Murray Koffler was only 17 years old and still in high school when his father – the owner of two Koffler’s Drugstores in mid-town Toronto – passed away. At his mother’s insistence, he studied Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, then began to run the stores after he graduated.
It wasn’t long before Murray’s innovative approach to retailing began to bear fruit. In post-war Canada, it was very difficult to get men’s toiletries and men’s lines, so Murray decided to create a new line of men’s toiletries, taking the name ‘Life’ from a Life magazine and changing the colours from white-on-orange to orange-on-white in big block letters. It was so successful he soon changed the name of products like Koffler’s Aspirin to Life Brand.
In 1950, he copied Dominion stores and introduced self-service to pharmacy, He got rid of the soda fountain and put the prescription department up front, to focus on prescriptions and health aids, which tripled his business. After being introduced to developer E.P. Taylor by his friend Eddy Creed, he opened the first drugstore in a shopping centre.
A major innovation in the mid-1950s was the Associate concept – before franchising was even heard of. Murray said to his graduate pharmacist, “You become my Associate and run the store [at York Mills and Bayview] as if it’s your own, while I open the next store. You don’t have to put up any money. I’ll get a percentage of your volume, but you keep all the profits.” He did all the marketing, advertising and promotions for all three stores, including researching new store locations.
In 1962, Murray opened a store at Shoppers World at Danforth and Coxwell. “I loved the name ‘Shoppers World,” he explained. Instead of being Koffler’s Drugstore, he took the name ‘Shoppers’ from Shoppers World, and the name ‘Mart’ from Loblaws Food Mart. “I thought it would denote economy, better prices, and real merchandising. He marketed the store with big wide aisles, very bright stores and discounted prices. “We were so successful, we changed the three Koffler’s Drugstores into Shoppers Drug Marts, which by itself improved business.”
When rival chain Plaza Drugs was facing ownership strife, Murray suggested the two chains combine and form a public company, which began a series of acquisitions until the chain reached 500 stores across the country. At the suggestion of E.P. Taylor, he decided not to sell the company outright, but to sell up into a major public company (Imasco) and take shares in the new company. Murray served as Shoppers CEO from 1978 through to 1982, then chairman until his retirement in 1986.
As an active investor, Murray co-founded Four Seasons Hotels with his friends Eddy Creed and Issy Sharp when they built the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Street in Toronto, He remained a Director of Four Seasons until 2004.
Murray’s strong sense of social responsibility led him to establish such organizations as the Toronto Outdoor Art Show, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, and the Council on Drug Abuse.
Earlier in 2007, Murray helped cut the ribbon on the 1,000th Shoppers Drug Mart at Don Mills and Lawrence, on the same site as our second store.
He was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 1991, and named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995.