Brian Unmacht has recently been hired as the CEO for Bartell Drugs. He is the first leader that is not part of the Bartell family. The company has been under family management since its inception 126 years ago. During the past twelve decades, there were enough Bartells to continue the succession. A generation gap left an opening that needed to be filled. With 27 years of merchandise experience at REI, Brian Unmacht was hired to lead the company.
This is not the first time that Unmacht has worked in the drugstore industry. In fact, his father started and ran a $20 million chain of drugstores by the name of Bon Marché. Unmacht started working at one of these locations when he was in high school. He eventually worked his way up to a managerial position. His father also hired Unmacht to handle the finances and record keeping for the entire company. This was a significant increase in responsibility for Unmacht. The business profited well until the recession in 1980. Larger grocery stores eventually stole all of Bon Marché’s customers with cheaper prices and a wider selection.
After graduating from college, Unmacht decided to take some years off to travel the world. He went skiing in Europe and backpacked through Pakistan and Nepal. By the time he turned home, Unmacht had burnt through his savings. He started working at REI in order to make a living. At this point, REI was beginning to expand their operations from the Northwest to the rest of the United States. Unmacht was placed in charge of the store in Tempe, Arizona. He later played an instrumental role in the opening of the Chicago location. Unmacht was eventually hired as the Vice President of International Relations and worked in Japan.
During his time at REI, Unmacht learned a lot about the retail market. Larger vendors such as Walmart and North Face were making it difficult for REI to compete. These larger providers could offer lower prices and more selection. Instead of giving up, REI decided to focus on credibility and expertise. Unmacht learned the value of providing value instead of simply offering products. He is recognizing Amazon as a large disruptor in modern times.
Through a series of unpredictable events, Unmacht ended up working in the drugstore space once again. Bartell Drugs is facing competition from some of the largest retailers in the world. CVS and Walgreens are disruptive forces in the market. In an effort to stay alive with these large competitors, Unmacht has decided to offer unique products in his drugstores. From local candy to custom ice cream, there are many Bartell drugstores that sell products that can’t be found in larger locations.
Brian Unmacht was originally hired as a board member for Bartell Drugs before being elevated to CEO. He is excited about the opportunity and is working to keep the same spirit and work ethic alive in a company that has remained within the family for decades.