Monday, October 08, 2007

Old ladies love drug stores

Drug stores really fascinate me. I think they represent the perfect retail business model. Let me explain.

Where do you get your diabetes medication? At the drug store, of course. And where do you get diabetes? At the drug store, the place with the largest candy collection around. With Thrifty Brand ice cream for sale. With strange "European Deluxe Collection" Bulgarian cookies and Chinese gummies.

Where do you get your high blood pressure and heart disease medication? At the drug store. And where do you get high blood pressure and heart disease? In the aisles of chips and jerky and crackers at the drug store. Or from behind the counter, where hundreds of cigarette brands are sold. Or just waiting for the next surly employee to begrudgingly announce, "Next customer in line."

And where do you buy the stretch mark cream? And the weight loss pills? And the Nicorette? And the toothpaste? With insurance payments on medication – drugs that people depend on for the rest of their life no matter what the cost – the drug stores can make a killing.

Drug stores must have a reason to sell all of their remedies, so they create the problems.

It’s kind of crazy. As children, my sister and I would walk up to the neighborhood Eckerd drug store. Using our allowance money, we’d buy as much candy as we could carry and drag it home. Family friends whose parents restricted their sugar intake worshipped us and became our best buddies as we sneaked them sweets at dinner parties.

The drug store became the place for the good stuff. As we got older, my sister got to know the woman behind the cosmetics counter at Eckerd, where she would buy Rose Milk and makeup and nail polish. We’d buy Slush Puppies there, gum, and more and more candy. On Valentine’s Day, we would proudly present a red foil heart box filled with lousy Palmers or Russell Stover chocolates to my parents. Another purchase from Eckerd.

We’d visit Cleveland and go to Revco drugs with my grandmother. She would buy Aqua Net and Polident, and then other candies that old ladies like: Chocolate Parfait Nips, Andes Mints, and malted milk balls in the milk box container.

Old ladies love drug stores. I think I do too. I peruse the Walgreen’s or Rite Aid circular, inspecting the paper for any must-have products that will make my life more complete. I get my ten dollars worth of free things – hair gel, dishwashing liquid, lightbulbs, Pepcid – each month at Rite Aid, taking advantage of their Single Check rebates. I get a secret thrill when I can present a $1.00-off coupon for a tube of toothpaste that is already on sale for $2.49 (from the regular $3.89!), and that also comes with a $2.49 rebate. This means I am actually being paid by Rite Aid to buy the toothpaste. I get to stick it to the man.

I suppose I’m not the target demographic they had in mind when they established their rebate program, but considering it’s all now on-line and takes a few seconds of my time each month, I’ll happily line up with the predominantly old ethnic gals and proudly purchase that Porcelana Fade Cream that will be fully reimbursed, minus the sales tax. It will end up in a drawer somewhere in the house and eventually, when I get age spots, I’ll be able to pull it out and apply it, knowing that I not only prepared in advance for my speckled affliction, but that I paid not a penny for the even tones in my skin.

We need more drug stores. More candy bar coupons and gel insoles specials to keep me standing in line behind the oldsters. And I’ll continue to argue when the register flashes my prune juice at the wrong price. I'll point to the sign that says “If the price scans higher than the shelf price, the item is free.” And I'll type an email to the manager to complain. Then I’ll submit an on-line rebate request for the price of that juice.

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