When Barb Hoffmann opened GreenAcres Market in Wichita, Kan., in 1994, she had a mission. “I was on a health journey of my own at the time,” she says. “I saw a huge opportunity to share the knowledge I was gaining with others.”
Fast forward 17 years, and GreenAcres has grown from one 4,000-square-foot shop to two supermarkets of more than 10,000 square feet. Today’s full line of retail offerings includes prepared foods, fresh produce, gourmet cheeses, herbs and supplements, personal care, flowers and more.
Not so fast. Hoffmann points out that when GreenAcres opened its doors, Wichita was known as the fast-food capital of the nation, with more quick-service restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. Hoffmann became a natural products retailer in order to make over her city, one customer at a time.
“We knew in the beginning that we’d be catering to a niche, but we saw the long-term growth opportunity,” she says. “Today, we see the reach is expanding. We feel the opportunity is there to always keep reaching to those who don’t incorporate healthy lifestyles. That’s one of the reasons we love the Midwest, because it is a wide-open oasis to reach a lot of new people every day and to continue to support those who have already started on their journey.”
Staying true to the path hasn’t always been straightforward. “In some ways, it was easier when we first opened because only a few of us were doing it back then,” Hoffmann says. “It was more about educating than competing.”
Today, she finds her stores having to vie with mainstream grocers for customers, but she remains steadfast, even accommodating. “Our customers go there, and their customers come here,” she says. “I think we’ll prevail at the end of the day through education. “
More than a fairy dusting, education has become the efficacious ingredient to GreenAcres’ success, and has helped build a solid community of supportive shoppers. “We really work at it,” Hoffmann says.
Every Saturday, GreenAcres holds “Breakfast with Matt”—a free meal hosted by Partner and Store Manager Matt Murray, combined with a presentation by a local health care practitioner. “We usually get 50 to 70 people,” Hoffmann says. “People love to come, and it’s a great way to exchange information.”
On Thursday evenings, shoppers gather for cooking classes, health-minded presentations or book signings. And about four to six times a year, the store brings in national natural health and lifestyle gurus who give presentations to customers. For example, last fall John Gray, PhD, visited the store to discuss his most recent book, Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice (Mind Publishing, 2010).
GreenAcres also runs regular in-store demos—both passive and live—plus three tasting fairs each year. These key events help customers become familiar with the stores’ offerings. “You can walk by products every day, but until you put legs on them, you don’t realize they exist,” Hoffmann says.
Put together, GreenAcres’ educational programs add up to a significant sales boost. “Anytime you can do something that brings energy into the store, overall sales go up,” Hoffmann says.
Advertising as outreach
Hoffmann has committed to promoting her stores through traditional venues, but she adds a twist. She turns what could be a ho-hum newspaper ad into a teaching opportunity, which ultimately draws in new customers.
Five times a year, GreenAcresinserts an eight-page, full-color tabloid into the local newspaper, The Eagle, which reaches 180,000 people. Co-op advertisements pay for the publication, which includes research news as well as listings of store events, promotions and specials.
GreenAcres also sends an eight-page, full-color, glossy newsletter to about 10,000 “core customers” every month. The publication features a calendar of events, recipes, health and wellness tips, and sales information.
“The newsletter talks to the core customer who’s already here,” Hoffmann says. “And every time we do the tabloid, we’re flooded with new people who want to try us. We’re constantly doing things that talk to the core customer. Other times we do things that talk to the core customer but also that crossover customer.”
Through all these techniques and a bit of patience, GreenAcresis on its way to fulfilling its mission. “Our philosophy is to help the community one person at a time,” Hoffmann says. “As they make changes and improvements in their health, they’ll tell others. We can see a difference in the faces. People who 10 years ago wouldn’t have thought to walk through our doors are now coming into the stores. We know that everyone has his or her timeline and that when they’re ready, they will come.”
4175 Mulberry Drive
Kansas City, MO 64116
8141 E. 21st St.
Wichita, KS 67206
Store size: 10,000 square feet (Kansas City); 12,500 square feet (Wichita).
Employees: 27 (Kansas City);