Peoples Drug Stoes, the chain which features its employees in ads echoing, "We're the People at Peoples," has begun to take better care of its own.

A team, of new top managers and fresh profits, largely the result of a mergew last year with another major drug retailer, has led the chain to adopt a series of training programs that promise to place the company in the same human resources development league as Walgreens and Drug Fair.

"We're talking about a whole new philosophy as to how you deal with employees," said David Forman, Peoples' vice president for personnel.

The area's largest drug store chain is now to increase in house promotion opportunity, Peoples is making job openings in cosmetics and pharmacy available to its own employees before looking to outsiders. It is also offering a special 39-week, one-night-a-week course in optometry for the staff of its new eyeglass departments. For district and stores managers, Peoples has revamped the nine-week management training schedule.

All of the moves are part of the company's ambitious self-improvement program which has been dubbed "Operation Step-up."

The training is done in-house, mostly by company officials, to insure that employees learn to do things the Peoples' way. The optometry course is the exception. D.C. optometrist Dr. Charles Couperthwaite travels to Peoples' headquarters in Alexandria to lecture the fledgling opticians and see that they fulfill Virginia's licensing requirements! (Maryland and the District do not license opticians.)

"The operation has two primary goals," said Sheldon Fantle, Peoples' president. "It offers employees an opportunity to move into careers with better pay and more responsibilities, and it meets the need for highly-skilled personnel without going outside the company."

According to company officials, the drug cabin had an extensive training program prior to World War II, which lost its luster and scope in recent decades due to a lack of funds and management support.

Last year Peoples merged with the Lane Drug Corporation of Ohio, which strengthened the Washington chain's retailing and merchandising management. With the merger, in-house training became a priority again.

"I couldn't get anyone to support a full-fledged training program before," said Jack Hamlin, director of personnel for Peoples. "We were losing top talent. Rather than promoting good people, our district managers were guarding them, keeping some of them at $2.50 an hour."

Since the first of the year, 25 employees have graduated from the management training course. Another 60 are due to finish this month. The course emphasizes merchandising, payrolls, business math, invoice procedures, daily reports and how to run a happy shop. Many of the graduates have been assigned to the 30 stores which have been remodeled in the last two months (Peoples has 223 stores in the Washington area.)

Another 30 employees are expected to graduate from the optometry course later this year. Programs in cosmetics and pharmacy are will in the planning stage.