Sports nutrition is a booming category, with an ever-expanding customer base and more products available than ever. But with so many places to purchase protein powders, nutrition bars, pre- and post-workout supplements and other sports-focused formulas, how can you hook these shoppers and keep them coming back? We asked one independent retailer who has found a winning formula and two longtime sports nutrition experts with deep roots in natural products to share their best suggestions.
Partner up. We partner with local fitness centers, yoga studios, CrossFit gyms and other likeminded businesses that believe eating well and fitness are synergistic. We’ll offer the owner or head trainer a discount to shop with us and also give them grocery lists to fill out for their customers who ask which foods and supplements they need. Then, because we know it’ll be an expensive first-time shopping trip, we’ll give those folks a onetime 20 percent discount for everything on that list and an ongoing discount for future purchases. This strategy really works.
Work closely with vendors. We have great relationships with our sports nutrition vendors, from both the buying and marketing perspectives. Once they see their lines grow and that we’re not just giving out samples for no rhyme or reason, they’re usually happy to offer us discounts. Also, we often ask them to send swag—drawstring bags, T-shirts, anything we can use to merchandise alongside their products. We’ll even rubber-band them to products so customers feel excited about getting something useful for free. Stores that are very heavy on sports supplements have tons of swag, so we need to compete with that.
Focus on products mass doesn’t have. Now more than ever, people understand the relationship between food and fitness, so it’s easier to lure them away from, say, GNC. Now the scariest competition is coming from mass. Target and Walmart carry some brands for $5 cheaper, so we do what can with the products also sold in those stores. But instead of pouring all of your energy into trying to compete against them, focus on unique product lines not available in mass. We have all kinds of plant proteins and amino acids and stock as many sample-size and individual packs as possible so people don’t have to commit to huge packages when trying something new.
—Kathy Andrew, marketing director at Nutrition Smart, a seven-store natural products chain in Florida
Sports nutrition expert
Hire a sports nutrition specialist. The most important elements that independent natural products stores typically lack are product selection and knowledge. So a staffer will say sure, we have a few products, but after asking a few questions, even a semi-informed shopper will realize the retailer doesn’t really know what he or she is talking about. Bring in someone who is committed to catering to this market—who knows all about this category, knows which products to order and can give shoppers correct sports nutrition info. If this specialist uses these products, competes in sports, has a relevant certification or has a fit physique, even better.
Represent at events. Given all the different local sporting events, from 5K and 10K races to triathlons to high school swimming meets, why not go and put up tents, booths or tabletops? Offer samples of products you sell, have items available for purchase and hand out coupons. You might make a few thousand dollars just off of traveling athletes who forgot to bring necessities. Even locals may buy last-minute items from you, learn that you sell products they like or didn’t know you carried and become regular customers.
Push quality ingredients and certifications. Today, many sports nutrition customers are looking for third-party certifications and the presence or absence of certain ingredients. Consumer confidence comes in two ways: The first is through the absence of undesirable and unnamed ingredients, so this is an easy place to raise a flag and say, “Look at what we carry based on the ingredients these products do not contain.” The second is through the additional, research evidence-based benefits your products offer. Point out that they’re safe and effective, and call out Certified Gluten-Free, ELISA-tested or third-party banned substances testing certifications.
—Anthony Almada, cofounder of EAS, founder of Vitargo Global Sciences and cofounder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Sports scientist and dietitian
Market to moms. Moms have a lot of influence over the products their families consume, and they tend to think more long-term about health. By contrast, many teenage boys and young men just want to get big and full of testosterone and impress people and don’t consider their overall health. We’ve softened up our company’s look even more to attract females, and we’re seeing other sports nutrition brands do the same. It’s been interesting to see the trend of marketing to mothers take off—and work well.
Don’t forget your food focus. As a scientist, sports supplements formulator and dietitian, I believe food is the answer. If people get back to eating real food and avoiding processed foods full of artificial ingredients, they’ll be so much healthier. Even when selling sports nutrition products, encourage customers to shop the perimeter of your store and remind them that supplements are for supplementing their diet. The real question to ask is how they regularly eat—not how they wish they ate. After looking at that, you can help customers improve their diet and then augment it slightly with supplements.
Promote balance. Our bodies have really fallen out of balance, and we need to bring them back to where they should be. This time of year, many people are trying get back into exercise. Encourage those shoppers to stay hydrated, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and take antioxidant and adaptogen supplements to stave off oxidative damage and excessive muscle soreness. Adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms go back millennia in Eastern medicine, which is all about restoring balance, and we’re seeing them used a lot more in sports nutrition. Stock plenty of branched-chain amino acid supplements and recommend them to replenish amino acid pools immediately after exercise.
—Mark Olson, dietitian and founder and CEO of Metabolic Response Modifiers in Oceanside, California