If you've read the book or seen the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you know that Savannah, Ga., while quirky, is not a hotbed of progressive ideas. Imagine then, if you will, starting a natural foods market there in 1978.
Such was the career decision taken by husband and wife team Peter and Janie Brodhead when they opened up Brighter Day Market just off Savannah's Forsyth Park (featured in Midnight and Forrest Gump). But Brighter Day found steady growth in this bastion of the Old South because of the Brodheads' dedication to that first principle of naturals retailing—education.
Brighter Day Market
1102 Bull St., Savannah, GA 31401
Owners: Peter and Janie Brodhead
General Manager: Marsha Weston
Opened: October 1978
Store Size: 5,000 square feet total; 3,000 square feet retail space
Annual sales: $2.2 million
Number of employees: 28
Best-Selling Department: Supplements, with strong homeopathy and herb sections
Deli: 200 to 300 square feet; approximately 6 percent to 7 percent of salesJanie and Peter were 24 years old and working at a health food store in nearby Macon when they decided to start a store of their own. In Savannah, they found a friendly city with an excellent historic district that had no health food culture besides a small food club co-op and a tiny, newly opened store on the edge of a high-crime part of the city. The owners, realizing they were in for more than they bargained for, put the store up for sale. According to Peter, his stepfather gave him this advice: "He said, 'Call them back and offer them half just to see what they do.' " So Peter did. "I'm 24, and I get on the phone and offer them half, and they take it! My jaw dropped," Peter says. "We have a store!" So the Brodheads moved into the store while they fixed it up.
The town welcomed the new store with a mix of compassion and interest. "The banker looked at us when we did the deal," Peter says, "and said, 'I'm so sorry that such nice people like you are going to do something like this, because I don't think it's going to make it.' " But, Peter says, they have found steady, incremental growth in this deep Southern city. "Educating the customers has been a real big, big thing with us," Peter says.
The Brodheads held classes in the store, as well as an ever-increasing number of lectures at venues such as the local hospital. American herbal pioneer John R. Christopher was the first lecturer they brought in, and they continued to host whomever they could entice to out-of-the-way Savannah.
Over the years, they also held annual tasting fairs and "did a lot of stuff to help bring the media in," including sending out press releases for all store events. "TV stations would come to us to ask questions about health issues," Peter says. And while some of the attention was in the "look at the weirdos" vein, most was positive. "One of the local TV stations came in, and every week they did a health tips segment," Peter says. "And we didn't pay for it or anything. They just brought a reporter in and had me talk."
Brighter Day's natural niche helped generate more attention than a store its size would normally be able to afford, either through advertising or heavy PR. "We were kind of fortunate for being in a smaller area and unique," Peter says. "[The media] looked to us as a source of something different."
Today, the Brodheads continue to hold lectures both inside and outside the store. They count on word of mouth as the backbone of their public relations campaign, and they also advertise on the local National Public Radio station, which Peter calls "one of the best advertising values we've found."
The Brodheads have set up a computer station for staff and customers to reference the Hyperhealth nutrition and natural health program and the Physician's Desk Reference Electronic Library. Peter also built a rolling file cart so that employees can have access to supplements information. "When we get really good data ... that we want customers to have, it's right at our fingertips," Peter says. If a customer wants more information, employees can get it from the cart.
Peter also started what he calls "Peter's Picks." He writes reviews of supplements that he thinks are valuable and puts them on laminated note cards in front of the products. "This really helps new staff who can say, 'I don't really know a lot about [a supplement], but this is one that Peter recommends.'"
Savannah, despite being on Interstate 95, is approximately two hours from the closest coastal urban centers of Charleston, S.C., or Jacksonville, Fla. This location may have made deliveries difficult in the past—and still makes it a long trek for sales reps—but it also makes Brighter Day an oasis in an otherwise barren strip of highway fast food and South-of-the-Border curio shops. "We have a lot of long-term relationships and draw people from at least a 50-mile radius. There's a woman from St. Simons Island [an hour and a half away in south Georgia] who drives up just for our produce."
And while the Brodheads know that Savannah has come a long way in the time they've been preaching the natural foods gospel, there's still much to be done. "It's still a bit of an uphill battle, on education in particular. We're in an area where most eating is still the Southern way of eating," Peter says. "But over the years, we've worked up ways to do more and more education." And this dedication to the constant education process has paid off, both in terms of naturals ideals and store success.
And if you're wondering, yes, Clint Eastwood and John Cusack did come in while filming Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and Savannah's newest part-time celebrity resident, Sandra Bullock, has stopped by. But it wouldn't be genteel to tell you what they bought.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 11/p. 54