Natural Foods Merchandiser

Diversify skills to stay in the big leagues

The Practical Manager

Success in any endeavor is rarely the result of a single skill or action. It is typically a combination of skills and activities that combine in a critical mass leading to the desired result.

We are nearly—finally—to spring training in baseball. To make it in the big leagues, a player has to have a variety of skills: catching, throwing, hitting, running and more. Only doing one or two of them will not get you a spot on a major league team's roster. To make it in retail, you also have to do a variety of things, and do each one well.

For years, a number of natural products retailers were successful by default. They had no real competition because they were the only outlets for natural products in their communities. They could get by with stores that were poorly run and marketed. In today's environment, natural products are sold in independent stores, chain stores, conventional grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores and on the Internet. No one can succeed by simply carrying the right items; success comes from carrying the right items rightly—by combining retail basics to form the critical mass that leads to success.

Four key things retailers need to do right are store operations, merchandising, pricing and marketing.

Store operations
Many valid concepts belong under this heading. For this discussion, let's consider it to be operating your store to create a memorable and positive shopping experience for your customers. Is your store clean enough to stand out in your customers' minds as being clean? Is your staff friendly and knowledgeable enough to stand out? Are your activities focused on creating a wow experience for your customers? If this is your mindset, it will give you useful guidance in your planning.

One of the definitions of merch?andising is "to plan for and promote the sales of." How are you merchandising or displaying the items for sale in your store? How are you planning for sales-creating opportunities? What are you using your end caps for? How about the space by your registers? Do you have room for case stacks? Are you using floor displays that your vendors offer? Creative use of merchandising opportunities can have a great effect on your sales while helping your customers find good products.

Because natural and organic products are sold in so many channels, you have to be aware of pricing. You don't have to be the lowest-priced seller of every item in the market. In fact, those who are selling natural and organic items can do quite well by focusing on the value of the products and services they provide. You do, however, still have to be competitive on key, bellwether items—those high-profile items that have high volume and high visibility. Being priced right on those items is key. Even with all of the value that you provide, you cannot afford the reputation of being the high-price leader in your market.

While you can and should market your store to your current customers, you also need to market your store to people who are not currently shopping with you. What are you doing to create awareness of who you are and what you do for your community? What methods are you using to tell the story of your store? You are working hard—focusing on customers, hiring and training a dynamic staff, bringing in great products and staying competitive with pricing. Are you getting the word out about all of this? You have to market yourself so that people will know what your store can offer them. Focus on outlets in your community that your current customers respond to; these can help you attract more people to your doors.

There are great opportunities for you to learn about these and other key topics for retail success at Natural Products Expo West. I will be moderating a "Roundtable with the Experts" seminar on Thursday, March 8, and presenting a seminar titled "Achieving Critical Mass—Pulling Together Key Elements of Retail Success" on Friday, March 9. I'd love to see you at either or both of these events.

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 XXVIII/number 3/p. 28

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.