GREENVILLE, S.C. - As in-store medical clinics expand into more retail outlets, Bi-Lo is supporting its foray into retail health care with aggressive marketing that is said to be unique among the supermarket chains that so far have offered the service.
Bi-Lo opened three Wellspot clinics earlier this year - two in Bruno's stores in Birmingham, Ala., and one in a Bi-Lo store here. Wellspot is based in Birmingham.
To promote the clinics, Wellspot has staff handing out literature at the entrances of the Bi-Lo and Bruno's stores. It has distributed 30,000 discount coupons, as well as coupons and brochures printed in Spanish.
Wellspot mailed circulars in conjunction with Bi-Lo, ran radio ads for eight weeks in Birmingham, obtained local TV and newspaper coverage, and distributed door hangers in local neighborhoods.
The stores also have in-store handouts and floor banners. At one of the Bruno's stores, a live radio broadcast aired while the clinic offered free cholesterol tests.
Shoppers are encouraged to talk with clinic staff, and Wellspot President R. Scott Everett believes consumers view the clinics as an "extension of Bi-Lo's health care strategy."
"It's just a natural extension, not, 'We're in a box, don't talk to us.' We try to educate them on health and wellness for the whole family," Everett said.
However, Wellspot and Bi-Lo do not cross-promote the clinics with the stores' pharmacies, because they strictly follow Stark, a federal anti-kickback law that prohibits clinics from recommending certain pharmacies.
While Wellspot is funding a majority of the promotions, Bi-Lo is a "very active, good partner," Everett said, promoting Wellspot on its website and in "internal communications."
Many chains make the mistake of leaving marketing and promotion up to the third-party clinic operator, which tends to "undermarket" the clinics, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill.
Many supermarkets do not support the clinic with adequate in-store advertising or cross-promotions, Wisner said.
Bi-Lo has not said how many more clinics it plans to open.
Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, which opened its first clinic in December 2005, and currently has four clinics, is planning to open another 10 by the end of summer, Mary Hunter, assistant vice president of real estate, Hy-Vee, told SN.
General merchandise retailer ShopKo, Green Bay, Wis., plans to open clinics with Medical Marts Group, Las Vegas, in Utah by late this summer. The Medical Mart clinics will be staffed by primary care doctors, as well as nursing professionals.
Meanwhile, in an indication of the clinics' potential, a recent news report revealed that Steve Case, the co-founder of America Online, Dulles, Va., is behind a company that operates clinics in H-E-B, Wal-Mart and New York-based Duane Reade drug stores, and has signed Walgreen Co., Deerfield, Ill. RediClinic, of InterFit Health, Houston, expects to open 500 new locations by 2009, according to a statement.