Natural Foods Merchandiser
Creating devoted customers in four easy steps

Creating devoted customers in four easy steps

Over the last several years, as natural and organic products have become more accepted by the mainstream, a lot of traditional natural food stores have lost sales and customers, and many have gone out of business. We need to learn that we can't take our customers for granted.

The Practical Manager

I was reading recently about the need for retailers to create devoted customers: customers who view your store as their store of choice—a place where they want to shop, not a place where they have to shop.

Over the last several years, as natural and organic products have become more accepted by the mainstream, a lot of traditional natural food stores have lost sales and customers, and many have gone out of business. I know that there are unique factors involved, but I suspect the customers stores thought they had weren't really "theirs." Once another store offered natural and organic products, the customers moved on. The point of this column is to get you thinking about how to keep that from happening to you.

We need to learn that we can't take our customers for granted. We sell products that meet a variety of consumer needs, and the number and type of outlets handling these goods will do nothing but increase in the years to come. We need to proactively make sure that our customers are shopping with us by choice, not by default.

This process starts with initiation, then proceeds to involvement and affinity and ends up at devotion.

Initiation is when people first become aware of your store. This may occur via a store visit, your marketing efforts or the recommendation of a friend or colleague. This is the most preliminary part of the process, but it's very important. After all, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Over dinner a few years ago, Joe Bassett of Bassett's Westgate Health Foods in Toledo, Ohio, former president of the National Nutritional Foods Association, told me that he knew to the dollar how much marketing money he spent on each new customer. I think that Joe's focus on this is one reason for his many years of success.

Involvement is a good sign that your initiation went well. After their first visit, people are willing to come back and try you again. Your product mix, your pricing, your staff, your store appearance or some portion of all of these convinced them to shop with you one more time.

Affinity is a good next step. This is where customers start shopping with you on a somewhat regular basis—hopefully buying a broader selection of products. Their opinion of your store is generally favorable, and they may even be recommending you to their family and friends.

Devotion is where they are "sold" on your store. You have become their store of choice. Because what you offer meets their needs, they are now unwilling to shop in other stores or merchandise outlets.

You reach this state by listening to your customers and meeting their needs. This is most reflected in your product mix and pricing, which must be unique to your market. Every store, however, benefits from having a clean, organized sales floor staffed by customer-focused, qualified staff. When you sell people what they want, at prices that are competitive and fair, served by an enthusiastic staff, you have put yourself in a place to fill your aisles with customers because they want to be there, not because they have to be. These are devoted customers.

If you want to spend more time learning about this topic and discussing it with other natural products retailers, please join me for a seminar on "Cultivating Devoted Customers," which I'll be presenting at Natural Products Expo West on Thursday, March 23 at 3:30 p.m., in room 207C at the Anaheim Convention Center. I'll also be moderating a panel discussion, "Understanding Distributors and Brokers" on Saturday, March 25, at 1 p.m. in room 204C. I hope to see you there!

Bill Crawford, director of retail custom programs at New Hope Natural Media, spent 12 years on the management team of a major natural products chain. Contact him at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 44

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