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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Pandemic platforms: Natural's core values will move us forward

Christine Kapperman
As if a hurricane, tornado or wildfire struck, we must consider new ways of rebuilding after the COVID-19 crisis ebbs.

America has not opened for business as usual. To think normal has returned—or ever will—is but a dream, and one I wouldn’t want to happen anyway.

Expecting a return to pre-pandemic or new everyday normal business is not a strategy for success. Thinking of rebuilding, just as might need to occur after a hurricane, a tornado or a wildfire, is a more apt approach to these times.

We’ve pivoted under duress. We’ve dealt with the stress (even as uncertainty remains). Now we’ve gotta clean up the mess. It’s slow; it’s steady; and, hopefully, we rebuild better for our communities and our businesses to withstand the next storm.

We’re not even out of this one yet.

Natural products retailers are good at this. We know our communities and we know ourselves as we connect to the core values that built the natural products industry and will rebuild it and our world going forward.

Just consider Willy Street Co-op’s story. It’s one that every natural retailer has written one day at a time through this very long year.

Willy Street’s leadership dove into disaster planning as the pandemic itself unfolded. Safety of staff and shoppers stood at the forefront as supply challenges emerged. So far this year, the retailer has experienced record sales and unsettling foot traffic declines. The team amped up online offerings with a thirtyfold service increase. And always a community builder, Willy Street also increased services to those in need. Willy Street Co-op is all of us.

As the fourth quarter stands just about a month away, it’s a time of review and of expectation for the coming year. We have lived unimaginable stories; now we must consider the lessons and map our way forward.

Retail will change, but keeping education and experience at the fore in store and beyond remains important.

Consumers will change, too. Early research points to more home cooking (and gardening) likely to stick as will rising environmental and health awareness. Natural retailers are primed to help advance these causes in 2021 and beyond. Be sure to build on this and let your community know that you do.

Not one solution fits all retailers as natural products stores range from supplement stores of less than 1,000 square feet to 20,000-plus square-foot natural grocery stores. But as our communities find their way forward, as customers settle into new ways and we as business leaders plan for the near term and next year, these broad considerations are sure to be at play. Brainstorm the specifics for your market to bake them into your strategy.

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