Walgreens to ease expansion pace in fiscal ‘08

DEERFIELD, Ill. Throttling back slightly on its torrid national store-development program, Walgreen Co. revealed today it would open “only” 550 new stores in the fiscal year that began Aug. 31, for a net gain of 475 net new stores after relocations and closings.

That still represents by far the most aggressive internally driven, "ground-up" store expansion program in all of chain pharmacy—and an actual rise in the number of newly constructed stores over the number built this past year. But barring any acquisitions in fiscal 2008, it also marks a modest pullback from the breakneck expansion pace Walgreens kept in fiscal 2007, when the chain opened 615 new stores, including 115 acquisitions, for an increase after relocations and closings of 531 stores.

Even without any new acquisitions, however, Walgreens still is on target to exceed its long-stated goal of operating 7,000 drug stores coast-to-coast by 2010. At the close of fiscal 2007 on Aug. 31, the company operated 5,992 drug stores, including 96 home care division locations, eight specialty pharmacies and three mail-service facilities in 48 states and Puerto Rico, versus 5,461 a year ago.

"Franchisees of Option Care Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Walgreens, are not included in Walgreens’ store count," the company reported. The aggressive store-opening schedule continued right through the end of the fiscal year. Walgreens opened 101 stores during August, including 13 relocations. It also closed one store and acquired 54 stores, all but one of which were through its previously announced acquisition of Option Care Inc.