Sharing a combined 100 years of professional experience, a Expo East panel of retailers shared ideas on how independent natural products retailers can continue to compete successfully not only with other independents, but also with Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, conventional supermarkets, Wal-Mart and other big-box stores, and even Internet suppliers like

A running theme was the belief that all retail business ultimately is local. The panelists told tales of how larger competitors with a national presence moved into their territories, and, how after experiencing a quick drop in store traffic and sales volume, they noticed business coming back.

This didn’t just happen. Tommy Langford, director of operations for Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market in Richmond, VA, and Dawson’s Market, of Rockville, MD, spoke of using social media extensively to communicate with customers and prospects.

Michael Kanter, chief visionary officer of Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, MA, and his staff worked hard at forming and maintaining relationships with shoppers at their store. Kanter said he wanted to convey the message, “See it here, buy it here, keep us here.”

And Summer Auerbach, of Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets in Louisville, KY, said she actively sought out free media exposure by approaching local outlets and publications and offering them worthwhile news opportunities. She also said that Rainbow Blossom sponsors Farmers’ Markets on a regular schedule to attract traffic and help unearth new vendors.

Alan Richman is a freelance writer based in Monroe Township, NJ

Full Expo East 2013 Coverage

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2013 (online 10/18/13)