It’s a problem affecting people of all ages. It hinders a good night’s sleep. It contributes to stress and anxiety. And it can even lead to a slew of additional complications from eye strain to decreased cognitive performance. "Being hooked on our cellphones—being plugged in and available all the time—is a pretty significant health issue," says Greg Horn, former CEO of GNC and author of Living Well. "The good news is that the strength of the natural retail channel is its ability to educate highly motivated shoppers who are concerned about this issue, but may not be concerned enough to talk to their doctor about it."
Here are just a few ways stores can help their shoppers unplug for better health, and examples from retailers who are harnessing creative tactics to make a difference in their communities.
Encourage getting out into nature
Case Study: Good Harvest Market, Pewaukee, Wisconsin
Good Harvest Market has served its community since 2005 by offering natural, organic and sustainable foods. But its new location, which opened in 2015 and includes a 17-acre nature conservancy, takes holistic wellness to a whole new level.
The store’s cafe features a double-deck, so customers can overlook the conservancy from two levels of patio, explains marketing director Renee Scheer. And because it’s a family-friendly space, people of all ages—from kids to seniors—take advantage. "People can come and relax and have a nice meal, but it’s also not uncommon for people to grab an Adirondack chair and just relax in this beautiful space and enjoy the wildlife," she adds. "It’s about unplugging, chilling and just centering."
So far, the store has utilized the space for yoga classes and bird feeding. But big plans are in the works to build a walkway so locals can access the walking, hiking and biking trail that sits at the rear of the 17 acres. If you ask store owner Joe Nolan, the conservancy also holds potential for some community education. "We certainly don’t want to compete with our local farmers by growing our own food," he says, "but it might be nice to have a living laboratory or greenhouse where we could teach the community about how food grows."
The bottom line is that Nolan wanted to secure this space for future generations and, in the meantime, bring unique health benefits to his community that can’t be found on a store shelf. "It’s about the relaxation of walking in nature. It’s about listening to the birds and watching the wind blow through the trees and leaves," he says. "We all need a green space."
Case study: Wheatsville Food Co-op, Austin, Texas
Educational events are undoubtedly valuable, but there’s also something to be said for events that bring locals out into the community to unplug and just have a good time together so they can focus on their friends and neighbors—and not their phones.
Every year, Wheatsville Food Co-op sponsors a free marching band festival called Honk!TX, "simply because it helps people get together in public spaces and have a good time," says brand manager Raquel Dadomo. "You can’t go to this festival without moving—you are going to shake your butt! It really knits the community together." The marching bands have even entered the store to perform, which spices up any shopping trip with a dose of whimsy.
The store also participates in South By Southwest, which used to bleed into all the city’s neighborhoods but in recent years has centralized downtown. To bring locals out, Wheatsville Food Co-op brought the music to where people live, from a steel drum tutorial to an improv rapper.
"A lot of our shoppers will tell us, I come here when I’m feeling upset or I’ve had a bad day because people are so friendly here and I feel so welcome that it makes me feel good again—we get that a lot," Dadomo says. "Our goal has always been to be the friendliest store in town. And so it’s very important for us to knit the community together and be friendly and fun."
Merchandise and manage with a mission
Case study: Pharmaca, Boulder, Colorado
"So many of our customers come in looking for sleep and stress relief solutions—with everyone’s busy lives, it’s easy to feel maxed out," says Pharmaca’s vice president of marketing, Laura Coblentz. "And the high levels of stress that come with being connected to our phones all the time, whether to work or our families, can take a serious toll on the body."
That’s why Pharmaca launched a new event in each of its 29 stores this April called Find Your Zen: Better Sleep & Stress Relief. Shoppers were able to learn about natural ways to reduce the effects of stress on the body and improve sleep quality. Practitioners recommended herbs and supplements that could tackle specific concerns, but shoppers also learned about the benefits of aromatherapy and even got a relaxing chair massage in-store.
When it comes to merchandising, Pharmaca does so with an eye to unplugging. At the pharmacy counter, "comfy chairs and a free cup of tea make even waiting for a prescription a stress-free experience," says Coblentz. And all relaxation products are merchandised together on the shelf, "including candles, hot/cold wraps and aromatherapy," she adds. "It’s meant to be a one-stop shop for pampering and stress relief."
Coblentz says that putting people at ease has always been a part of Pharmaca’s mission, and that extends to its own employees. The store offers staff a "wellness benefit" which reimburses them for phone-free stress-busters like gym memberships and massages.