Prepare for natural retail competition

Prepare for natural retail competition

Sitting down to work on this blog post, I thought back through many conversations with retailers, manufacturers, distributors, brokers, trade groups, colleagues and others that I had leading up to and after Natural Products Expo West.

Given my retail frame of mind, most of the conversations that I have with store owners and others revolve around how stores are doing. As I looked over my meeting notes from the past couple of weeks, the word that jumped off the page was "competition." It seemed to have been involved in many pre-show conversations, many at the show itself and in quite a few after the show.

What is the competitive landscape like today? Does the word "intense" do it justice? National, regional and independent grocers, national and regional natural chains, pharmacies, e-tailers, multi-level marketers, etc. are all selling and, in many cases, featuring natural and organic items. Some are doing it very well—with well-conceived and executed marketing campaigns, consumer literature and compelling prices. 

For many independent retailers, competitive is the word they use to describe their world. For family and locally owned independent stores, they are not challenged from each other these days as much as from deep-pocketed, talented retailers that don't have the same size-based constraints to their operations.

Summing up visits with retailers, I came up with the series of questions listed below. Some of these popped into my mind; some retailers shared with me; others were ones that came out of our conversations. I hope that if you are facing tough competition, you find that the answers to these questions will help give you an edge.

  • How well do you know your competition? 
  • How often do you walk the aisles at competing stores?
  • What are your competitors' niches? What do they do well?
  • Conversely, what aren' they doing so well?
  • How are their product offerings in terms of ingredient standards and quality, breadth of selection and price?
  • How quick are they to bring in new products?
  • How well do they merchandise and call attention to new items?
  • What brands do they focus on? What brands don' they carry? 
  • How well do they merchandise and promote their private labels?
  • Are their shelves well stocked or are there holes? 
  • Are their shelves full seven days a week or just for a day or two after they get a large delivery?
  • Are their shelves well organized? Are products easy to find?
  • How clean is their store? Do they have dusty merchandise or floors?
  • How are their parking lots, sidewalks and windows? (What about the restrooms?)
  • For that matter, how clean (well-groomed) are their staffs? Are they friendly and engaging?
  • What kind of shopping experience do they offer? Low prices and scarce staffing? Strong customer service? 
  • What kind of consumer literature and information do they offer?
  • How well do they handle special customer situations such as returns, out of stocks, special orders and the like?

From these questions and others that will come to mind, you can see ways to show differences between your store and the competition.

Please share other points of differentiation in the comments section. Your insight could help a retailer facing the same challenges.

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