Freedom Of Choice

“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~ Thomas Jefferson (1762-1821), Third President of the USA, author of the Declaration of Independence

Reading TJ’s quote, it seems government involvement deciding how we eat or choose our medicine is not a new concern.

As I write this article, I read Health Canada (HC) has extended the March 1 deadline for enforcement to June 1st 2011. Sure, we may get further extensions, but the fact remains HC plans to unfairly regulate many of our safe and effective products. This means if they follow through, as of June 1, no supplier can ship a NHP without an EN or NPN. And six months later, no retailer can sell a product without either EN or NPN. When I spoke to a small group of about 12 suppliers, we estimated a loss in retail sales of approximately $80 million dollars. This is based on products which have yet to receive a NPN or EN. Most of the products have been sold safely for many years but HC has deemed them unworthy of their stamp of approval.

As an industry, we have a responsibility to maintain the vitality of the health food store community and consumer access to NHPs. I believe if we do not take the current actions by Health Canada seriously, the negative impact will go far beyond our own business. It will be felt by EVERYONE who chooses the NHP lifestyle.

Those of us in the industry are a minority compared to those who choose to use natural health products as part of their everyday life. People who use NHPs come from all walks of life and their personal natural lifestyle regimes vary considerably. They also comprise 71 per cent of Canadians.

Though we have differences in how we view the natural food business, I think our greatest connection is our sameness. Yes, we sell different products –

What is Health Canada’s number one concern?

Here are a few things to consider as we anticipate what some people are concerned could ruin the health food retail business and many suppliers business. [I realize there are those in our industry who see the regulations as a good thing so they need not read any further].

Health Canada states their # 1 concern is the safety of Canadians. Remember this statement.

  • Health Canada will still allow cigarettes to be sold June 1 2011.
  • Health Canada will still allow alcohol to be sold June 1 2011.
  • Health Canada will still allow GMO foods to be sold June 1 2011 even though the science is questionable, the safety is unproven and they do not require GMO foods to be mentioned on the label.
  • Health Canada will still allow prescription drugs to be sold that are proven to have caused death after June 1 2011. Now, I am sure they do save lives however they are also the number three killer of Canadians.
  • Health Canada will still promote flu shots after June 1 2011 even though there is evidence showing the flu shot does not work. Why is HC promoting products anyway?
  • Health Canada will still allow artificial sweeteners considered to have side effects to be used indiscriminately after June 1 2011.
  • Health Canada told a prominent Toronto health food store that it is ‘illegal’ to sell baked goods made with Stevia.
  • Health Canada will still allow ‘junk food’ after June 1 2011 and allow the epidemic of obesity and diabetes caused by ‘junk food’ to flourish.
  • Health Canada will still not allow Kava, Ephedra or Tryptophan to be sold after June 1 2011 even though the ‘concerns’ about safety were very suspect and have since been proven to be safe and effective. Yet as stated above, prescription drugs proven to cause death are still being prescribed daily.
  • Health Canada will allow Canadians to buy either on line or through over border shopping ‘illegal’ NHPs for their personal use. Support Canadian economy, shop in the USA!
  • In spite of many questions about the safety of fluoride, mercury, irradiation, etc these still will be allowed beyond June 1 2011.
  • Toxic chemicals will still be used on crops after June 1 2011.

Mass Tequila

Back in 1975 when I had my first store, health food was seen as a novelty and rarely taken too seriously. Mind you I didn’t take myself too seriously either which probably helped me survive. I remember discussing back then with other health “freaks” how our goal was to see this industry [I doubt we used the word industry] be the main food choice for all of Canada. Perhaps these delusional ideas were brought on by too much Red Zinger tea but hey, even the wildest dreams can come true!

So here we are in 2003, with 51% [or so] Canadians making some daily health related choice, be it supplements, herbs, healthier foods or going to alternative doctors. Now you would think we should all be celebrating as this has created a true industry employing 1000’s of Canadians and adding about $2 billion to the economy! Not to mention the real purpose of helping people lead healthier lives! The unfortunate balance to all this success, at least to some, is the increased competition coming from everywhere we look. Pharmacies, grocery stores, big box stores, internet, mail order, multi-level and even the local convenience store is now competition.

So the big news from the streets are that sales are flattening from the impact of mass market. The concerns are valid, but let’s not dwell on what we cannot change. We must focus on improving our business.

