Greg Wasson worked for Walgreens for more than three decades, starting as an intern and serving as chief executive officer of the pharmacy giant from 2009 to 2014.
Now, Wasson is suing his former employer in a contract dispute with a technology startup he helped found in 2017. He claims current Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer reneged on an agreement to replace glass doors on store refrigerator displays with high-tech digital screens that would flash product information and advertisements at consumers while they were shopping for cold beverages.
Brewer’s decision to end a roll-out of the “Smart Doors” that Wasson and his partners at Cooler Screens had committed to installing at 2,500 Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. stores across the US cost their business more than $200 million, according to the complaint filed Wednesday in state court in Chicago.
Walgreens called the allegations “baseless and unfounded” in a statement.
Cooler Screens had sold the Deerfield, Illinois-based pharmacy chain on a pilot project with the innovative doors in 2018 before winning a nationwide contract, only to have Brewer change direction after she started as CEO in 2021, according to the complaint.
“After visiting stores in which Smart Doors had been installed, Brewer decided that she did not like the way they looked, purportedly comparing the screens to ‘Vegas’ in a derogatory way,” lawyers for Wasson and his partners wrote. They alleged that Walgreens fabricated reasons to terminate the contract, including by citing safety defects with the Smart Doors that didn’t really exist.
Cooler Screens said it spent $45 million making and installing doors in the first 700 stores, $88 million on doors that haven’t been installed, and more than $100 million on third-party vendors.
“We are disappointed that Cooler Screens is falsely claiming that anything other than their failure to perform was the basis for the termination of our contractual relationship,” Walgreens said in its statement.
Walgreens customers gave the doors mixed reviews, according to media accounts.
Cooler Screens said in a statement that “third-party consumer surveys taken earlier this year show that 79% of respondents reported that in-store digital advertising positively impacted their shopping experience, while only 6% said it had a negative effect.”
In 2014, Wasson announced his retirement from Walgreens as CEO and president amid a management shakeup as the company was merging with European retailer Alliance Boots GmbH.
The case is Cooler Screens Inc. v. Walgreens Co., 2023CH05474, Illinois Circuit Court, Cook County (Chicago).