Natural Foods Merchandiser

Some TLC for the PC aisle can aid sales

Sometimes the health and beauty aids aisle can seem like a valley of lost souls. Customers wander through with the awed look of a yokel in a city, the names of ingredients like a foreign language, the myriad of options like riddles. No wonder many people who buy natural foods balk at natural health and beauty products.

As few as one in 20 natural channel customers shop the personal care section, according to Kent Spalding, principle at The Touch Agency, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based consumer and trade marketing firm with a focus on the naturals industry. In comparison, 55 percent of shoppers shop personal care in conventional groceries. This is a huge lost opportunity for naturals retailers. Morris Shriftman, a 36-year natural products industry veteran and senior vice president of marketing for Avalon Natural Products, points out that a retailer would have to sell about three boxes of cereal to make the same profit margin as one jar of face cream. Beauty products, he says, often provide the highest profit margins in the store.

Most small retailers would like to improve their HABA section but can't afford to invest in big changes. Ideally every retailer would be able to hire someone specifically for the HABA department, someone who knows how to ask the right questions and how to lead the shopper to the right product. Fortunately, we've uncovered some low-cost ways to improve your HABA section.

Nix the onesy-twosies
Carol Phillips is the creative director of Encompass One Marketing Group Inc., and a self-described retailing diva. "When I go in as a consumer and look at health and beauty products, what I see is that a lot of the brands are not known to the consumer. I think a lot of retailers pick too many products and there are too many onesy-twosies on the shelf. There is no brand recognition and no brand presence," says Phillips.

The problem with having only one or two products from each brand is that the customer is faced with dozens of different products, all claiming to fulfill the same basic function. Shriftman points out that many lines of cosmetics and health are designed to work together. "You've got a cleanser, a toner, a moisturizer and remedies. If you carry a beauty system, then you've got multiple sales and satisfied customers." A small retailer should find a few dependable lines of HABA products and then stock up on those. According to Shriftman, 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of items. "Phase out the other 80 percent of those items that don't sell and increase the depth of the lines that do sell," he says. Shriftman also suggests double- or triple-facing your best-selling products, putting two or three rows of that product on the shelf. "This creates a perceived value to the customer and increases sales."

Educate your consumers
The key to getting your customers to try new products is showing why and how natural products benefit them. Shriftman stresses that many people who buy natural foods don't believe that there is a difference between conventional and natural HABA products. However, there is often a big difference in the safety of HABA products. For instance, parabens, which interrupt the endocrine system and have been found in breast milk, are a common preservative found in cosmetics. This and other information about the safety of cosmetics can be found at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,

"Signage is big, big, big," says Phillips. "Why is this brand better? What's different about it?" A shelf talker—a sign that informs customers about a brand or product—can hang right on the shelf and doesn't take up any shelf space. It should be eye-catching, informative and able to answer some common questions about the product. Signage, like other marketing tools, is more effective if there is more than one item from the brand on the shelf.

Educating your customer is where small investments can go a long way. If you cannot pay for a HABA expert to be on staff, use a video or DVD player. Phillips suggests having a screen right in the aisle. A program that tells the story of a brand or a certain ingredient might interest a consumer and give him or her a reason to try a new product.

Another educational technique is to hold a class or clinic in your store to promote a certain natural product line or personal care technique. This could be something that you learn and then teach, or you could hire a professional for the day. You could also look into a staff-training program. Once a week or once a month hold a training day or afternoon for your staff so they can learn about the products you carry. Again this can be something you pass on to them, or it may be helpful to hire a professional.

Jill Price Marshall, public relations manager of Dr. Hauschka Skin Care Inc., says retailers should keep one thing in mind when comparing natural products stores with traditional stores: The HABA products found in a traditional store are highly advertised and recognizable on a national or even international basis, which translates into consumer trust. "Natural HABA product companies tend to invest their resources in maintaining standards of purity and quality and sustainability as opposed to mass marketing," Marshall says. Natural foods stores have an opportunity that conventional stores do not to educate their staff about the product lines and then actively pass that knowledge on to consumers, she adds.

Samples and testers
According to Phillips, samples can be very effective if used as part of a demonstration or lesson. Phillips explains that with beauty products, "unless it's an instant smell-good," samples don't work well because you need a two- to three-month window to see any results. "A sample can be used and should be used, but not as an 'Oh, by the way, thrown in the bag type' thing." If you hold an event you can use your samples in a goody bag or as part of the demonstration. If the shopper buys three of a particular brand's products then they should get a sample that complements what they're buying. Make sure testers are available, easy to locate and clean. Provide cotton swabs and tissues where they are needed.

What does the store look like? Is your lighting flattering? Do you have informative displays like shelf talkers or a recorded program? Does the consumer see a barrage of products or a carefully selected line? What is your staff saying? Are they informed or merely polite? All of these factors contribute to a successful, helpful and profitable HABA aisle.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 116

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