Let’s look at what created our past selling success:

The media – Up until recently we had a few years of great national media exposure. St. John’s Wort, Glucosamine, Gingko, Echinacea, DHEA [oops] and melatonin [oops again] and others had great media that sent new customers buying natural products. Stats said that 50% of people using supplements began in the past 3 years. So what has happened? We no longer seem to be the darling of the media and there has been bad press. What to do? Get out into your local community [this is where your customers live] and create your own positive, health related media message that will give your community confidence in the quality and benefits of shopping in your store. There are many ways to attract customers. I suggest [prescribe] you read Guerilla Marketing. There are 100 inexpensive ways to increase your business and position your self in the community in this book.

New Stores - New stores are popping up everywhere! The pie is split among more stores. Make sure you and your customers know what you do best. And make sure that this product or service will have enough interest to make you a profit. Create a clear picture of how you want to see your store positioned in your community. Then create a step-by-step plan of action to accomplish your goals. Make sure everyone, from your employees, suppliers and customers are clear on your reason for being in business. There are books that will give you an understanding of how to set and accomplish goals. If you find your business is faltering, you must take the time to focus all your attention on creating your plan and how you will make it happen so you can turn around your store. There are no easy fixes!

Know the competition - If you think you are losing business to a particular store go and find out what they are doing. You may find whether your fears are unjustified or if there is a real reason for concern. Perhaps a small adjustment will correct things. Do not sit back and complain, use that energy to get busy and keep your business fresh. Also do not drop a good selling product only because it goes to mass. Why encourage your customers to shop elsewhere? Mass sells individual proven sellers, a good natural retailer will sell a lifestyle. The customer may come in to buy a popular mass product i.e. glucosamine, and you can sell them glucosamine, a book on arthritis, show them other suggested products from “Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing” and give the person a reason to come back. In time that person if treated with great service, will shop your entire store.

Leave no room for chance – Have a clear plan and focus!

Know your customer

Do not assume anyone in your buying community knows you exist

Train yourself and staff on creating extraordinary customer service

Tell your customers you exist

Keep your store looking new and well merchandised

Survey your customers and ask them what they want

Reward your staff for increasing your business

Work close with suppliers

Know your competition

Most importantly, HAVE FUN!!!!!

I understand the changes are coming faster than any of us probably feel comfortable with. You must be aggressively interested in the success of your business. Remember it costs 5 times as much to attract a new customer than to keep a current one.

8 areas you must know in order to be competitive:

This information can be found in “Predatatory Marketing” by C. Britt Beemer, buy it and read it!

People come to your store for advice. You and your staff must be the best educated and best information provider for health in your community. Mass merchants cannot duplicate this easily.

Your store offers the best selection. Sure mass merchants sell top sellers but you must have the best selection of key product categories and let your community know. This can include best herbal, vitamin, sports nutrition, natural body care, organic foods, information or whatever as long as it is true.

Your store provides a fast checkout. Saving time is an added value. Big box stores are known for long lines so if customers know they can get out easily they will prefer shopping with you.

You give the customer convenient delivery to their home or car – without hassle. Customers value this service.

There is an easy return policy. No questions asked if a product is returned within a reasonable length of time. Remember over the long-term life of a satisfied customer they will spend $1000 in your store. Don’t discourage their business over one purchase besides your suppliers should stand behind the products too.

Your store can charge a higher price, but it must be reasonable. Customers know there is a premium to shop at a small, specialized store. They are willing to pay more for added value but not to be gouged.

Acknowledge your customers. People feel important when they are recognized by name. This personal touch is not available at big box stores. Have your staff wear name tags, make it policy to know customers names and truly care and be grateful for every customer who shops in your store.

After leaving your store the customer enjoys an ongoing relationship. Whether a phone call, a personal note, or some other contact after the sale, customers appreciate having a personal relationship with small business owners and the staff.

The coming decades will be golden years for our industry as the aging population attempts to maintain their youth. Find your position in your community. Own it and build on it through continually improving your service to each and every customer who shops your store.

Look Good – Sell Better

It has been proven through research that a first time shopper will size up your store and make very strong, often long lasting impressions of your store in the first 8 seconds.

95% of the first impression you make on a customer is determined by the way you dress!!! The way you dress represents the impression a customer will have of your store!!

So what to do in the first 8 seconds:

You must be presentable to the main shoppers who come into your store. These are generally women 35-50 and men and women 50 plus. [Generally the rule of thumb is dress just a notch above your regular customer].

