Women to Watch

Kathy Gersch

By Published on .

The average consumer spends $2,000 every year at the local pharmacy. Drugstore.com wants a mere 10% of that take, and Kathy Gersch's job is to see that the 6-year-old company gets it.

After less than a year at the e-tailer, she appears to have that goal firmly within reach.

Ms. Gersch joined Drugstore.com last December in the newly created post of VP-chief marketing officer and general manager, and just last week was given the new title of VP-OTC, with combined merchandising and marketing responsibilities. Her mission: to make a reality the goal of Dawn G. Leopore, chairman-president and CEO, to transform what was once a technology-focused company into a true retail establishment-albeit an online one.

It was this changing focus that earned Ms. Gersch her role. Her online and retail background was a good fit, Ms. Leopore says. Ms. Gersch had already held the titles of exec VP-marketing, merchandising and business development at Giftcertificates.com and VP-finance, strategic planning and administration for Nordstrom.

Ms. Gersch, 36, is tapping into that experience as she helps grow the company's over-the-counter business, which climbed by 42% in 2004 to $46.2 million. And the Drugstore.com OTC chief will borrow from her Nordstrom days as she moves to improve customer service at the site, which has yet to see profitability.

One of the first innovations Ms. Gersch implemented was a permanent gift-with-purchase program that has already increased shopping basket sizes. Today, the average Drugstore.com customer spends $187 annually on the site, shopping there 2.3 times a year. With 26% growth in the first quarter vs. a year earlier, reaching the $200 annual target for customers appears a certainty.

"We now have manufacturers clamoring to participate, clamoring to be that eyebrow on the side of the page," Ms. Gersch says. "It's attractive for the customer and the vendor partners. Customers love getting full-size samples, and vendors get a chance to sample all of our customers."

Ms. Gersch knows a little bit about those customers because she herself fits into her company's target demographic-a hip, young working mom. Most of Drugstore.com's 1.9 million active customers are female, and many fit the same profile as Ms. Gersch, who's married and has four children, aged 1, 2, 5 and 7. She knows that if something works for her, it's probably going to work for her customers.

This year, Drugstore.com will launch a broad marketing campaign-the first in five years-to fill customers in a bit more, she says. Acme Idea Co., Norwalk, Conn., handles creative, and Omnicom Group's OMD, San Francisco, handles media.

"Anytime you go through a major rebranding initiative, the consistency that you roll out in is critical. [The brand] touches everything from how the customer-care folks answer the phone to how the site looks to how the merchandising looks," Ms. Gersch says. "Our customers are going to start seeing that in the third and fourth quarters."

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