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Checking Out: Lauren Jonson

Director of Environmental & Fixture Design talks about big-brand messaging, the Covid experience and why she chose graphic design over playing trumpet.

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Checking Out: Lauren Jonson
Lauren Jonson
Walgreens’ Director of Environmental & Fixture Design talks about big-brand messaging, the Covid experience and why she chose
graphic design over playing trumpet.

Not to toot your own horn, but you were almost a professional musician.
Yes, both my parents were musicians and music professors. My mother is a violin pedagogy professor at the University of Oklahoma, and my father taught trumpet there before he retired. I played trumpet growing up. But I was also good at art, so I was accepted into the visual communications program at OU.

Where you fell in love with branding?
Well, I fell in love with graphic design, but we also studied the business side of graphics and marketing and how to communicate visually. It still shapes a lot of the decisions I make today.

For example?
The art of graphics was still mostly 2-D print in those days, but we studied environments and billboards on the side of the road, about lines of sight and that you have to get a message across in three-and-a-half seconds. It was a good basis for omnichanneling, which, of course, has become the retail challenge of today.

How did you end up at Walgreens?
I was with a firm in Oklahoma that did work for Yum! Brands. I worked on redesigning their KFC drive-throughs. In 2014, Walgreens was looking for someone with big-brand experience who understood marketing and design. Its team at the time specialized in interior design and store planning. They felt they needed graphic design to translate a big-brand message to a physical space. I’m responsible for more than 9000 U.S. stores plus all our office centers and call centers.

Checking Out: Lauren Jonson

📷: Courtesy of Walgreens

Lessons from Covid

Some day, I’ll be able to stop asking retailers about Covid. But you guys were really affected, weren’t you?

Other stores closed. But we had to be open and operating, an island of sanity, offering hand sanitizer and paper goods, filling prescriptions, administering testing and vaccines. And clearly, I mean all pharmaceutical chains, not just Walgreens.

During that period, we realized there wasn’t any point in being the grocery store or the local deli, let’s focus on what we do best. We learned it was critical that the pharmacist be personally available. Since the pandemic, we’ve created about 10 fulfillment centers where robots put the orders together and dispense them to the stores. That frees up our pharmacists to spend more time with the customer and answer questions or make recommendations or provide health information.

More than 9000 stores. How do you keep it fresh?
It’s a challenge. We’re a 122-year-old brand, so there’s a lot of familiarity we want to maintain. But our stores are in every corner of the country, and today’s customers appreciate localization. We want to be part of their neighborhoods.

We like to localize with artwork and murals, but it has to be authentic. You can’t just put up a mural of, say, the Chicago skyline that you downloaded from somewhere. Like many big cities, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and most of them have their own indigenous cultures and heritage. We can’t rely on signs in Spanish or Polish, we also have to have people in the store who are really immersed in the neighborhood – the cooking, the language, the cultural preferences. It’s our job to say, ‘We got you, we understand you, it’s safe for you to come in here and ask questions. We’re available. We’re your Walgreens.’

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