Perception is a key part of selling. If you look the part the customer already ‘assumes” you know what you are talking about.

I still go into stores and see dirty running shoes, jeans and shirts that look like they have never seen an iron. How can you be dressed like this and expect a women going through menopause, who has had little results from her doctor, the prescriptions have not helped from her pharmacist, she hears that “the local health store may have safe products that help”, and her first encounter is a person dressed like a warehouse worker? No offence to warehouse workers, I spent many years working manual labor, and I dressed the part for that job but in retail sales you MUST DRESS TO IMPRESS YOUR CUSTOMER. Not to impress some current fad or select group of “cool” customers. If you want to give healthy advice to people about what to buy, you must look like the kind of person that your customer is accustom to taking healthy advice from.

I did training once to a major health food store and the staff dressed as if they were competing in the funkiest dress contest. I mentioned how by dressing differently they could increase sales…then after work on their own time dress as they want. They said it could never be enforced…. HUH?! Who is running the store? Do you think the people at MacDonald’s have a choice? Do the pharmacists? NO! They dress to create a specific image to their customers. I hope I made this point clear!! This one simple action can have a major impact on your sales and long-term credibility.

I can hear some of you saying it is not the clothes that make the person but the person inside the clothes. I couldn’t agree more however you may never get to express how wonderful you are unless you look wonderful in your customer’s eyes.

So what do you wear? I actually prefer a look that is consistent with all the staff so they are easily recognized from the customers. [Remember name tags] Brainstorm with your staff, but in the end make sure you have a policy that states clearly what is acceptable and what is not. I remember when I had a small chain of vitamin stores in the late 70s. My partner and I were having a meeting when I made a joke that we all should dress like pharmacists in a smock. He loved the idea and went out and bought smocks for the entire staff. As I got ready for my first day in my smock I was preparing for laughter and a good ribbing from my customers…. much to my surprise the only response I got was a resounding increase in customer perception, I could “FEEL” the difference it made. Customers seemed to think I was wiser somehow? Go figure! The bottom line is it worked! And yes some staff we hired felt uncomfortable at first but in time they became used to it and actually many preferred it, as they no longer had to figure out what to wear each day.

Consider reading John Molloy’s ‘New Dress for Success’.

Notes from “Advanced Selling Strategies’ by Brian Tracy:

  • A general rule for buying clothing is to pay twice as much money and get half as many clothes.
  • Research has found that today’s highest earning salespeople dress in such a way their customer takes them serious at first glance.
  • 84% of executives said they would not promote a man who wore scuffed or unshined shoes. So much for being good at your job.
  • Many studies show that facial hair is a detriment to success in any public profession. It does not mean you cannot be successful just you could be far more successful if you were clean shaven.

Would you trust a mechanic who wore a 3-piece suit and had clean fingernails?

During the first 8 seconds your store is the stage, your customers are the audience and the spotlight is on you……….

Dress to sell!!!

Selling vs. Clerking

Selling Vs Clerking

I have a simple mind and the simpler a concept is, the easier it is for me to understand it. The challenge is to take a simple concept and put it in words.

While preparing a talk recently for a group of health food retailers, I had this thought: Do you, as a retailer, “sell” products or do you just “clerk” them? I mean, do you interact with the customer while recommending a specific product? In other words, do you take an active part in the sale, or does the customer walk in, pick up the product, pay, then leave (I call this clerking).

From my experience, most health food retailers are specialty retailers and do not have the luxury of carrying every product available. Unlike the big mass, drug and grocery outlets, which can run their businesses with little customer interaction and clerk their products, I think the specialty health retailer needs to put more focus on selling and not just clerking products.

I understand there are challenges finding staff who can sell and not just clerk products. Even so, I think to continually improve your store’s profit and build customer loyalty, you will need to focus on ways to improve your selling techniques.

I still speak to retailers who are concerned after seeing many popular products being sold outside the “health food store only” scenario. With so many glucosamine’s, echinacea’s, vitamin brands, soy milks, energy bars, etc, on the market, retailers are asking, “Does the consumer need this many products? And which ones to carry?”

As a retailer, I realize it must be overwhelming as your suppliers come out with more and more products, you have less and less shelf space and trying to keep up with all the product information becomes an almost impossible task.

This is where selling vs. clerking may help clear up how you look at the products you carry. I suggest you carry products you feel satisfy your customers’ needs. I have never thought it a wise idea to get rid of a product just because it begins to sell in “mass.” This could end up sending your customer and their business to another store.

