Scott Nash attributes the success of My Organic Market to a mixture of serendipity and sound business sense. What started in 1987 as a small organic food delivery and mail-order company operating out of his mom?s garage has become a successful three-store operation with 8,000 weekly customers.
?Part of it was being in the right place at the right time. I grew as the industry did,? says Nash, who started My Organic Market (affectionately called MOM by customers) at the age of 22. ?Part of it was that I worked hard and took a lot of risks.?
Nash is still a risk taker and is working hard to aggressively expand the number of stores from three to 14 by 2014. In 1998, he doubled the size of the original Rockville, Md., location. In 2000, Nash opened a store in College Park, Md., even though real estate experts advised against it. The location was two miles away from Nash?s home, and he was convinced he knew more about the area than the experts. It now grosses more revenue per square foot than the other two stores. In 2002, Nash opened a third location in an economically depressed area in Alexandria, Va. Sales tripled during the first year.
Nash?s entrepreneurial spirit is most evident when he talks about Whole Foods. ?The most heated competition in upscale foods in the world sits right here,? he says, referring to the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area, where there are 16 Whole Foods and nine Trader Joe?s. True to his enterprising spirit, Nash sees the presence of the two as a source of opportunity rather than worry. He ascribes the growth of his store in part to the way in which Whole Foods has expanded the natural foods industry. For Nash, it?s a case where capitalism has increased consumer awareness and choice.
?They really educate people from the mainstream market, and they spend a lot of money to do that,? he says. ?Their focus is to take business away from conventional markets. We don?t have to do that. Whole Foods does it for us.?
Nash says, however, that he is not in direct competition with the natural foods giant. He describes Whole Foods as an entry point for many of his customers, the place where they first learn about the benefits of natural and organic products. When those people start looking for a smaller, friendlier and less expensive store, says Nash, they turn to My Organic Market.
As for conventional stores, Nash hardly gives them a second thought. ?Our customers are really living and breathing the whole organic foods thing,? he says. ?Safeway?s just not going to cut it for them.?
The layout of the three stores reflects Nash?s niche-within-a-niche philosophy. The stores are designed with the organic foods devot?e, not the crossover shopper, in mind. There is no deli, no salad bar, no caf? and no forest of flowers. Instead, an extensive, entirely organic produce section anchors the stores. ?Most of our decisions are based on the assumption that our typical customers, our best customers, do a lot of food prep in their homes,? says Nash, who adds that MOM?s typical customers are middle-aged people, with kids, who plan their meals. They are not, he continues, people who stop in after work to buy a prepared gourmet dinner.
This minimalist yet purposeful approach to products is reflected in MOM?s advertising and marketing strategy, which relies almost entirely on word of mouth. ?I?ve always believed that the best advertising and marketing is to run a good business,? Nash says. ?People are very enthusiastic about being healthy. So they just tell their friends.?
Another way MOM has built its reputation is through its dedication to the environment. In addition to its recycling programs and community donations, which are typical of many natural foods stores, My Organic Market will switch over completely to wind power in the next year, and the stores? employees are rewarded for buying hybrid cars.
But while Nash is obviously a huge proponent of organic food and the environment, he also knows that it sells. Ultimately, he says, it?s his customers who decide what he does and does not carry in his stores. ?It?s a win-win for sure. We conserve the environment and people like us for it,? he says. ?I have no idea why other businesses don?t do it.?
O?rya Hyde-Keller is a free-lance writer in Madison, Wis.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 150