Catering to niches and staying far ahead of the curve

Gareth Lukes talks about how Lukes Drug Mart has adapted and why it remains successful generation after generation

Gareth Lukes is president of Lukes Drug Mart in Calgary.

Gareth Lukes

Tell me a little bit about Lukes and its history?

Lukes: Lukes was opened in 1951 by my grandfather Jim Lukes in Bridgeland. Up until the early 1960s, it was running under the name Eagle Drugs. My father Bob Lukes took over in 1985 and then I took over running things around 2012.

Over the years, we’ve transformed the space from a lunch counter in the 1950s and ’60s to more of a general store in the ’70s to now a cafe and a record store with a lot of speciality retail.

About 10 years ago, we opened a second location in Killarney. In the last year, we won a successful bid to open a cafe and a restaurant in the Calgary Public Library’s new Central Library. This project was done in partnership with local chef Eric Hendry (previously the executive chef of Model Milk + Bar Von Der Fels).

Why do you think the business has been around for so long? What have been the keys to success?

Lukes: We’ve always had to change with the times. In the ’60s, we eliminated the lunch counter because it became out of date and we needed to be competitive with other pharmacies.

In the 1970s to 1990s, we ran the store like an early American discounter/department store, since that was before Walmart and the traditional big box retailers were in the marketplace. We did really well selling pallets of Tide, Folgers and toilet paper.

Right now, we’re operating as a bunch of small speciality retailers in one store. We have a record store, cafe, post office, speciality grocery store, boutique stationery store, pharmacy and high-end household all in our location at Bridgeland. I think catering to niches competently and staying far ahead of the curve has made it so we’ve been able to keep growing regardless of the economy.

Why did you want to expand to the new Central Library location?

Lukes: We really liked the vision that the Calgary Public Library had for the building and we loved working with everyone involved with it. Eric and I felt we could do something in that space that hadn’t really been done before in Calgary. We saw a bunch of ideas in Australia, New York and Copenhagen that we thought would make sense and would be able to last.

What differentiates you from your competitors in the marketplace?

Lukes: We’ve been around for a very long time, so we’ve gotten used to the up-and-down nature of the economy here. I think the degree we’re willing to evolve with the times is probably more than a lot of retailers would feel comfortable with.

What are your plans for the future for the company?

Lukes: For the next few years, we’re just going to focus on growing based on our core strengths and developing the locations we have.

We’d like to expand more in the future. We just want to wait and see how things settle down in this city.

– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business

lukes drug calgary

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