So, what do you decide to clerk? If it was me, I would clerk those products that result in low profit dollars, products that can be bought anywhere and you sell for convenience, products that get little supplier support to help promote/educate/merchandise, products that are commodities(bread, milk). What products to sell? Sell products that bring you a good profit, products where the supplier helps you promote/educate/merchandise, products from companies that help educate your community through media, lectures, seminars, products that are unique to your specialty store, products you personally believe in or use, products that really benefit the customer, unique products that compliment a clerk product (example: if they buy some bread, ask if they have tried your organic fruit spreads.) I am sure you can easily identify the products you should sell vs. clerk.

Once you identify the products you are going to focus on selling, let your suppliers know, so you can work together to grow those brands to ensure long-term profitable sales.

Current information from the “mass world” of retailing says one trend which is enjoying success has retailers creating close relationships with key suppliers and building strong mutual loyalty. I think this is wise, and there are many suppliers you can work with who are very dedicated to your store.

The bottom line is to sell products that bring customers back to your store and contribute to the profit of your store and clerk everything else.

Here’s a little selling tip:

When I was a retailer, I found one simple statement to help sell higher ticket supplements. As you know, many product categories have a wide price range. Sometimes you know the higher priced product would benefit the customer more, but you have difficulty up-selling them from a low priced product. Something I did that made this easy was to ask the customer this question: “Do you want a therapeutic product or a maintenance product?” I found this immediately separated the products in the different price ranges. Generally, the customer would say they wanted it for therapeutic reasons or mentioned a condition that required a therapeutic potency. I would then suggest the higher priced product and found little resistance to them buying it. If they questioned the price, I mentioned we did sell other products which were lower priced, but these were more of a maintenance dose and although they were good products, they may not give the result the customer was expecting.

Here’s an example:

Customer: “Do you sell acidophilus?”

Salesperson: “Yes, we do. Would you like a therapeutic acidophilus or one for maintenance?”(Ask this as conversation walking to the acidophilus section).

Customer: “Well, I need something for my (fill in the blank) and I heard acidophilus can help.”

Salesperson: “Then, I would recommend a therapeutic acidophilus for (fill in the blank).”
(This is where the salesperson hands the customer a bottle to hold and explains benefits, how to use, etc).

Often, at this point, the customer has already bought the product without questioning the price. But if they decided on the maintenance product, at least they understood the difference between a higher dose, more complete formula and a lower dose regular formula.

Remember, the golden rule to all sales is to only sell products that you would buy if you were in the customer’s shoes.

Maintaining A Strong Retail Immune System

Very few industries are experiencing the type of growth as the Natural Products Industry is. Our window of opportunity is wide open. If we expect to enjoy long-term success, we need to do what we do best now. This requires defining what we do best and maintaining the business.

Focus on your MISSION:

This may seem like a simple exercise. Though most people in business have heard of it, few ever put it into practice. Can you sum up, in a few words why your store exists? Is it because you offer the best organic food selection, employ highly educated staff, serve as a community wellness center? Whatever the purpose is for opening your store[s] each day should be understood by all of your staff and customers and most importantly by yourself!

A way to find if your staff is on side with you is to ask each to write in 25 words or less what they see as the stores mission. This could be done at a staff meeting and from it you could, together, develop a clear mission that has energy, vitality and gives everyone a sense of purpose.

If you do have a mission statement, make sure it is visible. Have it posted in your staff area; make sure you live by it.

Measuring your Success:

Do you know how many customers you average daily? What are your average daily sales? What are your sales goals? What is your breakeven point? How much inventory you should carry? What are your sales by department?

As you can see there are many things to measure and with computers there is easier access to these numbers, take advantage of the technology.

In talking to many stores few can tell me how many customers they get on a given day or what the sales need to be to breakeven. How can you get to where you’re headed if you don’t know where you’re going? This one subject could take an entire article to sum up! I suggest [recommend] you keep a daily summary [not just your cash register receipts tossed in a file] of the daily customer count, your total daily sales, your average customer sale, as well as a running total of daily sales towards your predetermined monthly sales goal.

Every person who works for you should know these numbers, what they mean and how they determine the success of the store and the security of their job. By taking a few minutes each day to review these numbers you can get a feel for how healthy your business is or if there are warning signs to be aware of. For example, your sales may be going up but your customer counts going down [false sense of business growing] or you may have high customer counts but a low average sale consistently with one staff member [this shows a need for training or replacing].

