Survival Tips for Independent Stores in an Ever Changing Market

Twenty years ago, shopping in a natural foods market was considered quite “alternative”.  Customers only went there if they were “sick” or needed a quick remedy that was perhaps shared as an Old Wives’ Tale.  Now, in 2015, natural foods markets are becoming the new grocery store.  People are in search of every solution, idea and quick fix to keep themselves younger, support a healthy environment, provide us top quality nutrition, give us more energy and of course, help us lose weight.  With this movement comes the need to differentiate and truly “own” who you are as a store, be strong about what you stand for and become a leader in your community.  Here is a list of five categories that should become major influences with your business:

  1. Provide “wow” customer service that goes above and beyond and inspires customers to come back for more.
  2. Stay on the cutting edge of new products, fun displays and the latest research.
  3. You must be competitively priced—not the lowest but definitely not the highest.  It’s important to invest resources into category management.
  4. Host great events.  Your customers are looking for fun things to do and learn while doing. 
  5. Follow-through: if you say you are going to order a product for a customer, do it and keep in contact with them.  Build that level of trust that isn’t always available elsewhere.

If you are able to achieve even three out of five on this list and do them well, customers will recognize your efforts and acknowledge you by staying loyal to their community market.

In addition to these five key tips to setting yourself apart as a store, it’s always important to focus on your “internal” customer as well.  Your team members are your most valuable resource and sometimes in today’s environment, it takes extra effort to make them feel like they are part of something bigger, a movement to change the world, or just that their ideas are important.  Start an internal initiative and engage your team in further defining your company’s mission statement, your vision and most importantly: your core values.  If you empower your team members to operate within the framework of a core values list they will always do the right thing for the customer, for themselves, for their fellow team members and ultimately for the store.

Examples of core values are:

  1. Be happy.
  2. Take initiative in conversation.
  3. Always find a solution or action step.
  4. Build open and honest communication.
  5. Pursue growth and learning.

Once you have this list you can define them further and even put specific actions to them to provide your team with tools to help communicate these values.

There are so many more opportunities for team members in the workplace now to be with companies that stand for an important mission or that are in the natural and organic space.  It’s up to you as a store owner or a team leader to create a “community” within the store as well as be a community destination.

Competition can be overwhelming, but also an amazing opportunity to perform that necessary “self-check” list on where you are at as a store!

Shannon Hoffmann is president & CFO of GreenAcres Markets, a family-owned chain of 8 natural foods stores in Kansas, Missouri & Oklahoma.  GreenAcres Markets was started by Shannon’s mom Barb Hoffmann (CEO) in Wichita, KS in 1994.  Her dad John is also in the business (CIO), and they run it as a team!  GreenAcres stores are medium sized full-service natural foods markets with made from scratch delis, catering to medium sized communities.  GreenAcres mission includes a focus on quality customer service, providing quality education & a uniquely fun shopping experience!  Shannon lives in Kansas City & originally opened their Kansas City location in November 2006.

Posted 7/2/2015