The full implementation of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA ObamaCare or ACA) is set for 2014. Insurance companies, hospital systems, doctors’ groups and related health care stakeholders, including chain-store pharmacies and even conventional supermarkets, are scrambling for position in this new world of expanded coverage for millions more Americans.

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Once upon a time, companies that wanted to sell their products hired authentic experts, authority figures or authors with advanced academic or medical degrees, who seemed incorruptible, ethical and thoroughly reliable. They possessed a high degree of credibility and their own notoriety rubbed off on the brands they endorsed, either blatantly or subtly. They were and many still are powerful influencers of human behavior.

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Every calendar quarter, public companies provide guidance to Wall Street to explain recent performance and project future results. In these quarterly telephone conference calls, investment analysts responsible for recommending stocks to their clients get to ask management questions to shed light on company strategy. While the “scripted” portions of these calls are interesting—where corporate executives read prepared remarks—the Q & A sessions that follow can reveal the most meaningful information. This was the case in the November 2012, fourth-quarter conference call hosted by Austin, TX-based Whole Foods Market.

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The produce section can be a profitable department in any natural products business. While customers may come in to purchase supplements on a monthly basis, a well thought out produce department can keep them coming back multiple times throughout the week. In 2012, perishable goods averaged over $1.5 million of sales per natural products store, with over one-third from fresh produce alone (1). However, there are several key items to focus on to run a successful produce section.

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For the third year in a row, I’ve been honored to assist in analyzing the data from WholeFoods Magazine’s Retailer Survey, which starts on page 20, and this year is outstanding! We’ve had the largest response in 35 years of doing the survey, and the quality of stores is truly remarkable. With nearly one million square feet and $665 million in sales represented, the survey offers a comprehensive view of our dynamic industry, from the smallest supplements store to the largest fresh-foods supermarket.

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Color is more than a visual element; it’s also an important psychological motivator. “We react on multiple levels of association with colors—there are social or culture levels, as well as personal relationships with particular colors. You also have an innate reaction to color,” Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association of the United States, told The Huffington Post in a November 27, 2011 article. “As you get older, you become much more conscious of those learned reactions than the innate ones.”

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As a new manager in my 20s, I found myself responsible for a dozen inside-sales staff and a half-dozen field salespeople at the natural products distributor Stow Mills, a predecessor company to United Natural Foods. While I had worked various jobs since age 16, this was my first time managing others. The wholesale business, much like retailing, moves rapidly. The pace set by daily operations—receiving products into the warehouse, order deadlines, picking, packing, delivering on-time, in-stock, and correctly to hundreds of stores every day—is like running an Olympic 10K race all day, every day.

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In this economy, small businesses must take advantage of every possible avenue at their disposal to thrive. This includes using tools like social media for everything from marketing to sales. While it seems like sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn have been around forever, there are always new sites and ideas in the works. One relatively new site that businesses should pay attention to is Pinterest.

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One great strength you have as an independent natural products retailer is your broad selection of hard-to-find, high-quality products. But for first-time natural shoppers, this massive selection can be overwhelming.

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Research shows that 90% of businesses do not know what their customers want. In a world burdened with financial difficulties, American stores need to shape up. According to a four-year study conducted by the market intelligence firm, BIGresearch, most customers will put value and service ahead of price. That’s right. Even though your store may be just a tad more expensive than the one next door, if yours provides quality assistance for consumers, they will choose you over the lower-priced competition.

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