Brian Unmacht: The Outsider Brings a New Perspective


Bartell Drugs has been a family-owned company for the 126 years that it has been in business. However, after 27 years of experience in the merchandise sector, Brian Unmacht has recently been hired as the fourth CEO of the company. This marks the first time in over ten decades that a non-Bartell will take the helm.

Brian actually has some history in the drugstore industry. His father founded the Bon Marché chain of stores that operated primarily in rural areas. Brian spent six years of his high school and college years helping his dad run the business. He eventually worked his way up to becoming a manager. Despite its rural focus, Bon Marhcé made over $20 million and had numerous storefronts. Brian was put in charge of the finances and computerized filing system.

After finishing his studies, Brian Unmacht spent a few years traveling the world. He backpacked through Pakistan and Nepal before skiing for some time in Europe. By the time he returned to the United States, Brian had exhausted his savings. He went to work at REI and ended up spending 27 years with the company. He joined the company as they were expanding from the Northwest. He managed a location in Arizona and helped to open one in Chicago.

While working for REI, Brian understood how the market was organized. Walmart was drastically changing the retail space because it focused on outsourcing overseas to reduce costs to a great extent. Today, Amazon is playing the role of disruptor. Brian recognizes that there will always be an entity causing a disruption and change in the marketplace. According to his expertise, the key is to always find a place that will remain relevant. For example, REI focused on providing value through credibility and expertise. North Face ended up giving REI an exclusive for a while because of their value.

The Bartell family established a board of outside perspectives to help establish alternative viewpoints. Brian Unmacht was one of the few members appointed to this board. The family knew that there was a gap between the current family members in charge and the next generation that could take over. During this gap, they would have to find someone suitable to run Bartell Drugs. Brian was first hired as an outside manager before being hired as the new CEO. As revenues continue to exceed $500 million, management is one of the toughest jobs at the company.

As the current CEO, Brian Unmacht is in charge of 62 different stores. He hopes to start adding two or three new stores each year. This growth would help Bartell Drugs to compete with some of the larger competitors. Brian is also hoping to expand its operations into surrounding areas. They are currently focused in Snohomish and King counties. He has been focusing on Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Poulsbo, and other counties further south. As Walgreens merges with Rite Aid, Brian hopes that many of the older Rite Aid locations will be made redundant. This could cause some potential openings where Brian could build new stores.

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