Natural Foods Merchandiser

S'Mart Approach to Wooing Customers

When customers enter any of the three Nutrition S'Mart stores in Florida, they are immediately made to feel welcome. "We have a country store feel," says owner Ed Gruvman. At all of his venues, an employee is stationed near the front door to offer greetings, answer questions and point out a nearby table filled with food samples and complimentary coffee. Making customers feel at home is Gruvman's top priority. That, in addition to familiarizing consumers with the breadth of healthful foods he stocks in his stores.

In fact, if someone asks a question about anything on his stores' shelves, Gruvman will break open the package and offer a sample. "My business is all about making my customers happy," he says.

There are many ways to please, and Nutrition S'Mart tries them all. For one, Gruvman insists that his stores be kept immaculate. "You can eat off my floors," he says. For another, he keeps his prices affordable through many means—volume discounts passed on to consumers, seasonal promotions and a multitude of coupons at the store and on his Web site.

His goal? "We want to change people's perceptions of what it means to shop, and what it costs to shop, in a health food store," he says.

The stores, all at 11,000 square feet, have ample room for inventory and include a 100 percent organic produce section, refrigerated and frozen foods, bulk bins and aisles of packaged goods, supplements, and health and beauty items. The Pembroke Pines store has a juice bar; Gruvman hopes to unveil the same feature in the other two stores in the future.

His stores also reflect Gruvman's attention to the fun factor of shopping. Nutrition S'Mart is a festive place, not just on a day-to-day basis, with regular—and spontaneous—sampling and frequent customer appreciation days, but also with quarterly extravaganza-style celebrations that pack the stores. "We were blown away by the customer turnout for the store birthday parties just held in each location," he says. At the Pembroke Pines site, 2,500 showed up for the day of tastings, cooking demonstrations, talks from local healers and fitness experts, and activities for kids, including a petting zoo. And there were prizes—one awarded every 15 minutes—which included a color television, a bicycle and baskets of products.

With these regular events, Gruvman aims to promote a theme—September, for instance, as organic harvest month—by marshaling all the available resources, both people and products. Employees gear up for these events, and their energy and excitement make the day as much a party as a marketing tool. Gruvman calls upon vendors to supply in-store demos and samples for taste testing—and then aggressively promotes products in-store, on the company Web site and via e-mail to customers. He also actively seeks community participation in his events, inviting qualified experts and healers to discuss how what they do benefits mind, body and spirit.

Education is a critical piece of how Gruvman promotes his outlets. He understands the unease a person not well-versed in health products might feel when walking into a Nutrition S'Mart for the first time. So in addition to informing his regulars, he targets those people who know they should eat healthier but don't know where to begin, what to buy and how to prepare unfamiliar foods. "Lack of knowledge is a big issue," Gruvman says. "People want to learn, and we try to make that easy for them." For example, each Nutrition S'Mart has a licensed nutritionist on staff to answer questions and be available, for a fee, for private consultations.

Nutrition S'Mart also serves its customers with ongoing talks on wellness and free cooking classes on such topics as preparing vegetarian or macrobiotic meals. The stores' Web site offers a plethora of information: news, recipes and information on herbs, supplements, homeopathy and alternative medicine, and medical conditions, as well as providing links to other sources of health-related research, such as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Food and Drug Association. Customers also have the option of signing up for an e-mail newsletter for even more up-to-date communication on store and health news.

Community involvement is another ingredient of Nutrition S'Mart's success. Employees regularly go out into the community—to assisted living facilities, churches, synagogues and senior centers—to give talks. "We go to every conceivable venue to spread the word," Gruvman says.

And he focuses on customers-in-training with mini shopping carts in store to help children participate in the shopping experience, and staff go into schools to give talks about health and nutrition.

"We go into public and private schools armed with samples of stuff for kids to try—foods that they like, maybe healthy potato chips, nutrition bars or vitamin C lollipops," explains Gruvman.

Starting this fall, Gruvman will reach out to elementary school-aged kids with a newsletter offering news, arts and crafts, product information and educational features inviting their active participation. "We'll ask kids to answer some questions to show that they've read a certain story, and then we'll offer a goody bag as a reward," Gruvman says. Big prizes will be offered as well, such as a year's worth of organic apples or children's vitamins, an enticement as appealing to adults as to their children.

Nutrition S'Mart
Owner: Ed Gruvman
First store opened: 1996
12594 Pines Blvd.
Pembroke Pines, FL 33027

14847 N. Dale Mabry Hwy.
Tampa, FL 33618

4155B Northlake Blvd.
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410

Web site:
Retail space: 11,000 square feet per store
Employees: 85
Annual sales: In excess of $12 million
Best-seller: Supplements

Barbara Hey is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 7/p. 50

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