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Taking Responsibility

HEADQUARTERS: New York City REVENUE: $1.5 billion REVENUE TYPE OF BUSINESS: rug store chain

At presstime, it was announced that Rick W. Dreiling had resigned as chairman, president and CEO of Duane Reade, New York City, and was appointed CEO of Dollar General, Goodlettsville, Tenn.

Companies across all industries are reevaluating their social-responsibility programs and retail is no exception. As retailers reform their own corporate social agendas, they are taking a long, hard look at what impact their businesses have on stakeholders and the communities they operate in—and what impact they would like to make in the future.

This task is nothing new for Duane Reade, according to company CEO and president Rick Dreiling. The 54-year-old retail-industry veteran, who has been at the helm of the 242-store drug store chain for two years, has long kept social responsibility top of mind.

“I come to work every day to compete. As retailers, that is what we do,” Dreiling told Chain Store Age.

“However, social responsibility needs to rise above being a competitive factor in the marketplace,” he said. “It is about how to be more humane and sympathetic, and how to better understand and aid the consumer and communities you operate in.”

In a discussion with senior editor Deena M. Amato-McCoy, Dreiling revealed how his philosophy has helped him spearhead projects that cater to the well-being of Duane Reade’s communities.

Chain Store Age: Social responsibility has really evolved into a mission-critical business practice. What are your thoughts on the evolution?

Rick Dreiling: I am a loyal believer in serving and giving back to the community. As someone who has been in retail throughout my entire career, I am very excited that social responsibility is picking up steam and becoming a key business component within the industry. It’s encouraging that companies are beginning to focus on how to make operations and programs more efficient so they can better serve their consumers—a practice that is a pillar of Duane Reade’s business.

CSA: So social responsibility is not a new project for Duane Reade?

Dreiling: No, it is not. Duane Reade set up its roots in New York in 1960. Even at that early stage, the company has always contributed to improving the health and lifestyle of its shoppers as well as the community at large.

CSA: Would you define Duane Reade as a pioneer in this area?

Dreiling: I would love to take credit and call the company a pioneer, but there are actually many organizations—and many that are much larger than Duane Reade—that are doing exceptional work in this area.

The factor that we are most proud of is that based on our size, we have made significant accomplishments related to social responsibility. The magnitude of what we have accomplished over time is quite impressive.

However, social-responsibility efforts are not about being first to market with ideas and commitments. It is really about embarking on contributions that truly make a difference in the community.

CSA: How does Duane Reade choose what to focus on in this area?

Dreiling: In March 2007, we established the Duane Reade Charitable Foundation, which raises funds to support local charities devoted to improving the health and wellness of New Yorkers.

Each year we hold a company-wide open forum and ask our associates to contribute suggestions, and then we select the two or three most worthy causes. We then create yearlong fund-raising strategies, and at the end of the year we make significant donations to the charities that support those causes.

CSA: What were your most recent areas of focus?

Dreiling: In 2007, we focused our attention on three areas. The first one was the ALS Association. We pride ourselves on rallying around our employees, and we decided to support ALS when we learned that the father of one of our associates was suffering from the disease. (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a debilitating illness for which there is no cure.)

The New York Yankees take a strong stand on ALS, as Yankees’ icon Lou Gehrig was afflicted with the disease. Like the Yankees, Duane Reade has become a powerful brand in New York. By teaming up to fight against ALS, we were able to raise a good deal of money for the organization.

CSA: What was involved in the project?

Dreiling: We sold paper baseballs for $1 at all store locations, from April 19 through June 11. This time frame encompassed May, which is ALS Awareness Month.

It was the first year we rallied around this cause, and we raised over $157,000. The funds will enhance patient services and fund ALS research.

The ALS Association recognized our efforts and honored me with the Jacob K. Javits Lifetime Achievement Award at the organization’s 13th Annual Lou Gehrig Sports Award Benefit. This was a very rewarding honor for Duane Reade, and especially for the employee who initiated our involvement with the ALS Association.

CSA: What other programs did you embark on last year?

Dreiling: We partnered with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to help fight breast cancer. By working closely with the organization, we designed a pink shopping bag that was distributed across our stores the week prior to the 2007 Komen New York City Race, on Sept. 9.

The bags showed the company’s commitment to breast-cancer awareness and its support in the effort to find a cure. Duane Reade was also a pledge and diamond sponsor of the race, and a team of employees participated in the 5K run.

CSA: What was the third program?

Dreiling: We also expanded our educational efforts around diabetes. The rate of diabetes cases, specifically among children and teenagers, is growing at epidemic proportions.

As a result, Duane Reade established its flagship Diabetes Resource Center in Manhattan in January 2007. We just opened our second center in Brooklyn, N.Y., in November.

CSA: What services are available at the centers?

Dreiling: They provide New Yorkers with access to free educational classes and a place to go for diagnosis and maintenance of the disease.

Each location features doctors and nurses that help visitors choose meter strips, coordinate their diets and, overall, spend time to help define lifestyle changes necessary for them to combat the disease.

CSA: You can’t avoid the topic of “going green” when discussing social responsibility. How does this play a role for Duane Reade?

Dreiling: We are currently exploring options that will enable us to make a positive impact on the environment, and we have a few ideas in the works.

By the middle of the first quarter we will be looking at this subject as the next rung in our social-responsibility ladder.

CSA: What projects do you have planned for 2008?

Dreiling: We hope to build upon the success of our Diabetes Resource Centers and create new centers that will cater to hypertension and obesity, other prominent illnesses associated with diabetes.