I have found that when everyone knows what the monthly sales goal is [it must be realistic] and there is a reward for reaching it [money works best] that sales goals are reached. Working together towards a common goal ensures success.

Shopping, Naturally

My family’s primary food source since 1973 has been the local natural food store. When I was asked me to interview my wife Brenda for this article I thought it was a great idea considering she now spends about $1000 per month in that store. 

The following are her top reasons for shopping in her store of choice…and you know who you are!!!!

Selection – You must carry organic produce. Organic produce is “in a league of it’s own”!!!! No good selection of organic produce no big purchases from Brenda. Many stores carry a good variety of food items but few have a good organic produce selection. I think this covers both selection and convenience. Also if there is a product she likes to buy regular she would like them to carry it [not have to special order] however if they have a good reason [do not buy from that vendor] she will understand.

Bright and fresh - She likes to go into a store that is bright , she does not like dark stores. She also expects the bread, produce, yogurt and all other short dated perishables to be fresh. If she sees wilted organic produce [see selection for importance of produce] left out it leaves an overall impression on the entire store. She also has a problem with nuts not being in the fridge. She has in her words “fired” stores over their nut situation. [Brenda is actually a very nice person but when she considered high priced nuts left to go rancid on a shelf she became quite indignant!! She even could recall the stores that left their nuts on the shelf].

Returns – She does not expect to be grilled or have to bring in a receipt if a product she brought home ended up not being up to par. She would not complain if there was not good a reason, she knows she spends a lot in the store, she knows her long term business has value so she expects no hassles, so make her happy and she will remember you well. At times she buys bread at her current store that has mold, they never question her, she gets a big apology, new bread and assurances that she let them know if there are any problems and she will be helped. [The greatest opportuntiy to create a long term customer is in how you handle a problem!].

Staff - This is very important as she has, at times, chosen to change her choice of shopping due to poor or inconsistent service. She is the customer who has a full cart when she leaves your store so she expects to be treated with care. She actually expects all customers in a store to be treated well and has the ability to observe everything going on in the store simultaneously. Brenda loves to “communicate” and if you can create a sincere rapport with her there would be no telling what our food bill would be. [aagh]. She would be prime for suggestive selling as she enjoys trying new things. [She just told me her current store figured this out and always is telling [selling] her more.

Owner acknowledgment – I recall back in Vancouver when she regularly shopped at Capers in West Van and Russel Precious [then the owner] would see her and offer to buy her dinner, give her a sample of some new product etc. He really made her “feel” welcome and important. The current store she shops at does the same.

Overall – Brenda and I are grateful for the great stores that sell natural products. We are grateful so many of you work so hard so we can eat so well. We both would like to thank the many stores that have served us over the years [decades] and look forward to enjoying spending more time [and money] with you in the future.

As an aside Brenda called while I was writing this article, she was outside the natural food store with the clerk loading many bags of groceries into her SUV. She just called to remind me to not leave my hockey bag in the back of the vehicle “again”…I will not take this advice lightly!

The Staff of "retail" Life

Over the past few months, I have given three seminars to groups of
 retailers, plus spoken to many of you one-on-one. A topic that came up
 continually was how to find, develop and keep a good strong staff. This is
 not unique to our business, but a challenge in many industries. In this
 article, I hope to give a few suggestions to help.

#1 – Hiring staff

Here is a technique that may help during the hiring
 process. (I will not cover what you legally do in an interview. There are 
books you can buy on this subject)

For every potential employee you interview, take a piece of paper. Make
 three columns, the first with the heading “BE”, the second “DO” and the 
third “HAVE.”

In the BE column, write everything you can about the candidate’s
 “being-ness”. Do they have enthusiasm, interest, and passion for working in
 your store? Do they “look” the part? Do they live a healthy lifestyle? Do 
they have good manners? Do they smile easily?

All your observations toward this part of the interview center around
 whether they have the personality to work in your store. A big criterion is
 that you like the person. Working with people you like makes for a better
 day at work and a better store “atmosphere”. You can train knowledge, but 
it is almost impossible to change a personality. There is a good book,
”The Platinum Rule”, which has a short test that identifies the general
 personality of a person and can help find people who will do well in sales 
and those in accounting.

