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Ultimate aim is to 'conquer and control'.

WARWICK, R.I. -- For all that Michel Coutu has accomplished in the past year, he remains firmly focused on the future.

After concentrating on integration in fiscal 2005 to get Brooks Eckerd running properly, this year will be much more interesting, he remarks.

Helping liven things up already is a drastic drop in the expense of consolidating information technology. Now that Eckerd's office in Largo, Fla., has been shuttered, infrastructure costs have dropped substantially. Simultaneously Brooks Eckerd has cut ancillary expenses, having divested Eckerd's private airstrip, a couple of its jets and a warehouse.

With lower overhead the company can increase spending, and Coutu says it will devote some $200 million a year to capital outlays, much of it going to new-store openings. By May 2007 the chain will have premiered more than 200 new or relocated outlets. The expansion will be based on extensive studies of sites, markets and potential market share.

But the retailer will not grow for the sake of growth, notes Coutu. Brooks Eckerd wants to advance like the Marines, step by step, he says. It wants to conquer and control.

To do so the retailer is positioning itself in neighborhoods as a destination for mothers returning home from work or after picking up the children, says Coutu, or for fathers getting a call to stop for a prescription or loaf of bread or gallon of milk.

He favorably compares those kinds of visits--to 12,000- to 14,000-square-foot stores--with trips to big-box retailers where parking alone can be a trial. Brooks Eckerd offers an unintimidating shopping experience, Coutu maintains.

In the coming years the chain could easily expand to 2,500 stores, he adds, explaining that there are many markets within its operating area where it lacks a presence and others where it can fill in spaces between stores.

Georgia, the Carolinas and central Virginia offer huge growth potential, Coutu says. There is even significant growth opportunity in New England, where the retailer already has more than 330 Brooks units, he adds.

Brooks Eckerd also will enter new markets in states bordering on the 18 it already is in. It will not bypass contiguous states, Coutu remarks, saying growth will be very rational.

Discounting the likelihood of another acquisition, he said that this year "our focus will be on improving what we have. We're dedicated to turning this company into gold, and we think it's going to happen rapidly. That's what we're pushing for."

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Title Annotation:Brooks Eckerd's Michel Coutu
Geographic Code:1U1RI
Date:Oct 17, 2005
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