Simply Bulk Market
418 Main St.
Longmont, CO 80501
Store size: 3,000 square feet
History: Opened March 8
SKUs: More than 750, all bulk— 65 percent natural; 35 percent organic
Unique bulk offerings: Stainless-steel cleaner, granite-countertop cleaner, cut-your-own-bar soap, birdseed, peanut butter–filled pretzels, chocolate-covered banana chips, rawhides, catnip, agave, make-your-own-tea blend
To Phil Bratty, business is simple. His philosophy: Sell what you like, cut back on waste and allow people to choose their own quantities. So when he opened shop in Longmont, Colo., in March, he did exactly that, aptly naming the store Simply Bulk Market.
“Bulk is a simple concept with simple savings. It all kind of connects,” Bratty says.
Keep it simple
In line with his straightforward philosophy, Bratty designed the store the way he would want to shop. As a 30-year veteran of the retail industry, working with conventional stores and Wild Oats Markets, he knew location was important, so he chose a Main Street spot that would get both foot traffic and regular shoppers in the door. SKU selection also held some weight, so he left some flexibility by stocking items that would do well first, and saving room to add other items later. The fact that bulk products also had viability in the market just added bang to his buck.
“The category is getting double-digit growth right now and has been for a couple of years,” Bratty says. “With the economy today, I thought it was perfect timing if I could convince people they could actually save 35 percent on everyday, basic food items.”
For Simply Bulk customers, the idea of bulk buying appeals both to pocketbooks and recipe books. The store’s motto, “Buy as much as you want or as little as you need,” means that if you need half a teaspoon of cardamom, that’s what you buy—cutting back on waste and unused product.
Greenbacks, green store
Cutting back is exactly what customers are doing at Simply Bulk, while still spending more.
“I have to laugh because business is actually beating my expectations,” Bratty says. “[The concept] is bringing a new [type of] customer into the store that is kind of exciting for me. I wanted to reach out to the common customer—the person that wasn’t going into a Whole Foods.”
Part of having new customers is educating them on both how to operate a bulk bin and how to green their shopping trips. Every time customers check out, Bratty asks them if he’s ever going to see the container they are using again, in the hopes they’ll say yes.
“If I can bring them in on the price side and eliminate packaging along the way, it’s a win-win situation for everybody,” he says.
Simply Bulk is so appealing to Longmont shoppers that Bratty is already planning on opening up five or six more stores, either in Colorado or back East where he has family.
Bulk for everyone
To Bratty, translating his simple business model into an actual natural products store is, well, simple. He believes that as a community that is already in tune with understanding product attributes, naturals retailers are more willing to learn and to thus succeed with new concepts.
“It’s not always easy to find people that are knowledgeable and can answer questions like ‘how much flour is in a cup?’” Bratty says. “That technical knowledge and communication with the customer you don’t normally find in the conventional channels.”
Besides extra employee training and more cleaning (a job Bratty is fanatical about), giving the bulk products brand recognition is extremely important for “nontraditional” bulk shoppers, Bratty says. A retailer should make it clear that the Lundberg rice a customer bought last week in a box is the same Lundberg rice she can buy in bulk today. He thinks this adds value and makes a connection that will keep customers coming back.
“I’m only eight weeks into it and I already see a ton of people returning,” Bratty said in early May. “I think there is opportunity for bulk. I don’t know why people don’t do bulk more. It’s pretty simple.”