In the “DO” column, make notes from the questions you ask to determine if
 the candidate can do the job. Ask questions around the specific duties you are hiring them to do. You may also need to give them a test to ensure
 they can do the job. For example, if they are going to work on cash, you
 need to see if they can do simple math for giving proper change. Can they 
calculate discounts, can they lift heavy boxes, do they have product
 knowledge on natural products, can they work weekends or nights etc. This
 part is fairly straight forward, for even if they have a stellar 
personality, but cannot perform the duties required, they would be hard
 pressed to qualify for a position.

Column three, HAVE, requires you to dig deeper for the information. This 
area is usually overlooked or not recognized as important. Here, you look 
at what the person has done with their life. This probably is the most
 important determining factor and, if followed, would result in less 
post-hiring “surprises”. During this part of the interview, focus your
 questions on what they have accomplished in their life. (Remember what a 
person has done in the past often results in what they will do in the 
present…habits determine 90 per cent of a person’s current actions).
 Depending on the age of the person, what has been done will be different. 
As an example, say you have a young person, new to the work force. Ask 
them what their interests are, what outside activities did they take part
 in at school, what activities have they excelled at, piano, sports, church, 
housekeeping, etc. or do they just hang out and expect life to provide for

Or maybe you have a woman who has been out of the work force for 20 
years while she raised three children that have become good citizens in the
 community. I do not have to tell many of you what it takes to raise
 children and survive…next to this, retail is a breeze. Many times, these
 women raised the children while also performing community activities, 
helping at school, and the many other tasks that fall to stay-at-home moms.

Perhaps your are interviewing a retired gentleman who spent 25 years
 working his way up from an entry level retail position to management. He
 may want to still keep active part-time and his previous experience may be
 an asset to your own retail management. I must emphasis the importance of
 this part of the interview again, for it is so important: a person’s past
 actions will almost always determine their present actions.

If you find a person who qualifies in all three areas — BE, DO, HAVE– you 
have a good chance of that person working out.

As a last comment, you also need to review your current staff, as it 
sometimes does not come down to who you have hired — it is who you have
 not “de-hired”.

#2 – Paying Staff

I put a lot of emphasis on the importance of recognizing the fact you are
in the selling business and each person in your store is a salesperson.

In selling natural products there is a fairly high knowledge base required
 and expected from your customers. The challenge has been how to pay your 
staff so they make the extra effort to be more than just a clerk.

I understand that staffing is usually the greatest expense on your profit 
statement. However, staff needs to be recognized as your greatest asset.

Following are the four most common ways of paying your staff,

Base Pay – This is the entry-level pay to work in your store. You need to 
base this on similar retail business in your community. Do not work from 
the premise of how little you can pay but expect by paying a little extra 
you will be able to expect and get extra from the person.

Skill-Base Pay – You need to examine at all the various activities to run
 your store that require extra skill [knowledge] to perform. This could 
include buying, doing the bank deposit, overseeing a department, opening
 and closing, etc. Each function should have a pre-set extra value.
 As an example, you may hire a person at $10 per hour and set down your
 expectations that, after three months, you want them to be able to perform 
additional tasks, each with a pre-determined value. For example, running 
the cash would be worth an extra 30 cents per hour, facing the store 20 
cents, and outstanding customer service could earn them an extra 50 cents
per hour.

At the employee’s three-month review, you could sit down with them and look 
over how they have improved, and increase their pay accordingly. Let’s say
 your next pay level was $1.00 extra and the employee scored an 80 per cent
out of 100 on the tasks you had assigned. Their accomplishments would
 result in an increase of their pay of 80 cents per hour. If at this point 
you felt this person had the skill to take on more responsibility, then you
 could set out more objectives to take them to the next level or you could 
let them know that when they improve in a few areas you would give them an 
extra .20 cents per hour.

I do not want to say in this article what I think are fair wages, for fear
 of the wrath of retailers who pay less. However, I have always paid more 
than the industry average. I know many stores pay minimum wages and it’s no 
wonder they are getting minimum results.

Commission - I understand if you have concerns of paying commission. It
 brings up images of strong-arm tactics and forcing people to sell more than 
a customer needs. Remember the golden rule of sales is to “never sell more
 to a customer than you would buy if in the customers shoes”. Commission is
 really a way of recognizing individual performance. It need not just be
 monetary, but could be in the way of dinner coupons, time off with pay, 
free product from the store, day at a spa or cash. The individual
 performance does not always need to reflect around “closing” a sale but 
could be for a great window display, great floor displays, keeping their
 department very clean, compliments from customers, staying late to help 
during a crisis, etc. You need to come up with creative ways to recognize
 good work and acknowledge this with a reward. People love to be recognized
 for their efforts beyond just the paycheck, so I suggest you look at this.
 My caution with this is you develop a commission [reward] program that
 directs the person towards your business goals and the program is
 consistent and fair.

