No. 1 in pharmacy volume," noted Alex Gourlay EVP Walgreens Boots Alliance and president Walgreens. "Nobody here is OK with that," he added. Gourlay said Walgreens' most important customer today is the baby boomer – they spend four-times more in the pharmacy and represent 64% of front-end sales. 
 
Walgreens Boots Alliance's Jeffrey Berkowitz, EVP and president of pharma and global market access, identified three pressure points impacting profitable access. There is the cost of pharmaceuticals and generic penetration with the slowing down of the generic wave; there is pure reimbursement pressure from governement and a consolidating payer market that is fast becoming "the new normal"; and there is a shift in the pools of access. 
 
To adress these pressure points, WBA will be focusing on increasing access across four segments: Medicare Part D, commercial, Medicaid/cash and health exchanges. "Our payers are already viewing our evolving approach with optimism," Berkowitz said. 
 
"Walgreens is a great company with incredible assets and a solid foundation," Gourlay said. "We're just getting started."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Little Clinic names VP and corporate medical director

BY Antoinette Alexander

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Little Clinic has announced the appointment of Marc Watkins as VP and corporate medical director, reporting directly to Kenneth Patric, chief medical officer.
 
Prior to joining The Little Clinic, Watkins spent six years with Concentra Health Services in various physician leadership roles and most recently was national medical director, clinical account management. In this role, he provided strategic, operational and clinical program development to major employers across the country.

“Marc’s expertise is in leading organizations in maintaining and expanding market share through strategic growth with a strong focus on the delivery of quality patient care. He is the kind of strategic thinker with a passion for results and a passion for people that meshes well with these same values shared by Kroger and The Little Clinic and that we will need in an ever-changing consumer focused economy,” stated Patric.

Watkins served eight years in the U.S. Navy, serving exclusively with the U.S. Marines. He was twice awarded the Navy Commendation Medal in direct support of combat operations while assigned in Iraq. He was honorably discharged in 2010 as a lieutenant commander.

Watkins is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and American College of Physician Executives. He considers his core competency to be designing and implementing quality medical programs that focus on improving clinical outcomes while at the same time reducing cost through a multidisciplinary team.

 

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Loyalty360 Q&A: Walgreens focused on growing share of its most valued customers

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK – Over the course of Walgreens Boots Alliance 2015 Analyst Day, Alex Gourlay EVP Walgreens Boots Alliance and president of Walgreens, promised analysts that the Walgreens Balanced Rewards loyalty program would be getting a makeover. Already the program boasts 80 million users to which Walgreens Boots Alliance had the capability to deliver as many as 30 million personalized offers. 
 
Part of Walgreens strategy is to build and retain its share of its most valued customers. More so, it turns out, than investing in attracting new customers to the business, according to a question-and-answer piece Loyalty360, the Loyalty Marketers' Association, published on Thursday
 
"The value that an existing high value customer brings to the business is much greater than that of the average new customer," Mindy Heintskill, senior director, loyalty and vendor collaboration for Walgreens, explained to Loyalty360. "As such, it makes more sense to focus on investing in the retention of high value customers."
 
But focusing on retention over acquisition can be a tough sell, Heintskill added. "Some people believe that retention-based programs focused on rewarding high value customers give money away to customers who would have purchased anyway. Contrary to this point of view we’ve realized incremental sales in each of the Balance Rewards 'thank you' campaigns when compared to a control group," she said. "Significantly, the majority of the incremental sales are generated from existing brand buyers. In addition to the short term benefits, the program has provided the long term benefit of improved retention/loyalty."
 
Heintskill, along with Lisa Zhao, senior manager of loyalty and vendor collaboration, Walgreens, and David Hess, head of analytics, emnos, will present a session titled, “Driving Customer Engagement and Sales Growth through Personalized Marketing” at the 8th annual Loyalty Expo, presented by Loyalty360, April 27-29, 2015, at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando in Orlando, Fla.
 
 
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