The newly opened GreenAcres Market in Kansas City, Mo., doesn't have desks in rows or chalkboards on the walls, but it is, in a way, a community classroom. Customers who wander in are just as likely to be attending a class on holistic skin care or natural stress relief as they are to be picking up a pack of tofu or a head of organic broccoli.
That's because owner Shannon Hoffmann, whose family has owned the original GreenAcres Market in Wichita, Kan., for 12 years, grew up learning about healthy lifestyles—and her goal is to share that knowledge with others.
"It's our family's mission," Hoffmann says. "We have a passion for alternative health education."
The family first became interested in natural foods in the 1980s, when Hoffmann's mother, Barb, faced a chronic health problem she wasn't able to alleviate through conventional medicine. Slowly, the family transitioned to a whole-foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables—and they even went vegetarian for a little while. Getting healthier made them want to help others do the same, and they began thinking about opening a store.
"Every family trip we took, we would go to every health food store in the city, just to see how they did things and to compare," Shannon Hoffmann says. "From the time I was a kid, I always felt a part of it."
In the early '90s, Shannon Hoffman's parents opened a 4,000-square-foot natural foods store in Wichita, Kan. Since then, the store has more than doubled in size.
After getting a degree in entrepreneurial management and marketing, Shannon Hoffman re-joined the family business. For six years, Hoffmann and Matt Murray, the Wichita store's manager and co-owner, co-hosted a nationally syndicated radio show, "Health Talk with Shannon and Matt." All the while, though, she had a dream of opening a store, and kept her eye on Kansas City.
"We saw real opportunities here," Hoffmann says. "There were still pockets of the community not being served by the larger [natural foods] stores."
In the past few years, Hoffmann and her family began to think that the time was ripe for a medium-sized—around 10,000 square feet—store in this Midwestern city dominated by big national naturals chains and small local stores. "This size allows us to offer plenty of choices for our customer, but we can get into markets that might not support a large store," Hoffmann says.
When Hoffmann began scouting the Kansas City metro area, she first looked south of the city, just across the state line in the Kansas suburbs, where Wild Oats and Whole Foods each have a store. But then Hoffmann heard about the new Briarcliff development, an upscale shopping center that would feature all locally owned stores in a part of the city filled with good-sized business and residential communities, but few grocery or natural-foods shopping options. The Kansas City store opened in fall of 2006.
Modeled after the Wichita store, it has a warm, modern look with ochre- and terra-cotta-colored walls splashed with inspirational quotations, signage with painted leaves and bi-colored vinyl laminate floors that mimic the look of hardwood. The store also provides a small salad bar and a deli to serve nearby corporate office buildings.
Hoffmann is especially proud of the deli because she worked with a food stylist to tweak the Wichita store's menu and come up with original, visually appealing items with gourmet flair, like acorn squash with dried fruits and maple syrup, potato salad with cracked mustard seed, and roasted root vegetables with olive oil and vanilla.
Operations manager Steve Wilson, who spent more than 10 years working for Whole Foods and Wild Oats, says personalized customer service, especially fulfilling product requests quickly and following up with customers, is a main focus.
"We can bring in new products a lot faster than the big boys because we don't have the whole corporate chain of command, and that sets us apart," he says. "And our partnership with local suppliers has been really important."
To help educate customers and encourage questions, Hoffmann uses signage on fresh products to indicate whether they are organic, conventional or local. GreenAcres offers local meats, including bison from a small company called K.C. Buffalo, based in Belton, Mo.; local produce; and fresh-baked bread from Wheatfields, a Lawrence, Kan., bakery.
Part of GreenAcres' strategy is to mingle marketing with customer education. The store collaborates with its vendors and with local wellness centers to offer classes and lectures, as well as nationally recognized speaker events that have helped make the Wichita store a success. The first event, in January, featured Dr. Ron Hunninghake, author of the User's Guide to Inflammation, Arthritis and Aging (Basic Health Publications, 2005).
On weekends, Hoffmann emphasizes interactive demonstrations, like nutritional-shake tastings or beauty product comparisons, that allow customers to try products and ask questions. And because an educated staff is crucial to the success of these demos and the store overall, Hoffmann encourages her employees to take the store's classes, and devotes one training meeting a month to a health topic.
GreenAcres' educational efforts extend beyond the walls of the store, too. The store's Web site contains links to online resources, as well as dozens of health-related articles on topics such as herbs, diet and fitness. GreenAcres also publishes an educational wellness supplement that doubles as a promotional flier, which is inserted in the city's largest newspaper, the Kansas City Star.
"Our goal now is to get the word out," Hoffmann says. "Because in the Midwest, you can't just open your doors and expect people to come. You have to get the word out."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 5/p.50