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Walmart’s assault on Easter

BY Mike Troy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. The nation’s chain drug stores are in Walmart’s cross hairs this Easter, as demonstrated by a national ad campaign touting the discount chain’s low prices relative to drug store competitors.

Walmart has employed a similar cost comparison strategy against supermarkets in the past by highlighting how much people can save on their food purchases, but the Easter ad airing this week is the first time Walmart has taken such direct aim at the drug channel and its seasonal offering of Easter merchandise.

To follow through on the awareness generated by the television campaign, Walmart also pulled out all the stops from a merchandising standpoint as it looks to capitalize on favorable trends regarding customer traffic.

Large overhead signs with the phrase, “Happy Every Day,” greet customers at both entrances to supercenters. Those entering on the general merchandise side of the store pass fragrant Easter lilies flanked by displays of pre-made Easter baskets along with candy and other items to place in baskets. In addition to signage at the entrances, the large overhead signs are also used to call out expanded seasonal displays on the food and general merchandise sides of the store and in the toy department. And if that weren’t enough, there are pastel colored displays of Easter candy positioned in the aisles and at most of the endcaps at checkout. From almost any point in the store, customers are reminded that it is Easter, unless they are in the depths of the general merchandise department shopping for sporting goods, auto parts or hardware.

Walmart has always been a major factor when it comes to seasonal sales, however its actions around Easter show a heightened emphasis on in-store activity in addition to a more in-your-face approach to price comparisons relative to the drug channel.

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H-E-B taps T.V. star for green campaign

BY Allison Cerra

SAN ANTONIO, Texas H-E-B has teamed up with “Desperate Housewives” actress Eva Longoria Parker to launch a 30-second TV commercial encouraging shoppers to go green.

The ad will debut Wednesday as part of H-E-B’s Earth Day campaign and will run throughout April. During the campaign, shoppers also will be able to buy a limited-edition Eva Longoria Parker reusable bag, selling for $1.49.

“We believe that H-E-B’s continuous work to care for the environment not only makes us better neighbors, it makes us a stronger business,” says Cory Basso, H-E-B group VP marketing and advertising. “Promoting the reusable ‘green’ bags is just one small part of what H-E-B does for the environment; from minimizing our use of natural resources and minimizing wastes, to recycling, conserving energy and protecting the air quality.”

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Walgreens visionary Vern Brunner loses cancer battle

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. Merchant extraordinaire Vern Brunner once described his boss, former Walgreens chairman and CEO Dan Jorndt, as “a good listener, a great idea guy and a great merchant” with “spectacular people skills,” as well as “a firm believer in technology and the importance of information.”

All those words of praise could just as easily have described Brunner himself. One of retailing’s most popular and highly regarded merchandising visionaries, Brunner died Wednesday morning at the age of 68 after a long battle with cancer.

Walgreens issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon confirming Brunner’s passing and praising the former executive.

“Walgreens wouldn’t have reached its market-leading position without Vern Brunner. He was a marketing genius with an amazing work ethic and a great many friends both at and outside of Walgreens,” the company noted. “He was as generous as he was talented, and he’ll be missed by many.”

A gentle bear of a man who combined an imposing physical presence and a sharp intellect with a respectful, good-humored manner that instantly put people at ease, Brunner was a career Walgreens employee. He retired in January 2001 as EVP marketing, relinquishing that post to future president and CEO Jeff Rein after a 39-year career with the company. During his long tenure, he was the architect of many of the elements of data-driven but intuitive merchandising and marketing that sparked the company’s remarkable resurgence and rise to national retail leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

Brunner earned numerous accolades for his role in Walgreens’ remarkable success over the past three decades, including the Robert B. Begley Award from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and REX Retail Merchant of the Decade by Drug Store News.

Upon his retirement from Walgreens in 2001, Brunner was lauded by those who had worked with him, both inside and outside of Walgreens. Among those honoring him was Dan Jorndt, who said Brunner had “a major impact on the overall success of Walgreens for nearly four decades.

“We wouldn’t be in our current, market-leading position without him,” said Walgreens’ former CEO. “Walgreens and its customers have benefited greatly from Vern’s perceptive, intelligent, creative approach to marketing and merchandising.”

Brunner began at Walgreens as a pharmacy intern in 1962, moving into store management two years later. After serving in district management, he was promoted to director of store merchandising in 1975. By 1982, he was senior vice president of marketing, and rose to executive vice president in 1989 and company director the following year.

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