Natural Foods Merchandiser

From Harleys To Health Food

He doesn't advertise.

He doesn't sponsor a radio show.

He doesn't hold educational seminars in his stores.

He doesn't have a Web site.

And Ralph Maturo isn't even sure if his company has e-mail.

But Good Health Natural Foods does hold a solid niche selling sports nutrition products to a loyal clientele in southeastern Massachusetts. For more than 20 years, athletes and body builders have relied on Maturo's stores in Quincy and Hanover for their specialized performance products.

But they don't buy from Maturo because of slick marketing campaigns. They come to the stores because the Good Health staff knows what they're talking about, and because the stores offer prices that match those of the big discounters.

The sports nutrition products occupy two aisles—24 feet long and six shelves high—in the middle of the stores. But no special signs or displays are used to draw customers' attention. Maturo admits to a no-nonsense style, and perhaps that's what's helped him and his wife, Diane, to last in the business for 24 years.

Maturo, who speaks with a solid south Boston accent, says: "We have a sign at the checkout stand. It says, 'We never forget what side of the counter we started on.'"

Besides nutritional supplements, Good Health also carries full lines of fresh and packaged grocery items. The stores are about 7,000 square feet, and are typical of independently owned natural products stores. But plain-spoken Maturo doesn't look or act like the stereotypical health foods store owner.

Thirty years ago Maturo worked as a motorcycle mechanic and reveled in the fast-paced lifestyle. Then his father dropped dead of a heart attack at age 51.

"We thought he was the picture of health. He wasn't overweight. But they did an autopsy and said his arteries looked like a 75-year-old man's. I had the exact same diet. I said to my wife, 'Ya know, the writing's on the wall.'"

Maturo and Diane became vegetarians. He put up with the good-natured scorn heaped on by his motorcycle friends—they stuck carrots in his Harley's tailpipes and hung strings of garlic from the handlebars. But Maturo and his wife didn't waver. They embraced the healthy lifestyle, and in 1978 they opened a natural products store in a 900-square-foot space in downtown Quincy.

Not long after the store opened, a friend convinced Maturo to start working out at a local gym.

"I met a whole new crowd and they were talking about protein powders and supplements, and I realized there was a whole area that no one was paying attention to."

He started carrying specialized products and quickly developed a loyal clientele. Maturo studied the effects of body building and over the years became a supplements expert. Now he and his staff spend much of their time in the store answering customers' questions.

"I have a reputation for taking things out of people's hands. I see them walking around with six different products that do the same thing and I tell them they only need one," Maturo says. "People like that; they tell their friends."

Those word-of-mouth endorsements have spread throughout the region. Besides body builders, Maturo has worked with marathon runners, professional athletes from the Boston Celtics and New England Patriots, personal trainers and even police and firefighters.

Great customer service, Maturo says, is his primary marketing tool. But he also pays close attention to the number of products he puts on the shelf. He carries a narrow selection of products because "so many manufacturers offer the same thing." He's also price conscious and constantly works his suppliers for discounts.

"I always thought, 'If people can buy it cheaper somewhere else, why wouldn't they buy it there?' So I pass on the discounts from suppliers."

While Maturo long ago changed what he ate, he never changed how he looks. He still keeps his thick mustache and long ponytail, and he's not shy about showing his tattoos. Maybe that's why many of his long-time motorcycle friends have become regular customers.

On warm Sunday afternoons, Maturo doesn't just stand around the store talking about the benefits of vitamins—he spends a lot of time outside in the parking lot. "People come in and say, 'Hey Ralph, come out and take a look at my bike.'"

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 7/p. 16, 18, 22

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