In my early days in natural foods wholesaling, when we were making sales calls on small but rapidly growing independent natural products stores, we would talk about the concept of first giving the retailer warm fuzzies. Warm fuzzies are comforting words and phrases designed to put the buyer at ease. Innocent topics like the weather, sports or some lighthearted shared observation or experience of the moment.

In our carrying cases were dozens of new product samples, so after the warm fuzzies had created a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, it was gift-giving time. This kind of felt like a small fireworks display; new product after new product coming out of the case to approving “Oohs” and “Aahs” from the retailer.
“Do you like chocolate?” and other innocuous questions, designed to ensure a “Yes” answer accompanied the new products presentation. From there, writing an order was practically a given because we had carefully preconditioned the buyer to agree with everything we were saying.

I Want to See People

At a friend’s home for a small gathering over the holidays, I had the chance to hear from a woman who told me about her food shopping experiences at her favorite store. “When I take the trouble to go to the store, I want to see people, I want to pick up and feel the tomatoes,” she said, continuing, “I spend my whole work life in front of a computer, and the last thing I want to do when I go mushroom wisdomshopping is look at another electronic screen.”

At her longtime favorite store, the staff knows her name, her preferences in fresh produce, what to point out in the meat case, and any new products and specials they know are likely to interest her. “I have known these people for a long time,” my new friend observed.

While the Internet has disrupted every industry, realigning channels of distribution forever and forcing managers to retool their business models, humans will—at fairly regular intervals—continue to crave human contact. Digital ordering may be convenient and efficient, but one thing it is not is warm and fuzzy. And, eventually, nearly everyone wants warm and fuzzy.

What Are You Selling?

You may think that you are just selling products. But if that is so, you are bound to lose out to the Internet, whose singular purpose is to reduce the friction of buying and receiving goods.

Use your brick-and-mortar physical presence, your bright, colorful, beautiful displays; the soothing sounds, delightful fragrances and the soft touch of your people to deliver more than products.

I’m thinking my shopper friend isn’t at all unique; that there are millions more men and women like her who feel they spend too much time, more or less alone, working in front of an electronic screen. Guess what? People want a little friction, a few warm and fuzzies. Try making that your first purpose and see the good results in your increased sales. WF
Jay Jacobowitz
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 39 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 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. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at Jay recently spoke at the Culinary Institute of America’s inaugural Appetites + Innovation Collaborative on January 18-20 in St. Helena, CA, about sustainability and food ethics.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2016