Keeping Family Dollar Stores on Fast Track

Michael K. Bloom, President and COO, Family Dollar Stores

After 30 years in the drug store sector, Michael Bloom left CVS Caremark in September 2011 to become president and COO of Family Dollar Stores. The extreme-value chain has adopted an aggressive growth strategy in recent years, and plans to open 450 to 500 stores in 2012.

Family Dollar is equally committed to improving existing locations. Under its ambitious store-reinvention program, an estimated 1,000 locations are scheduled to be renovated, relocated or expanded this year.

In an interview with Chain Store Age contributing editor Connie Gentry, Bloom’s passion for his new company was clearly evident.

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt this energized,” he said. “And it’s exciting because I see the same enthusiasm throughout our company.”

What attracted you to Family Dollar?

The business I’ve lived in is small-box retailing, and there are many similarities between Family Dollar and CVS: Both have over 7,000 stores and are dominant in their sectors. The value-driven, discount retail model has emerged as a very real channel — it is retail in its purest form and it intrigues me. I watched Howard [Levine, the CEO of Family Dollar] evolve this business model and assemble a world-class leadership team. The opportunity felt right and, after being here for 16 weeks, I can tell you it is right.

What do you bring to Family Dollar?

I bring a style of leadership and coaching that enables me to build world-class teams. If you look at my track record, I’ve assembled great teams that empower people to be accountable for their actions. Second, I’ve acquired a vast knowledge of small-box retailing. My learnings and the relationships I’ve built with supplier partners over the last 30 years can certainly be applied to Family Dollar. I’m extremely excited about the possibility of building stronger relationships with supplier partners, possibly bringing some of them into this retail channel, and evolving the relationship with Family Dollar customers.

As that customer relationship evolves, do you anticipate having a Family Dollar loyalty card?

It would be crazy to be a retailer and not try to understand loyalty programs. You just have to be sure a loyalty program is meaningful and adds value for the customer. If it does those things, then it is absolutely the most efficient spend a retailer can make, and it could be a terrific addition to Family Dollar.

What opportunities and challenges do you hope to embrace in your first year?

First on my list will be driving the culture I spoke about earlier and continuing to build a world-class team. Secondly, we will focus on making this a sales-driven, top-line organization. That means profitable sales, not just sales at any cost. There is no reason Family Dollar should not lead the industry across all business metrics and continue to grow comp sales and margin per square foot.

Finally, we must continue to find ways to remain relevant to our customer and drive trips to the store. Clearly there are opportunities to improve the assortment in over-the-counter HBA, expanding our offering in private brands across the store and certainly in food.

To achieve those top-line goals, will you be adding more private-label product or leveraging your relationships to bring new suppliers to Family Dollar?

Yes and yes. The No. 1 selling brand in our stores is the portfolio of Family Dollar brands — our customers tell us they love the quality and the value. As we expand HBA and food categories, by default, our private-label selection will grow as well. There will also be a significant increase in our global sourcing.

Will expansion focus on particular markets, such as augmenting the chain’s recent entrance into California?

California is going to be a terrific market for us. Consumers have welcomed us, and the nine stores we opened there are exceeding expectations. There’s a lot of runway potential in that state. In fact, the growth opportunities in California are just as important as filling in the gaps in states where we have stores.

What about international expansion?

I think all companies consider international markets, but there is a lot of runway for Family Dollar to cover in the U.S. before we think of international expansion.

Is your store prototype evolving?

Yes, in fact we’ve tweaked the latest version since I joined the company. Our stores are small boxes, roughly 7,000 sq. ft., and one of the challenges is to creatively expand the merchandise areas that are growing without taking space from discretionary categories. We have reallocated space to grow the HBA and food sections, because our customer has voted with her wallet that she wants more of these items, and we’ve become more creative in merchandising and display. For instance, the apparel racks support denser product now, and we continue to enhance adjacencies throughout our stores.

What are the main elements of the renovation program?

Improving the ‘shop-ability’ of our stores and giving our customer a compelling store experience are the key drivers behind the renovation program. We’ve improved the adjacencies, the overall layout of the store and the checkout experience. We continue to look at how we can better tailor the assortment, merchandise the store to encourage cross-shopping. And we have improved the in-store signage to better communicate to our customers within the store.

Given your background, are there any thoughts of bringing pharmacy service to Family Dollar?

That’s the question I’m asked most often, and the possibility does intrigue me. Our customers take prescription medicines, and they have to get them filled somewhere. What intrigues me is contemplating how we might take care of that need for our customers, possibly without adding pharmacy in our stores.

Would you think about partnering with a drug store retailer, or providing a mail-order pharmacy service?

Any of those could be interesting options. Our core demographic is often a single mother with a low fixed income, and a lot of our customers don’t have healthcare coverage. The exciting thing is that healthcare reform will give our customers coverage. 

What has been the most exciting aspect about joining Family Dollar?

The quality of the team, in that the people here are creative and innovative. And there is also the company’s rich history, proven success and earnings — look where Howard and the team have taken this company. (Family Dollar ended the first quarter of its 2012 fiscal year with overall sales up 7.6%, net income up 8.1% and comp sales up 4.1%.) What’s exciting for me is where we can go in the next chapter: The channel is ripe for us and the runway for growth is long! Can you hear the passion in my voice?

Absolutely, and speaking of personal passions, how do you spend your leisure time?

I play just as hard as I work, and I love spending time with my wife. She is my biggest fan, biggest critic, and No. 1 business partner outside of Howard. I’m a huge sports fan and love to ride bikes — that’s bicycles, not motorcycles. Last August, I rode the 200-mile Pan-Mass Challenge and raised $33,000 for cancer research. I plan to do it again this year.

Connie Robbins Gentry is a contributing editor for Chain Store Age.