Natural Foods Merchandiser

Make sure your line drives don't turn foul

To line drive, or not to line drive? That is an important question for supplements managers in natural products retail. A line drive, or putting a full brand on sale, can bring attention to your store and help boost sales. It's important, however, to use a mindful, nuanced approach with these promotions.

Consultants in the natural products business often suggest that line drives are not worthwhile; they observe that most customers don't buy from only one line, and there is much less brand recognition than we might presume.

From our observations at Cambridge Naturals, line drives are most effective in certain product categories. Body-care lines frequently have a stronger brand identity and greater brand loyalty. Customers often become attached to systematic skin care lines, and consequently prefer to buy, say, cleanser, toner and moisturizer from the same brand. The value in promoting a line drive is for the customer to become more aware of the brand's products and purchase more items within its system.

However, in supplements lines, promotions are more complicated. If your store shelves by brand, it is easier to promote by brand. At our store, we shelve by category, or structure/function, though brands are kept together within each category. But we've noticed that no matter how you arrange your supplements, customers frequently come in to purchase specific items and don't even notice when the products are on sale. Moreover, some experts argue, line drives are costly because they encourage customers to seek products based on price rather than benefits and result in lower profits for the retailer. More problematically, customers begin to buy products any place they can get them more cheaply.

At Cambridge Naturals, we mitigate this danger by training our staff on the benefits of the products we carry so they can help customers choose the best products for their health goals. While we understand the need to promote ourselves, and one way may be by offering special prices, we are in the business of serving our customers' health needs. That business includes lifestyle advice and selling effective, safe and ethical products. That said, knowing that some customers come in and ask emphatically, "What's on sale?" a line drive does provide an easy answer for the floor staff.

For some customers and for those whose stores face nearby, fierce price competition, line drives may provide the most efficient way of selling products. If you feel you must offer line drives, try to minimize the slippery slope of discounting until you've discounted yourself out of business. You can minimize this problem by not having full lines on sale all the time and by allowing significant time between line drives.

Private-label products are the easiest and most effective lines to promote as a brand. Done right, such promotions can be extremely successful, increasing sales and return visits. At Cambridge Naturals we have trained our staff on the quality of our house brand so they feel confident selling it. Loyalty to our brand allows us to occasionally put this full line on sale knowing that most customers who purchase this line will come back for our brand throughout the year. In this way we successfully produce larger sales, and over the years we have observed great customer satisfaction with this particular promotion.

Lines drives, done right, can be successful tools to maintain and grow your business. Done without careful planning, they may not do more than appeal to those who pay attention to products purely based on price. Our goal is to reach those many folks—the majority of our customers, we believe—who come into our store with the desire to improve their health and appearance, and who respect us for the attention we have paid in carrying the highest-quality products. That approach, which must be combined with thoughtful and effective marketing to bring in new customers, means that though we never ignore price and related competitive issues, our first and foremost commitment is to assist customers in enhancing their well-being.

Michael Kanter is co-founder of Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Mass. Contact him at [email protected] or 617.492.4452, ext. 301.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 3/p. 78

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