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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Vital ways to cultivate delighted customers

The Practical Manager

I addressed the foundations of the topic "Cultivating Delighted Customers" in an article in the March issue of The Natural Foods Merchandiser. We walked through the four basic steps to cultivate customers who are excited about shopping at your store. The process involves Initiation, Involvement, Affinity and Devotion. (To read the earlier article, click here.) I've been privileged to address this topic at several industry shows and conventions since then, and in the process I've discovered that staffing and education are two additional matters that are vital in the quest to cultivate delighted customers.

How much of your store's personality and reputation comes from staffing? True, you are known in the community you serve by what you carry, how you market your business, and what your prices and policies are—just as a local restaurant is. And just like that restaurant, your staff has a big impact on your repeat business.

I take several out-of-town trips almost every month, and work or teach a lot when I am home. My wife and I find that we eat out a lot, and we've observed the same thing on quite a few occasions: "I really like the food there, but their service is so bad that I'd rather go somewhere else." If some of your customers were having thoughts like this about your store—and I am sure they have other choices about where to buy natural and organic products—would your staff tip the balance in your favor or in favor of your competition?

Remember that your staff training can develop employees' skills, but it can't improve attitude. Joe Hoyt, director of operations at AKiN's Natural Foods Market in Tulsa, Okla., says, "I can teach a monkey to run a cash register, but I can't teach him to care." That's why it's important to hire the right attitude and train to develop skills.

One of the many great things about natural products consumers is that they are hungry for information. They are readers—of books, magazines, Web sites, literature, labels and everything else. Providing educational material in your store is a must to ensure you are in tune with your customers.

First, be sure to start with your staff. Most of your employees are going to want to learn more about what you carry, as this will most likely be information about products they are already using. Educating your employees is a great investment in the education of your customers. Many brands today provide top-notch material for educating your staff. A lot of this is online at no cost. Two sites that are well worth checking out that focus on products, rather than brands, are Albert's Organics,, and Lily of the Desert's new Aloe University at

You can build on educating your staff by being sure that you present quality third-party material to your customers. Are you carrying the best health-oriented magazines in your store? Are you using good literature pieces and programs? Do you carry books? Beyond this, are you taking advantage of available consumer lecturers from your key vendors? There are many good speakers who communicate well with consumers in our industry today. If you can establish your store as a center of information, people will frequent your door. (Click here for information on the legalities of in-store information.)

I will be leading a seminar on this topic at Natural Products Expo East, sponsored by Delicious Living magazine, and I'd love to have you join me in Room 327 of the Baltimore Convention Center on Friday, Oct. 6 at 3 p.m.

Bill Crawford, director of retail custom programs at New Hope Natural Media, spent 12 years on the management team of a major natural products chain. Contact him at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 10/p. 32

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