Natural Foods Merchandiser

Elvis Has Left the Bulk Aisle: Supplements in Sin City

This is a store with history. Forty-five years ago, John Siemens, a potato farmer from Bakersfield, Calif., was looking for a way to combine one passion—health foods—with an even greater love: gambling. Siemens opened the store, says current general manager Richard Annsley, because he needed a reason to justify staying in Las Vegas and saying "so long" to spuds and farm fields. He succeeded. Siemens introduced health foods to Sin City, stayed near his beloved gaming tables and instituted a business that is still thriving today.

Susinn Annsley took over the ownership in 1994, and she too has a long affiliation with the store. Her grandmother was Siemens' partner, her mother worked there for years and she has been a store employee since she was 15. Susinn is now the store's sole shareholder and president. Richard's role, he says, "is to do whatever needs to be done, be intricately involved in the business, but moreover just be the one really interested in understanding how and why things work."

One of the pioneering health food stores, Siemens has the distinction of having probably the oldest fresh juice bar in the country, according to Richard. This bar, unlike the others that line the neon-lit streets, serves alcohol-free, vitamin-packed refreshments; watermelon and carrot-beet juice are two of the best-sellers. Throughout the years, big names in the entertainment industry have bellied up to the juice bar, including Wayne Newton, Siegfried and Roy sans felines and Sammy Davis Jr. And yes, even the big guy—Elvis—was sighted there.

In a city that now has 70 natural foods stores, Siemens' niche is its supplements section, providing the newest and best and backing it up with firsthand product knowledge. "Susinn and I try every supplement before we put it on our shelves," Richard says. "We are the human guinea pigs.

"Only if it passes our test does a product go into the store," he says.

And Susinn and Richard know what they are talking about. Both are trained nutritional consultants, accredited by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants. Susinn, in fact, was the first to be certified in the state of Nevada. In addition, Richard is pursuing a degree in holistic nutrition from Clayton College, Susinn's alma mater as well.

Richard's mission at the store is to investigate companies with compelling products, pursue new research and discover reputable supplements that could benefit his customers. "I am constantly attending seminars and workshops, looking for products and companies with integrity," he says. "If I hear of something intriguing, I am all over it. But more often than not I dismiss it."

His current product passions—and those most in demand from customers—include Flantech's MegaHydrin, which offers antioxidant protection; 4 Life's Transfer Factor, which is derived from colostrum and enhances natural killer cells; and Enzymedica's digestive enzymes, which enhance gut activity.

If someone asks, he'll provide all the information he's got. "We're a store where our customers know we'll give them a straight shot," he says.

With all the competition in town from large chains and independents—many of them discount houses—Siemens has taken a market-savvy approach to attracting business. "The population in the Las Vegas Valley has grown dramatically, and when our sales didn't accelerate as they should have, I took a look at the demographics," Richard says. He saw that 22 percent of the Valley residents were Hispanic—a total of 310,000 people whose first language is Spanish, with an average household income of $56,000. He recognized that this was a market with whom he had to connect; a market segment interested in natural health and family well-being that would be open to what his store has to offer.

To that end, he made some tactical decisions. "I found and hired qualified bilingual persons who know and have an interest in the industry," he says. In addition, he joined forces with Nature's Answer, an herbal products company whose entire line Siemens sells, and advertised it on the premier Spanish television station. The response was remarkable and rapid. Within a week, new customers were strolling the aisles, purchasing products.

Richard and Susinn, who once were married, have managed to hold on to their clientele through the years, in the face of numerous competitors, but without going high tech. "We don't have a Web site," he says. "We don't have the time."

This is a store that knows what it is and doesn't try to be what it's not—no gimmicks. No Whole Foods wanna-be here. Sixty percent of Siemens' inventory is supplements. Natural foods—frozen and canned—and a diverse selection of breads makes up 20 percent of sales. The remaining products include select bulk medicinal herbs sold to the general public and local naturopathic and alternative practitioners. In addition, the store stocks aromatherapy items, health and beauty products and a wide assortment of crystals—all investigated and endorsed by Susinn and Richard. "We believe in the healing properties of crystals," Richard says.

Siemens also offers a staggering selection of books. At last count, there were about 1,000 titles available for sale and for on-site research. "We prefer not to give opinions," Richard says, "but to offer books and research for reference. When a client has a question, we suggest they take a look at our books."

The Annsleys know their customers, who are now predominantly Hispanics, in addition to large numbers of older consumers who've frequented the store for years and who now shop accompanied by children and grandchildren. "We don't sell diet products—too much misinformation about them—and we don't sell things to build muscle mass," he says. "Our clients care first and foremost about longevity and quality of life."

Siemens Health Foods Whole Life Center
1004 E. Charleston Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Annual sales: $800,000
Employees: 3 full-time, 2 part-time
First opened: April 4, 1957
Best-seller: Supplements

Barbara Hey is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 9/p. 58

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