A Sense of Direction

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Jam-packed lanes. Backups forcing long lines of people to inch forward at a snail’s pace. Rubber-necking at something surprising on the sidelines. Nope, I’m not talking about my typical commute on New Jersey’s notoriously crowded highways. I’m describing the busiest aisles of Natural Products Expo West 2015, held March 5–8 in sunny Anaheim, CA.

This year’s tradeshow and convention was bigger than ever, drawing more than 71,000 attendees*, show organizers said. The footprint of the exhibitions was utterly gargantuan; booths stretched out lengthwise as far as the convention center would allow, not to mention the exhibitors stationed upstairs, downstairs and across the street at a neighboring hotel.

With the incredible volume of people to see and places to be, it was clear that to successfully navigate this massive tradeshow, some strategic planning was in order—a fitting analogy for running a natural products business.

Got Any Plans?
Admittedly, I’m a preplanner. My technique for juggling who and what to see at this year’s event was months in the making and involved several spreadsheets. Over-kill? Maybe. But there’s a huge world out there of incredible natural products with intriguing backstories, unique flavors and wakunagapassionate people—and I need to come home with the best, most interesting material for WholeFoods readers. For me, the only way to stay on track—and avoid distraction by things that are interesting, but perhaps not quite right for my audience—is to have a game plan in place.

The situation is not all unlike your business. You could take your store in a million different directions or more. Just think about all the choices you have for the look and feel of your business, the specific items you choose to carry, the community you create, the way you train your staff, the special programming you offer…I could go on and on. Were the most recent choices made for your store part of your overall strategy, or were they done on a whim?

I’m not trying to put the kibosh on branching out with something new. Far from it. I’m suggesting that just in the way you may have developed a game plan for Expo West, you also periodically do something similar for your store. Whether the explosion of new products and industry trends has overwhelmed you or ignited sparks of creativity for your store’s next steps, take some time to remember where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go tomorrow and years down the road.

In the end, the unique combination of all your choices is what comprises your store’s DNA. It’s deeply personal, and not something that the store down the street can easily replicate. I’d say one of the biggest retailing challenges is constantly weaving together the strands of your store’s genetic code in a fresh way that still keeps its identity true. And perhaps the best way to keep in touch with this core identity is to bring it to the center of your attention (and that of your key staff, if you like) on a regular basis. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

* Our complete show wrap-up with
analysis of key trends will appear in
the May issue of WholeFoods Magazine.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2015