If you do not have some way of rewarding individual performance I suggest
 you look into it. There are good books on 1,001 ways to reward staff.

One note: to create commissions based on sales, you need good computer data.

Bonus – A bonus program should be a TEAM based reward. This is a way to
recognize all staff when your corporate goals are being met. This can be
 rewarded with other rewards similar to what we mentioned in commissions.
 However, I will focus this on money only. For this, you need accurate 
financial statements, and if you do not have these, please make it priority 
one before doing anything. 

Profit sharing bonus – To survive and thrive requires your business to make 
a profit. By having a profit share program and a clear understanding of how
 each person can contribute to a stronger bottom line will ensure each staff
 member helps you reach your business goals. Generally, an employee should
 be employed for at least one year before profit share kicks in. As an
 example, say a company takes 25 per cent ($30,000) of its pre-tax profit to 
share between all staff. This amount is divided by a few factors but the 
main concept is as follows. Whatever percentage of the total company 
payroll a person takes on a yearly basis, they should be eligible for the
 same percentage of the profit sharing bonus. If an individual makes
 $25,000 per year, and the company annual payroll is $500,000 that person
 receives five per cent of the annual payroll. So that person’s five per
cent of the $30,000 profit would result in a $1,500 bonus.

What this will do is keep your entire staff focused on helping you reach
 your profit goals. It also will discipline you into keeping an accurate and 
timely financial picture of your business. This one addition to your 
business can have a very positive influence.

It is a real fun event when you reach your goals and celebrate the victory. 
If there is one thing that is missing in most retail stores, it is 
celebration for a job well done. I have too often seen an attitude of staff
 being little more than an extension of a cash register and just lucky to
 have a job. Take a look at the sports teams and the mega dollars they make
 and still, when they win a championship, they celebrate and enjoy the 
moment. If you want staff to work beyond “just a job” attitude, put an
 effort into creative ways to recognize and acknowledge your staff when they
 perform beyond “just the job”.

In today’s competitive market, where 80 per cent of healthcare decisions
 are being made by women who base their long term buying decisions on 
relationships and trust you can not afford to have inconsistency in the
 people serving your customers. Remember, how you treat your staff will
 directly relate to how they treat your customers.

Taking a position for the future…NOW!

Forget the past, forget the future and focus on now. Sounds esoteric but with the way the natural industry is going these days we need to take all our creative energies and develop a plan that will see us into the new millennium. Our industry is no longer selling to a funky specialty market we are pretty well mainstream. On one hand we should be pleased as more consumers are being exposed to enjoying healthier lifestyles, but it also means competition has escalated tremendously.

There are decades ahead of consumers who want to stay younger longer by using the products we sell, I think the statistic has 33% of Canadians over 50 by 2005. Who will have lasting success? I think it will be those who are very focused on being the best in a very specific area of their business and create a simple clear dialogue to their customer base that tells the customer this is what we do best …and then they prove it by being the best at it.

I think there will be far less new store openings in the near future though more grocery and drug stores will continue to develop their health sections. This will allow retailers to stake out their territory [8km radius] , look at what service they provide that is unique and profitable then do everything to communicate to their community customer base.

We need to “brand” ourselves as retailers. To the consumer many of our products have been “branded” through their product name as in St. Johns Wort, Glucosamine , Echinacea etc.. Anyone can sell these products and to the general consumer there is little to differentiate one company’s product from another. The manufacturers will be challenged as more and more companies produce same name products to an already confused consumer.

So why think branding? How will this protect you now and in the future?

The concept of a brand was developed so cattle ranchers could identify their cattle from the other ranchers when the cattle were roaming the same country. You need to have your name stick out so the consumer can identify you from all the others selling similar products in your community. [read 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al and Laura Ries]. You need to own a position in the consumers mind so when they hear your stores name [brand] they will immediately think of the unique service you provide.

Some positions you may want to “own” under your store “brand”:

  • Best selection of _________.
  • Leaders in women’s health
  • Sports nutrition experts
  • Most knowledgeable staff
  • The “herbal” store

You get the idea. You cannot be all things to all people. This does not mean you do not sell a selection of other products and services but you have one key part to your business that you are the best, the leader and you are going to dominate your competition. 

