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Gardner succeeds Pugh as top merchant at Fred’s

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MEMPHIS — Fred’s Inc. announced earlier this month that it had promoted Mary Lou Gardner to executive vice president and chief merchandising and marketing officer. She replaced Bryan Pugh, who resigned from the company, Fred’s said in a statement.

Gardner joined Fred’s in January as senior vice president of strategy and project management. She came from CVS Health, where she had held senior management positions, including divisional merchandising manager for beauty/personal care and senior director of store brand innovation.

“I am happy to announce that Mary Lou Gardner has accepted the position as executive vice president/chief merchandising and marketing officer,” said Fred’s chief executive officer Jerry Shore. “Mary Lou brings a wealth of leadership experience to the merchandising, marketing, pricing and planning area. She joined Fred’s at the beginning of 2016 as senior vice president/strategy/project management. In this short time span, she has become an instrumental part of the Fred’s team.”

Pugh was hired in early 2015 as part of a push for management talent that would engineer a turnaround centered on building the pharmacy brand and capitalizing on the chain’s small-town focus. Pugh, a former Walgreens executive with experience in merchandising and operations, was hired by president and chief operating officer Michael Bloom, a former CVS and Family Dollar executive who himself had been brought on a few weeks after Shore took over as CEO in November 2014.

Fred’s operates 651 discount general merchandise stores, 372 of which have full-service pharmacies, employing about 1,000 pharmacists. Pharmacies generate about half the company’s sales and are regarded as a magnet that brings in shoppers who also buy general merchandise. Nearly a third of pharmacies are the only drug store in the town or have a single rival.