After nearly 130 years, Bartell Drugs has grown to multiple locations, but the Seattle-based company retains the feel of a local business. “Each store makes a point of supporting and being part of the neighborhood,” President and CEO Kathi Lentzsch says. “That makes the biggest difference.”
Pharmacist George H. Bartell Sr. started the company in 1890 when he moved from Kansas and purchased a store in Seattle’s Central District. At the time, he focused on providing innovative products, trusted and personalized pharmacy experiences, and strong guest services.
Today, Bartell Drugs has 68 locations in Seattle-Tacoma corridor and is in its third generation of family leadership. George D. Bartell serves as the chairman of the board for the company, which provides “good, old-fashioned customer service” in its stores, Lentzsch says.
Bartell Drugs right info“It’s about recognizing your customers, saying hello and helping them find what they need,” she says. “It’s a lot of what retail used to be about that’s been lost over the years.”
For example, one of its stores has a cashier who knows all of its customers and greets them by name when they walk through the door. “They do that because they care,” Lentzsch says.
Making a Return
Lentzsch joined Bartell Drugs in 2018 after gaining extensive experience in the retail sector. “I’ve been in many different segments,” she says, noting that these have included luxury and home furnishings like Pottery Barn, as well as national importers such as Cost Plus World Market and Pier 1 Imports.
But Lentzsch also got her start working as a CEO for a start-up called Elephant Pharmacy in Berkeley, Calif. There, she developed an affinity for the pharmacy business because “it became more about people than selling products, because we really cared for people,” she recalls.
“That was a wonderful experience,” Lentzsch continues. “When I got the call for Bartell’s, I listened because the role I played with Elephant Pharmacy was one of the best roles in my career. I thought I’d give it a try again.”
Since joining Bartell Drugs, Lentzsch has focused on blocking and talking and some innovation. Previously, “The company slowed down on its innovation for a while,” she recalls. “I’ve been working on bringing it up to speed where it needs to be.”
Bartell Drugs 2One example, she notes, is the implementation of prescription delivery services, which all of its stores will offer by the end of this year. In addition, Bartell Drugs became the first pharmacy chain last year to offer a large selection of CBD products.
This was such a large step that associates from competing chains visited its locations “to see what we were doing,” Lentzsch says. “The risk was slim and it’s proven to be very worthwhile.” It is important for Bartell Drugs to be first to market with projects. “What comes with that is credibility and authority,” she says. “It’s been a good move for us.” Bartell Drugs also is not letting technology slip by, since it “is important to what all retailers do,” Lentzsch declares. “We’ve been a little behind the times.”
For example, customers today can shop in its stores online via Amazon Prime. This will be followed by Instacart this fall, as well. Through this approach, she says, the company is setting itself apart by bringing itself to the customer.
“We believe we’re the first drugstore to do that, unlike other retailers who believe they have to be in e-commerce, which forces the customer to come to their e-commerce site,” she says. “If they’re an Amazon Prime or Instacart subscriber, we’ll be there.”
The Pharmacy Family
Another major area of focus for Bartell Drugs is its team. “Whenever we make decisions, we’re thinking about our employees,” Lentzsch says. “If your employees are happy, your customers will be happy.”
This attitude has helped Bartell Drugs nurture a higher retention rate than others in its industry. “The people that work for us see the company as family because the Bartell family is involved and they’re good people,” she says.
Lentzsch adds that Bartell Drugs has been fortunate to find strong, qualified people, thanks to its headquarters in Seattle. “It’s the fastest growing city in the country,” she declares. “There’s new folks coming in all the time because of all the technology businesses that are here.”
She adds that the future looks bright for Bartell Drugs. “We’ll continue to operate as we have in the past, which was to grow at a conservative rate,” she predicts. “We’re making the best decisions as to how we grow and improvingour systems so we can innovate again.”