Shoppers travel hundreds of miles for a day at the Mustard Seed Market and Café. Aside from the store’s bounty of organic and local produce, strict ingredient standards, and diverse personal care and supplement offerings, what draws consumers to the store is what they can learn.
Education has been the Mustard Seed’s focus since Phillip Nabors and his wife, Margaret, opened its doors in 1981. That emphasis is currently being passed on to sons Abraham and Gabe, who manage the store’s education offerings and are being groomed to take their parents’ place. How have these natural products industry pioneers managed to establish and maintain their store’s reputation as a destination for more than 30 years? We sat down with Phillip Nabors to find out.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: How has your education programming evolved?
Phillip Nabors: Back in the day, we offered macrobiotic classes in our home. In 1989, we moved from a 2,000-square-foot store to 9,000 square feet and decided to create a second-floor mezzanine specifically for classes and lectures. Today, both of our stores have cooking-school kitchens and classrooms. We’ve created a physical space for these activities, which is somewhat unusual in the industry.
NFM: What types of classes do you offer?
PN: We have everything from general healthy eating and healthy lifestyle classes to very specific programming on things like allergies, gluten free and natural child birth. Our educational programming runs the gamut. We’ve even hosted many well-known authors such Dr. [Caldwell B.] Esselstyn, who wrote Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, [Penguin, 2008] and Dr. [T. Colin] Campbell, author of The China Study, [BenBella, 2004]. Sometimes upwards of 150 to 200 people come to our events. The more compelling your offerings, the more people are willing to drive the distance to shop with you. It has varied over the years, but at present we’re providing at least four events per week, per store. That’s eight events a week and 400 a year that help drive sales.
NFM: Why is health education so integral to your business?
PN: A focus on education gives us credibility with customers. If all things are equal—two stores have the same products and similar prices—but one store seems more knowledgeable, that store will feel more trustworthy to the customer. Trust is a huge component in the food business, and you earn your customers’ trust by knowing what you’re talking about. It also has to do with training employees. Every new employee goes through what we call “Mustard Seed 101.” They learn our philosophy, the business history, what’s natural, what’s organic. In our store, you’re more likely to get an employee that gives you not only a correct answer, but an answer that’s given with enthusiasm and confidence.
NFM: As more conventional stores make education a priority, how have you remained competitive?
PN: We compete on all aspects: selection, price, customer service and store conditions. Certainly, education is still a big part of that for us; and luckily, unlike many of these conventional stores, we have a long-standing reputation in that arena.
Store size: 56,000 sq. ft. (Solon); 31,000 sq. ft. (Akron)
Open since: 1981
Mustard Seed Market & Café
3885 W. Market Street
Akron, Ohio 44333
6025 Kruse Drive
Solon, Ohio 44139