WOMEN'S WELLNESS

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Retailers are beginning to take advantage of the opportunities presented in the General Merchandise Distributors Council's landmark "Women's Well-Being Merchandising Strategies" study presented at the trade group's Health and Beauty Care Conference last year.The Educational Foundation of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based GMDC recommended a major change in the way supermarkets merchandise

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Retailers are beginning to take advantage of the opportunities presented in the General Merchandise Distributors Council's landmark "Women's Well-Being Merchandising Strategies" study presented at the trade group's Health and Beauty Care Conference last year.

The Educational Foundation of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based GMDC recommended a major change in the way supermarkets merchandise and market their stores by taking greater advantage of the estimated 70% of their customer base that is female.

The changes were so sweeping that, as GMDC convened its 2002 HBC conference here this past weekend, they are only now being implemented by a significant number of retailers, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Retail Marketing, Libertyville, Ill. Changes in retailers' corporate structures and concerns about the economy slowed the initiative, he said.

"We are beginning to see some early-development phases of people looking for ways to make this an integral part of their merchandising and marketing strategy," Wisner said. In the next year, "you will start to see some new programs coming, you will see people trying new things in product display and working on shopability issues, and I think we will certainly see some more clinical programs out there," he said.

"The issue is more likely to get larger rather than smaller in the upcoming year simply because the demographics behind it are just so compelling," he said. For example, women are involved in 82% of all supermarket transactions and about 75% of health care decisions. "[Yet] men still run the stores," he said, noting that 91% of the executives in supermarket and consumer packaged goods companies are male.

However, Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., recently implemented a women's health program, Wisner said. "When someone like Wal-Mart says this is important to us, then it is going to get everybody's attention," he said.

But whatever Wal-Mart does, supermarkets still have an advantage in addressing women's health and well-being concerns, retailers and other experts agreed.

"We have to capitalize on our environment with regard to these programs because no one else can offer all of these programs under one roof," said John Beckner, director of pharmacy and health services, Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va. "We can offer healthy eating with advice and information from dietitians. We can offer medication counseling and screenings from the pharmacists. We can offer variety when it comes to natural-food products and beauty care. So I think we can truly be a destination in health solutions for the main shopper for health, and that is the woman," he said.

GMDC is presenting a second phase to its Women's Well-Being program here at the HBC conference in the form of its new Pharmacy Continuing Education Program.

Developed with Wisner's company and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the program specifically looks at four health conditions that affect women: menopause, depression, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, said Susan Peverly, assistant dean for academic affairs and director of the office of continuing education at the university. Other disease states and components will be added in the future, she said.

The new program is designed to be used by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, as well as by other store employees; it is available on a Web site. "When retailers and pharmacists work together in the area of women's health and well-being, it's a very positive relationship for everybody. They can't lose. All the numbers point to it," Peverly said.

With their food offerings and service orientation, supermarkets can use the GMDC programs to compete with other classes of trade. "I think supermarkets do have an opportunity here to carve a niche for themselves," she said.

"This program is going to show supermarket retailers ways that they can market their pharmacy services," said Margaret Tomecki, clinical assistant professor and director, community pharmacy practice residency, University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also a clinical pharmacist with Dominick's Finer Foods, a Safeway company based in Oak Brook, Ill.

Besides providing an added service for female shoppers, "this is also a great source of revenue for the retailers," she said. "Not only do the pharmacies gain sales from prescriptions and over-the-counter product sales, but also from the programs," she said. And by meeting the needs of these consumers, it helps to add and retain customers.

The second phase was designed because of the strong interest in the first study, said Roy White, vice president, education, GMDC Educational Foundation. "We launched it for the pharmacy because we felt that for most mass market retail stores, the pharmacist is the only health professional in the store and it is important for the pharmacist to understand the women's health and well-being concept," he said.

While it has taken time for the initial report to be acted upon, "I think it is correct to say we are at the beginning of a trend here," White said. The first study was one of the most requested reports the GMDC Education Foundation has ever done, he said.

Since 70% of supermarket customers are female, "it seems like a good fit to try to get that information about women's health in the supermarket because you know that is where they are going to be," said Bea James, whole health manager, Lunds Food Holdings, Edina, Minn. Lunds, and its Byerly's banner, have long marketed products for whole health for all people. Classes for consumers and employees, like a recent one on hormone replacement therapy, are part of the retailer's offerings.

"The best way to have a successful program is to have continuing education. There's always new information coming out about different health issues, and the more aware you can be of what those different topics are that come up and be prepared to do some research and help the customer understand what the natural alternatives might be, the more you can support your vitamin supplement departments," James said.

The women's health and well-being study is just the beginning, she said. "The more people understand that there is a direct relationship between your lifestyle and your health, the more people will understand that that is the best form of long-term prevention that you can do."