When you consider it in retrospect, a day in the life of a fourth grader is pretty straightforward. There’s long division, memorization of the state capitals and fine-tuning kickball skills during recess. Somewhere in between, little life lessons are learned that can make a lasting impression and become even more valuable than the rules of reading, writing and arithmetic. My fourth-grade teacher barely intended to do much more than quiet down a rowdy class of nine year olds when she taught us a valuable lesson that I still reflect upon.

XlearEducation is like a bank, she said. Each lesson we learn is invaluable, serving as the currency we earn for our future. The more information we collect, the richer we’ll become in life.

At this point, a paper airplane soared over her head, therein ending her musing. But the thought stuck with me and periodically comes to mind.

Information Overload
Information is an interesting concept in and of itself. Fragmented details might be amusing in their own right, but it is usually far more valuable to collect related morsels until we can eventually draw some sort of organized conclusions. Unfortunately, it’s extremely easy to cobble together too much unrelated or inaccurate information, especially with many people using the Internet as their main source of information. The billions of possible links can lead you down a breadcrumb trail of unhelpful information.

There’s a great television commercial for a search engine that speaks to this. Someone looking for information about buying cellular phones is led to info about telephone poles, then telephone pole damage, then woodpeckers, then the nesting activities of woodpeckers—then pandemonium! There’s much truth in this joke. Think about all the times someone walks into your store and says something like, “I hear açaí [mispronounced ah-kye] juice can help me lose 10 pounds in one week. Where can I get some?”

World OrganicThere are so many ways consumers are getting information about health that they look to you, not as a salesperson, but as an information specialist. Someone who has sorted through the chaos of trendy products and knows the hows and whys of great nutritional aids. This is your unique niche as a retailer of natural products, and it’s a value you add to their shopping experience. Your information is like physical inventory—shrink-wrapped and packaged together with that bottle of supplements as a two-for-one.

When thinking about how you stack up against that big-box store down the street, remember we pay for information everyday. Some great information is free, while it’s common practice to subscribe to top journals, pay for college classes and shell out cash at a bookstore. For the same reasons we pay for these services, it’s impossible for consumers to have the same educational shopping experience your store provides for a low, Wal-Mart-esque price.

So, how can you earn educational dough? Think of industry tradeshows as an opportunity to collect and manage information for you and your team. Likewise, consider publications like WholeFoods Magazine as an ally in helping you drill through all the fluffy, speculative or inaccurate information that exists about natural products. This spring, we’ll be launching a new Web site to make it even easier to access the educational material you need to be a successful retailer (more information to come next month).

Overall, be discriminate about how and where you collect your information and don’t underestimate its value; your knowledge will certainly make for a richer shopping experience for your clientele. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-EbnerKaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2010