Earlier this week, news broke that The Vitamin Shoppe will buy Super Supplements.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have enjoyed a good relationship with a number of Super Supplements’ home office staff for quite a while. I consider a couple of key management staff, including owner and founder John Wurts, friends. (If you follow the NBA, this is an amazing thing, as John’s beloved SuperSonics team is now based down the road from me and is now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder!)
Super Supplements’ sale makes sense for the Vitamin Shoppe. Having only 17 stores in the Pacific Northwest and facing Super Supps’ 31 locations, the nationwide chain would have an extracted uphill climb to become a dominant player in that market. Even with its marketing savvy and strong retail execution, it is tough to take market share from such an established and home-grown leader. Given that the Vitamin Shoppe is going to maintain the Super Supplements brand, it seems that this was a part of their thinking.
The purchase also makes sense for Super Supplements. While it is a strong and very well-run retail chain, it doesn’t have the resources that Vitamin Shoppe has if the two chains were to engage in a multi-year struggle in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Based on local coverage of the sale, it sounds like the decision to sell to Vitamin Shoppe included the best opportunities for the staff and customers of Super Supplements.
John and his team are true pros and quite good at what they do. I think that this is an objective, not a subjective, observation. From a single store in 1994 to 31 stores in three states and a strong online presence, the abilities of John and his team are obvious. Two of the company’s primary markets, Seattle and Portland, are home to such chains as PCC Natural Markets and New Seasons Market. These chains, while primarily known for food retailing, have strong supplement and body care sections. Super Supps has done a lot right to have its growth and success in these markets.
I believe that retailers, and owners of other small businesses, can learn a lot from John Wurts. He and I began a tradition of sharing a meal at Natural Products Expo West and Expo East a few years ago. During these visits, and in other conversations and email exchanges, John always was full of questions: What should I be doing differently? What trends should I be paying attention to? What do my stores need that they don’t have? What brands and products should I be paying attention to?
By many measures, John was already successful, owning a chain of busy stores, but he wanted to improve and change to stay at the top of his game. John, who is a very humble, unassuming individual, humbled me by asking my advice on such matters. I, initially, was expecting to learn these very things from him.
John sees success as a journey, not a destination—which may explain why he has enjoyed as much of it as he has.