Boots is one of the UK's best known retailers, dispensing prescription and over-the-counter medicines as well as a wide range of cosmetics, personal care products and low-cost appliances. However, diversification into a broader selection of health services and beauty treatments from the late 1990s onwards proved less successful. In its main domestic market, the company was forced to wrestle with a slump in performance generated by fierce competition from supermarket retailers such as Tesco, while expansion into international markets was patchy at best. After several difficult years, Boots' position strengthened considerably in 2005 following a takeover by European drug wholesaler and pharmacy operator Alliance UniChem. In 2007, Alliance's chairman Stefano Pessina successfully took the merged group private, backed by private equity investment. Strong and steady growth since then resulted in record profits each year. In 2012, US pharmacy giant Walgreens acquired a 45% shareholding in the group, and bought out the remaining shares at the very end of 2014, prompting a full merger of the two groups to create Walgreens Boots Alliance. Pessina became chairman and controlling shareholder of the combined group. Boots is now the flagship brand within WBA's international pharmacies division, with over 4,430 outlets globally beyond the US. Boots is the leading health and beauty retailer in the UK & Ireland, with around 2,336 branches, as well as specialist Boots Opticians and Boots Hearingcare stores. It also has outlets in Norway, Netherlands and Thailand as Boots Apotek or Alliance, and in Mexico and Chile as Benavides or Ahumada. Unlike US counterpart Walgreens which derives three-quarters of its sales from prescription pharmacy, Boots generates the largest share of its revenues (61% in ye 2020) from beauty and non-prescription healthcare retail. Its No 7 cosmetics brand is the UK leader in the mass-markets and is also widely sold in WBA's international stores, alongside other own brands such as Liz Earle, Botanics and Soltan (or Soltei). Meanwhile the UK group's Alliance Healthcare distributed drugs and other products to more than 115,000 pharmacies, health centres and hospitals in 11 countries, and had local partnerships with wholesalers in China, Germany and the US. In 2021, the group transferred ownership of most of the European wholesale business (as well as retail pharmacy operations in the Netherlands and Norway) to its US-based partner AmerisourceBergen for $6.5bn. WBA's Retail Pharmacy International division had revenues of $10.0bn in ye 2020, while pharmaceutical wholesale generated $24bn. The UK as a whole (from both retail and wholesale) contributed $12.1bn. Boots UK Ltd reported revenues of £5.9bn for the year to Aug 2020 and a net loss of £258m. Sebastian James is managing director of Boots UK.
Capsule checked 18th March 2020
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Who are the competitors of Boots? Boots' main direct rival in the UK pharmacy sector is Superdrug, now owned by CK Hutchison Holdings. However, the toughest competition comes from supermarket groups Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons, all of whom also retail personal care products, as well as OTC and prescription pharmaceuticals in most outlets. See Retail Sector index for other companies
Historical profile information for Boots
Adbrands Daily Update 6th Jan 2021: Walgreens Boots announced plans to sharpen its focus on its retail operations by selling control of wholesale division Alliance to US distribution giant AmerisourceBergen. The deal price is $6.5bn. Almost all of it will be paid in cash, but Amerisource will also part with around $225m of stock, lifting Walgreens Boots' existing stake to just over 30%. The two companies agreed to extend their existing distribution partnership. Amerisource will continue to supply Walgreens in the US until at least 2029, while Alliance will remain the local partner for Boots in Europe until at least 2031.
Adbrands Daily Update 9th Jan 2020: "They're Boots, Darling". Ah, the parody fashion ad! Always a popular genre, not least because fashion ads are so very very easy to make fun of. Ogilvy London adds to the collection with an excellent mickey-take on behalf of Boots Opticians, the visioncare division of Britain's ubiquitous high street pharmacy. There are some glorious sight-gags here - the opening credit to "Vincenzo Calamari", the balloon dude, the guy on the horse - and all topped off with an catchy little slogan that could easily catch hold among the yummy mummies: "They're Boots, Darling". Splendid!
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th Apr 2018: Ads of the Week: "The Wave". We had the strangest dream: it was February 2017 and London agency Mother lost the whole Boots account to a dedicated WPP team led by Ogilvy... Clearly it can't have been true because more than a year later here's a brand new ad for Boots No 7 and it's still from Mother not Ogilvy. There have been a couple of ads from Ogilvy, but the No 7 cosmetics account - which also runs in the US under the banner of Boots' parent Walgreens - has remained at Mother. That's no bad thing because this is another fine spot, but sadly it is definitely Mother's last for the client. Like its predecessors, which featured variously a ballerina, a stuntwoman and a champion fencer, this is basically a standard endorsement spot, here from "age-defying" 49-year-old surfer Lisa Andersen. But those first 20 seconds are really something out of the ordinary, grabbing the attention with some startling imagery.
Adbrands Weekly Update 2nd Feb 2017: In account assignments, WPP snatched the biggest creative account win of the year to-date with the capture of consolidated marketing services and media for Walgreens Boots Alliance in both the US and UK as well as other global markets. Combined billings are estimated at around $600m annually. WPP will assemble a new dedicated unit to handle the business under the banner Team WBA. It has yet to offer more details of which agencies will be involved, but the new entity is expected to handle all services from creative and digital to media, PR and promotions. The main losers are Omnicom's OMD and GSD&M, and independent Mother, but Publicis Groupe agencies also held a share of digital and promotional duties. WPP, on the other hand, was largely unrepresented on Walgreens' previous roster, so the appointment marks a fresh start for the pharmacy giant.
Adbrands Weekly Update 16th Jun 2016: Simon Roberts, group EVP of pharmacy giant Walgreens Boots Alliance and local president of Boots in the UK, has resigned his role " to pursue new opportunities". The chain denied any connection to a Guardian newspaper investigation earlier this year. This alleged that Boots pharmacy managers had been encouraged to boost profits by offering medical health checks to customers who didn't need them (and even to other staff) in order to claim cash rebates from the National Health Service. Boots denied this was the case. Roberts' departure has prompted a full overhaul of group senior management, with EVPs Alex Gourlay and Ornella Barra elevated to co-COOs. Gourlay will continue to oversee the Walgreens and Boots chains, with Barra responsible for global wholesale and group corporate services. Boots' former marketing director Elizabeth Fagan was named as Roberts' effective successor, becoming managing director of Boots. Ken Murphy becomes EVP & group chief commercial officer.
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