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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Convert mainstream shoppers into natural foods store customers

The best way to attract mainstream customers to your natural foods store is a good retailer-customer relationship.  Learn how to make lasting relationships with your shoppers and create loyal customers by staying involved in your community, being a good neighbor and listening to customer needs.

Remember the days when every health food customer had a predictable shopping list—granola, whole-grain bread, tofu and seasonal produce? Those days are over. Today, health food customers are from all manner of backgrounds, but there are still shoppers who have never stepped foot in your store. They can best be described as the Coke and Cocoa Puffs consumers, and are as comfortable in your store as a cat in the bathtub.

So how do you attract a mainstream customer—one who knows every big consumer packaged-good brand in the world but has never crossed the threshold of your store? It takes a gentle and playful hand, as well as careful consideration of what motivates and ails your customers.

How do I know? While I personally shop in natural foods stores, I used to develop food products for conventional manufacturers—what some of you may call the dark side. In recent years, I’ve been actively dragging many of my clients, some kicking and screaming, into your world.

From my experience, many shoppers get “it” when they experience a major lifestyle change. For some it might be expecting a baby, or for the less fortunate, it’s when they are faced with a chronic illness. Almost instantly, these Cocoa Puffs shoppers are more receptive to health and wellness messages. Even more importantly, their price sensitivity decreases. Sticker shock— a major reason some avoid your store—becomes a nonissue.

The key to reeling these shoppers in is to be a solution provider. The key to keeping them is to form relationships.  Retailers, whether traditional or niche, large or small, have three potential shopper interactions: products, services and relationships. A focus merely on products turns the engagement into a price-sensitive commodities game called value. Conversely, a focus on close-knit customer service opens the door to a priceless virtue called values.

Teach employees to be educators

When the relationship is true, shoppers are loyal evangelists who will give you the benefit of the doubt in good times and bad. How do you do this? First, treat your customers like Facebook friends. I am talking about more than just a computer program. Case in point is the Monrovia, Calif.-based chain Trader Joe’s. Nearly 300,000 fans, who are all talking about what’s on their mind and what’s in their grocery cart, manage Trader Joe’s Facebook page. Your store can easily be a microcosm of the same phenomenon by taking advantage of technology.

Virtual friendships are valuable and necessary, but the most lasting relationships come from your strongest brand—your employees. Yes, your store is a brand, but employees are an even bigger brand. By teaching your staff to turn every interaction into a “wow” moment, you will achieve what the mainstream cannot—educating over “ad-ucating.”

While natural products stores don’t get the same push from mass advertising or “ad-ucating” as do mass grocers, your employees can pull customers into the store one interaction at a time. For instance, when your staff teaches new customers why your store doesn’t allow “bad stuff” like trans fats or MSG, and why your store cares enough to focus on the “good stuff” like antioxidants, fiber, omega-3s and vitamin D, even the newest of healthy shoppers will come back time and again.

Remember that mainstream grocers attract shoppers, not customers. A shopper seeks bargains, but a customer makes it a “custom” or “habit” to be at your store. You can charm every shopper and transform him or her into a customer with great service and by staying involved in your community. Being a good neighbor attracts loyal customers, and listening to their needs attracts lifelong bonds. I guarantee that large grocers cannot meet even one of these values.

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