Independent retailers, and especially those in the natural space, are the lifeblood of the communities they serve. They typically have a strong commitment to the community, sustainability, local schools and causes, and educating their loyal customers about brands specifically designed to meet their needs.

Independent natural retailers fill a void that larger retailers can’t meet. No one retailer can completely service every consumer’s needs. Specialization offers choices to a wide variety of shoppers. The small independent retailer might have unique specialty items while the larger mainstream retailer can support large families with tight budgets.

Independent natural retailers serve as incubators for new products and new innovation. They can also act as the “R&D departments” for new brands, helping manufacturers understand consumer needs. Most large natural brands can trace their roots back to an independent retailer with the courage to sell their new items.

For this reason, it is imperative that natural manufacturers pay homage to the retailers that helped launch their brands. Helping the retailer secure new innovation along with top-selling items in the marketplace can and will help natural retailers compete head-to-head with their larger competitors.

Conversely, it is a huge mistake for independent natural retailers to turn their back on brands once they gain distribution at their competitor. Retailers sometimes forget that consumers perceive stores missing top-selling natural brands as having a poor selection.

There needs to be a healthy balance between popular items and the unique items that differentiate the retailer from their competition. The goal is to capture the largest share of a consumer’s monthly purchases in your market and to keep customers coming back.

The “win-win” is to be viewed as a store with a good selection of popular top-selling brands, a friendly helpful staff, and innovative products that consumers are searching for.

Larger natural retailers and mainstream retailers typically cherry-pick the top-selling items to drive consumer traffic to their stores. Their reach and ability to invite consumers to try natural products are unparalleled. Unfortunately, most of them focus on converting consumers to their private label products. The focus should be on supporting the shopper’s needs and wants first and then providing alternative choices on their shelves.

The opportunity for the natural retailers is to maximize each and every selling opportunity and to create a unique shopping experience that keeps customers coming back. This means turning occasional shoppers into committed loyal shoppers at your stores. The natural channel is the incubator for the healthy living movement. The opportunities are great for any company willing to invest in its future and willing to take a leadership role in our industry.

This means maximizing all the available resources, owning every part of the sales process, maximizing efforts at shelf, developing targeted marketing programs that drive customer traffic, and paying particular attention to the core consumer’s wants and needs. This is the kind of support every retailer needs to remain competitive. Brands need to work closely with retailers to best meet the shopper’s needs and to remain competitive.

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Published in WholeFoods Magazine February 2018