Is Your Store Exclusive or Inclusive?


Employee attitudes and store culture can drive customers away.

Can you see your store from the road? How easy is it for customers to drive to you? If you are like most independent natural products retailers, your store is not as visible or conveniently located as the local supermarket, so most of your customers must make a special trip to see you. Inconvenient location is just one barrier to shopping in natural products retail stores.

What are some other barriers? Your local conventional supermarket probably now carries most of the product categories you offer—non-dairy beverages, organic milk and yogurt, free-range eggs, hormone-free meats and poultry, organic and natural frozen foods, chips, snacks, cookies, teas, and more—drastically reducing the need for shoppers to make a special trip to your store.

How about the barrier of perception? If a new customer comes into your store, are you confident that he or she will leave with the clear impression that your store is clean? When was the last time you walked in your front door? Seeing what your customers see for the first time, are you comfortable that your store reinforces their decision to shop with you? Or, will your presentation cause your customers to question their judgment?

Let’s imagine your new customer has decided to make the extra trip to see you because they’ve heard you have more indepth products and knowledge than the local supermarket, and once inside, they see that your store looks bright and clean. Great! now, how does your staff make them feel?

Natural products employees are often passionate about food. Organic devotees, raw foodies, vegans and vegetarians feel right at home working in a health food store, and can create a strong sense of coworker camaraderie. The danger is those outside the group—particularly new customers—may feel a sense of separation from those in-the-know.

A first-time shopper in a natural products store will likely be fairly intimidated by all the strange new products they see on the shelves and the unfamiliar size and feel of the store. Add to this a sense of know-it-all cliquishness among employees and the in-store atmosphere can be a turn-off.

Because natural foods are still on the fringes of society, natural products retailers need to guard against creating the feeling of an exclusive club inside their stores. Natural foods are for everyone. Your store can attract and keep more new customers when your employees turn their passion for food into compassion for the customer. WF

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 holistic consumer marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 33 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 900 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 is next scheduled to speak in Orlando, FL at SOHO on Thursday, December 2 at 7:00 p.m. on “Rub Me The Right Way: Getting Generational Marketing Right.” Jay will be available at SOHO at booth 306. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at jay@retailinsights. com.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2010