4 key points to remember when positioning your store [brand] in your community:

  • You “must” position yourself in your customers mind.
  • Your position should be singular – one simple message.
  • Your position must set you apart from the competition.
  • You cannot be all things to all people – focus on one thing.

Take some time now so you can guarantee yourself a fun and profitable future.

Three do's that DO work

Education, In-store Promotion, Outside Promotion …EASY AS 1,2,3!!

When looking to increase your business, there are 3 key areas that, if given proper attention, will result in improved service and increased sales. I suggest you review each of these with your suppliers the next time you have an appointment to see how they can assist you. I also urge you as owners and management to review them with your staff to get their input.

Education - Our industry has built itself on knowledge and caring. The more exposure we receive the more we will be required to provide accurate and easily understood information. We must always have in place a consistent format to educate our staff and customers. Education can take on many forms but staff training, in-store newsletters, books, magazines and product brochures are the norm. 

Are you taking education beyond the norm?

Are you known as “the” place to go for the most accurate, up-to-date information on natural health products in your community? Can you confidently trust that all of your staff can provide the level of service required to support the variety of consumers who come expecting you to answer their questions? No longer is a HFS just a pill and food store. We sell aromatherapy, sports nutrition, anti-aging skincare, specialty herbal formulas, homeopathy, and more antioxidants than you can shake a free radical at. These products and product categories are becoming very specialized and, while at times it may seem overwhelming, it does offer an opportunity to excel and bring to your customers a level of service that goes way beyond any others in your community.

Suggestions to improve education: I suggest you sit with your staff and brainstorm beyond these few ideas.

Supplier training - The best resource to educate staff is usually the supplier of the product. I often would have the sales rep do a staff training when they come by. If you have a phone that has a speaker the company could do a staff training over the phone. This works well if the company has a key spokesperson that may not be available to come to your store but can educate over the phone.

Consumer talks – Rent a hall, pick a topic, ask a supplier to co-sponsor, make a handout 2 weeks in advance, send a press release to your local paper and see what happens. If you are talking on arthritis invite the local arthritis society. When I had my store in a small community we would have close to 100 people turn out. If you can get a keynote speaker from a supplier all the better.

Community groups - Investigate all the local clubs and associations and see if they want someone to talk on a health topic. Those old Rotary guys would be pleased if someone could help improve their prostate problems.

When I owned the store in Creston my partner Rhonda gave a talk to the Mormon church. She was a little nervous about what to say but felt they should hear about Rescue remedy and how it could help balance emotions. After that Rescue remedy became a topic at most local social functions. We sold tons.

Professionals in-store – Have a ND, reflexologist, live blood cell iridologist, herbalist or any other complimentary person set up in your store to give a specific form of education. We did this on our customer appreciation days and the response was great and the consumers learned more and realized our commitment to education. Some of these people sold a lot of products on that day and our staff became better informed on their specialty.

Turn demos into consultations – Demos on foods are ok as taste is usually the main criteria however, when it comes to most supplements and body care, the consumer needs a little more confidence as to the merits of the products. We often would advertise if a sales rep was coming in who represented supplements as a company expert on whatever they were selling. If they do not feel they can live up to the headline then they will tell you. Put a picture with the promotion if possible. You will be surprised at the number of people who will come to “meet the expert”. For body care and sports nutrition these can prove invaluable.

Advertorials - Go to your local newspaper and see if they are willing to run a health column. If not, run a paid column that looks like editorial. Most of us may not be great writers or have no time to write a column so you could ask your supplier of choice to give you a write up on a specific topic and run that with your store’s in-house “experts” picture in the column. Remember 90% of the effectiveness of the column or for that matter any ad is the Headline. This is the case for radio as well.

Charts – As handouts or at the point of purchase easy to follow charts can greatly impact sales. Vitamins, herbs, homeopathy and aromatherapy are a few potential chart categories. When I had vitamin store we always gave every new customer an easy to follow vitamin chart. It was well worth it as many people returned clutching their chart and ready to buy. Charts work better than brochures.

Newsletters – Without a doubt this one vehicle to educate and inform your customers can increase your business by 20%. Again if you do not have the time find a local desktop publisher/computer person to put it together [$80 – $100 /month] and get suppliers give articles and a few specials. Co-op the cost.

The greatest service we provide are proven solutions so our customers can live healthier more productive lives.
Go out into your 8km radius and educate them on why they should shop in your store!