When I was seven, my dad took up club sports-car racing. Two-seat, open-air roadsters from England, Germany and Italy began to appear in the U.S. Marques like Alfa Romeo, Austin Healey, MG, Porsche and Triumph, as well as Ford-engined AC Cobra and Chevy Corvette made the weekend trek to Lime Rock raceway in northwestern Connecticut for drivers to test their skills.

Cars competed based on engine size, with strict limits on modifications. Mostly, you needed a roll bar, three-point safety belt and fire extinguisher. Other than that, the cars ran pretty much the way they came out of the showroom. Drivers trained for several weekends before being allowed to compete.

One weekend there was a “scrimmage,” a practice race where cars from different size classes were allowed on the track at the same time. I remember this particular race because of its surprising winner. On the front row were two Corvettes and a Cobra. The second row had a Ferrari and a newcomer to the track, a tiny Lotus Super 7 from England; the third row, two more Corvettes and another Cobra. The setup was staggered; three cars in front, two behind with their noses pointed at the spaces between the cars in the front row, three cars in the third row, two in the fourth, and so on back for seven or eight rows.

The engines in the other cars were several times larger than the Lotus, and they normally raced in the biggest class. It looked like a total mismatch, with the ‘Vettes, Cobras and Ferrari revving their engines, making a deafening roar, while the Lotus calmly waited for the green flag.

As the flag dropped, the bigger cars viciously spun their wheels, huge engines easily overpowering their smoking tires’ ability to grip the track. While the big cars slithered sideways clawing for traction, the Lotus 7’s immediate grip launched it like a slingshot. With only a few inches on either side, the agile little car squirted through the gap between the Cobra and the ‘Vette in the front row just before it closed as the two bigger cars swerved together. The Lotus won the three-lap race by a wide margin.

If you are like most independent natural products retailers today, you are increasingly surrounded by big horsepower competitors. Conventional supermarkets that carry naturals as an afterthought still swerve into your business. But you can gain traction where your competitors can’t when you focus on customers who are serious about their long-term commitment to health, and pay less attention to folks who lurch in because of the latest magic-bullet health fad. But this takes courage. You have to ask your customer to live more holistically; to consider stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition. Those who agree will become your partners in health, perhaps for years. Those who don’t will shop elsewhere. Do you have the nerve to point your strategy through this gap? WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 34 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 900 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. Jay is next scheduled to exhibit at National MarketPlace (Booth 625), June 24–26, 2011, in Las Vegas. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at jay@retailinsights.com.