How Duane Reade reinvented itself as the quintessential New York brand

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Duane Reade

Duane Reade knew it had an image problem when Businessweek compared shopping at the drugstore chain to visiting the DMV. The retailer was founded in 1960 but had fallen out of favor with customers. Joe Magnacca, the company’s president, decided that rebranding was in order. The initiatives were twofold: rebrand store design and rebrand private label lines. The company aimed to be relevant to its customers, distance itself from the competition, and listen to customers’ requests, but, first and foremost, Duane Reade wanted to be an iconic New York brand. The company decided on a mantra,  “New York Living Made Easy,” and got to work.

The old store design focused on primary colors, aggressive displays and a cluttered effect. After listening to customers’ requests, such as wider aisles and cleaner stores, Duane Reade decided to divide its stores into three categories that fit its customers’ needs: How I Look (beauty and personal care), How I Feel (pharmacy and prescriptions) and What I Need Now (food and convenience items). The categories were re-imagined to differentiate the chain from other drugstores. For instance, How I Feel sections brought the pharmacists out from behind the counter  and removed any shelving that could obscure the view of the pharmacy. Many of the How I Look departments were branded as LOOK boutiques, which have a department store feel and clean lines. The What I Need Now sections catered to the needs of the neighborhood and urban environments. For example, in a residential Williasmsburg location, Duane Reade offered a growler bar.

Each category, branded by a color, was given a fresh look depending on the target demographic for a particular store. Even Duane Reade locations just a block away from each other would target different customer mixes, with a focus on business, tourists, residential or a combination of each. Stores in more residential areas got larger frozen and dairy sections, while stores with more tourists sold frozen yogurt and offered perks such as a barista.

As for the new mantra, elements of classic New York themes were worked into the design of the renovated stores. Images of New York skylines adorned the walls, and some stores offered wall art including “50 Things We Love About NY.” But the “New York Living Made Easy” mantra didn’t end there. It extended into the new lines of private label products that the company rolled out. Duane Reade didn’t just copy the mainstream competition’s packaging – it created unique packaging, much of which is influenced by the New York theme. Products ranging from coffee (flavors include “Morning Rush” and “Fire Fighter’s Joe”) to types of salsa (labeled red, yellow and green in flavor intensity after the city’s ubiquitous street lights) got a dose of New York iconography and branding. In another shift from the norm, Duane Reade gave its private label offerings premium shelf space, putting them front and center instead of national brands.

With its innovative new product lines and unique store designs, Duane Reade separated itself from other drugstore chains and created content relevance for its customers. Whether its targeting business commuters, tourists or residential families, Duane Reade has created a brand design system that celebrates its beloved customer: the New Yorker.

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