Many (many) years ago I began my career in this industry as a retail manager. The fact that the chain (once among the largest) I worked for is no longer in business, should tell a lot about the changing retail landscape we live in today. Change certainly can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.
There is no denying that there are significantly fewer independent natural retailers then 20 years ago. For example, on the same day I write this (April Fool’s Day-only the author qualifies, not the article), a big, new MOM’S is opening in downtown Baltimore, MD. Why have they succeeded? How can you? There are a number of reasons. Let’s look at a few.
Differentiation. We all know that Kroger, Walmart, and Target sell natural products. However, none of them are distinctive. You can find most of the same products in all of these stores. Here are just some of the ways your store can differentiate:
- Green Rated Seafood
- Car charging stations
- Greatly expanded household recycling (light bulbs, corks)
- Extensive bulk sections
These are just a few of the myriad ways you can differentiate your store from the big boxes. You don’t have to do all of them. Even one or two changes will help you demonstrate to your customers why they should give you their business.
Education. In much the same way I have chastised many of you to become educated, your ongoing success can be enhanced by how well you educate your customers. Virtually none of the “Big Box” retailers (and many of the corporate chains) provide any education to their staff. Here’s an example. I was in a Walmart Supercenter about a year ago, and I found myself having to educate their staff on their own products; Sad. Knowledge is power. Pass it on.
Market Research. Know your market! Just because you have to contend with new, better financed competition doesn’t mean you can’t compete. Use your accumulated good will, find out what the new competition in town does better than you that you can’t match, and what you do better than they do. In short, play to your strengths. If you can’t match grocery prices, then re-focus on specialized items, like gluten free food. Look at supplement brands that they don’t have access to, and focus on them. Make yourself indispensable.
Community Engagement. Put yourself out into the community (kind of sounds like dating, eh?). Partner sports nutrition with a gym; host ailment-specific talks (either in store, or out in the community); and work with nursing homes, daycare facilities, or malls. Get your brand out there anywhere you can. It’s worth your time and effort.
There are many numbers of additional great ideas that can make your store stand out. I urge you to share them with fellow retailers. There are between 8,000 and 10,000 independent natural retailers doing business in our market. That number has a lot of power behind it. I grant you, that number reflects as much as a 30% reduction over the last 20 years. However, if you compare that to the retail pharmacy industry, where unless you are willing to compound medication, you are virtually extinct (Walgreens, CVS, and?), there are reasons to have optimism. We just have to do a little work to generate that optimism.
Adam Goodman is the President of the NPA East region, President of Nature’s Supplement Brokers Brand Development and Vice President of Retail Sales for Purity Products.
NOTE: The opinions presented here are those of the writer.
Published on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 4/4/2016