Seattle, 1953: Fifteen cost-conscious families wanting to share the expense of quality, local foods join forces and create their own bulk-food-buying club, the Puget Consumersâ Co-op. Eight years later, storefronts open and PCC grows into a successful business venture. The co-op splits in 1969 and a new natural-products-focused store opens in the University District. Sales top $66,000.
Seattle, 2009: PCC markets are a leader in the natural products world, serving more than 45,000 member families each year. With nine stores in the Seattle area, PCC is successful today because of its dedication to evolved products standards, stringent employee education, innovative sustainability practices and a committed and well-served member base.
Setting the standard
âWe feel good about people knowing that if PCC sells it, it must be good,â says Diana Crane, PCCâs director of sustainability.
In January, PCC announced that it would no longer carry personal care products that didnât comply with the Natural Products Association Natural Standard. This followed a May 2007 decision to carry only cosmetics brands that had signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pact. As such, several manufacturers have agreed to reformulateâone agreed to remove sodium lauryl sulfate from its toothpaste before returning to PCC; another removed polypropylene glycol from its deodorant.
Although Crane says store standards are a collaborative process with the manufacturers, the end result underscores PCCâs industry influence. âWeâve gotten a lot of attention in the last six years,â she says. âIf weâre involved and aware, other [natural products] people are paying attention to the standards.â
PCC ensures that staff receives ongoing trainings from manufacturers and other experts about the ingredients in the products theyâre selling. One bonus: Roxanne Green, health and beauty aids coordinator at PCCâs store in Redmond, Wash., is also the president of the northwest chapter of the Natural Products Association. âIâve had a really fortunate advantage because Roxanne is here,â says Kathi DeAnda, HABA staff member at the Redmond store. âShe helps all of us keep abreast of whatâs going on.â
DeAnda has worked in HABA for PCC for more than 10 years, and describes the companyâs training program as âcomprehensive,â with vendors coming in twice a month to do presentations on new products. âCustomers know that we do our homework, and they trust us.â
PCC created Craneâs sustainability director position just last year, but she emphasizes that the move was simply an extension of conscious practices that have long been in place. âWeâve been measuring an extensive list of sustainability metrics for years,â she says.
To wit, PCCâs Redmond store, opened in 2006, is the chainâs first store to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification, and the recently opened Edmonds store is on track to qualify for platinum certification.
To obtain LEED certification, PCC installed cabinetry made from recycled fibers, added abundant skylights and large unobstructed windows that decrease the need for high-energy lighting (and make you feel like youâre in an outdoor market, according to Crane), used paints without volatile organic compounds and began recycling heat from the refrigeration systems to warm up dish water.
âItâs very characteristic of our customer base to want to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible,â Crane says. âIt follows that we would be interested in creating a healthy environment around the food that we handle so carefully.â
Creating committed customers
A co-op with a health-conscious member base has great benefits. For example, PCC members conduct annual category reviews to screen potential and current products, evaluating ingredients and ensuring that things like high fructose corn syrup or recombinant bovine growth hormoneâand now parabens and other personal care no-noâsâhavenât slipped past their strict quality standards.
âWe screen our products, but thereâs really no substitute for all those pairs of eyes,â says Crane. She and other store staff are grateful for the relationship they have with members who keep them on their toes. âOur members are a very educated and a very aware group of shoppers.â
In an effort to reach out to its member base, PCC publishes a monthly newsletter, the Sound Consumer. The newsletter, which is sent via email to each co-op member, is packed with information on the latest food and supplement trends, and much of it is guest-authored by natural health practitioners and experts. These experts also continue to craft new educational materials on natural health and household products that they then post on the PCC website.
Crane attributes PCCâs success to its customersâ trust in the staffâs knowledge and the storeâs standards. âPrimarily, PCC is always an advocate for the consumer,â she says.
Tiffany Plate is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.