A Life of Enormous Impact: Marlene Beadle

In April, 1976, more than 43 years ago, Marlene Beadle launched her first 1,000-square-foot natural foods store in Federal Way, Washington. It would eventually become the two large Marlene’s Market & Deli stores in Federal Way and Tacoma.

Marlene, who passed away in June, was remarkable for many reasons. She was a visionary who found unacceptable the shortcomings of a commercial food industry that offered only highly processed, artificially sweetened and chemically preserved foods. In the early days of operating her store, locating acceptable natural products was a full-time job for Marlene. She had to develop her own sources of supply, encouraging and supporting other entrepreneurs to develop their own natural products for sale at Marlene’s, and by doing so, essentially defined the character of the natural products movement.

Marlene insisted on a standard of the highest quality ingredients. When she couldn’t find an acceptable trail mix, she created her own: Marlene’s Merry Mix. To make the recipe ingredients the same size, Marlene instructed employees to cut each almond in half. Over the years, many an employee would question this detail. But Marlene knew that in order to achieve excellence, you must pay attention to the smallest things.

Marlene also had a flair for marketing. She invented the Sound Outlook, her monthly promotional publication, with vendor advertising, recipes, nutritional advice, and always, Marlene’s philosophy in a personal message inside the front cover page.

Even though Marlene reduced her presence in the stores over the last few years due to health issues, her vision, courage, and passion continues to generate devoutly loyal customers and employees. It is not unusual for her employees to be serving in their 20th year or longer, or for the children and grandchildren of Marlene’s first customers to continue shopping today.

Marlene created a “safe space” for people seeking a nourishing place to work, and a refreshing wellspring of hope, knowledge, and sincere caring for those seeking to achieve optimum health. We can learn much from her life and legacy:

  1. Wake up each day reminding yourself why you started your store; your core values, the goals that are larger than any one person. Demonstrate those values daily for your employees and customers.
  2. Have a high ingredient standard and be willing to inspect your suppliers’ facilities to ensure quality.
  3. Invest in advertising and marketing. Marlene’s monthly calendar is full of educational seminars, product demonstrations, and cooking classes. A video spot runs at the local movie theatre. Vendors participate in promotions with discounts and ad dollars.
  4. Give your employees a generous discount so they can learn about and become ambassadors for the products you carry.
  5. Support local vendors and startups with advice about packaging, pricing and marketing. Negotiate exclusive temporary distribution rights in exchange for getting them off the ground.

Thank you, Marlene, for lighting the way. Rest in peace.

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Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive consumer marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With over 40 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. Jay can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at jay@retailinsights.com.