Meet the Team: Associate Category Manager Of Seasonal Rick Gray
Raised in Detroit, Rick grew up soaking in the city’s diverse music scene – everything from Mo-town and metal to hip hop and jazz. That widespread musical appreciation came in handy when he discovered a drum set in the basement of a junior high friend. Around that same time, Rick realized he’d probably never grow tall enough to become a superstar basketball player, so he ditched sports, began taking private lessons and spent four hours a day practicing the drums.
Less than two years later, at the age of 16, he was in the studio with professional musicians and made his first appearance on an album. “It was through a friend of a friend,” Rick says. “I didn’t know enough to know that I had no business being there.”
But Rick performed well and landed more studio jobs, eventually in major markets such as Nashville. As he took advantage of being mentored by older musicians, Rick was recruited into backup bands for national artists, making appearances on local television and playing live arena gigs in front of thousands of fans.
“It was just luck,” Rick says. “For every musician out there making it, there are hundreds of others who are just as good or better who aren’t making it. I happened to meet a few of the right people and I was ready when the opportunity came.”
In between national tours, Rick landed jobs that paved his way to becoming Rite Aid’s Associate Category Manager of Seasonal Merchandise. He worked part time in a drugstore as he earned an associate’s degree in computer science from Eastern Michigan. He was set to become a computer programmer before being called in for another national tour.
Afterwards, Rick landed a job in Michigan selling items to drugstores, grocery stores and mass merchants. After stints at Target and two drugstore chains, Rick became a district manager trainee for Rite Aid in 1997. Just months later, he was called on to help remodel stores after the K&B, Harco acquisition.
Soon after, management tapped Rick for a position at corporate headquarters in Camp Hill, Pa., where he developed the seasonal merchandising program still used to this day. He became a seasonal buyer and then an assistant category manager. “It was a good transition because now I can merchandise the programs as I buy them, which is a good way to do it.”
At Rite Aid, Rick has streamlined buying practices and focused on getting the details right. He credits his boss – Category Manager Steve Moss – for involving him in every step of the process and coaching him on how to manage a category, not just simply buy items.
Rick has worked for Rite Aid for nearly 15 years. “The longest I was ever with a company before was six years because, if I got bored, I moved on,” Rick says. “The fact that I’ve stayed here this long says that Rite Aid has always provided something new and exciting for me.”
With seasonal, the thrill is seeing new and exciting items. “You never know what you’re going to see,” Rick says. “When I visit a showroom, I get excited and think ‘what I’m I going to see?’”
On a recent trip to scout items, a pink and purple Easter basket caught Rick’s eye. “The Easter Bunny’s face stood out in such a way that I knew kids and parents would be drawn to it,” Rick says.
When he finds an exciting item like this, Rick works with the supplier partner to make the item meet the unique needs of drugstore shoppers. In this case, Rick worked with the supplier to make the item fit the right price point for Rite Aid customers.
“There are many times where we customize the item to fit our customers,” he says. “It’s sort of like, in music, you’re working with someone to create a song. Here, you’re working to create items that people are going to look for in the store. I like the creative process.”
Rick’s personal life is now low-key compared to his teenage days. He visits the gym four times a week and still plays live gigs and in the studio as much as he can. “With music, when opportunities came, I sometimes left my job to go on tour,” Rick says. “Now I know that I can be creative at my day job and still play music whenever I have the right opportunity.”