A look at the bottom-line numbers of the 41st Annual WholeFoods Magazine Retailer Survey, conducted by the team at WholeFoods in conjunction with Readex Research, suggests that the future looks bright. On average, the independent retailers who responded to our survey reported an increase in sales over the prior year. And overall, our respondents are feeling even more optimistic about 2019, forecasting that their sales numbers will climb even more, with an average expected increase of nearly 5%.

Of course, that’s an average. Some saw losses last year, and not everyone is predicting gains in 2019. When we invited survey respondents to share their thoughts on anything and everything that they felt was pressing, the stress of doing business in today’s environment was clear.

“Amazon has been hard to compete with honestly and it feels that we are sometimes losing our community touch in America,” one respondent noted. “Everyone buys online!” Another added, “Biggest concern is that many of the chain grocery stores and big box stores are carrying many of the products we carry and are able to buy in quantities and sell at a much lower price. It is getting difficult to compete.”

That said, here’s something to keep in mind: WholeFoods heard similar concerns from retailers 35 years ago in 1984, when we asked, What is the impact of the mass merchandiser? An employee of Campbell’s Nutrition Centers in Des Moines, IA, told us, “Competition is good for everybody, but the thing about supermarkets is that they can buy in such huge quantities—a truckload even in many cases—that I’m sure they get a cheaper price. So in that sense, it isn’t good. I think we stay ahead of the supermarkets because of the knowledge of people working in our stores.”

Wise words, and clearly true, as Campbell’s holds the distinction of being the first and oldest health food store in Iowa, founded in 1937 and today going strong for over 80 years, with two locations. Diane Lahodny, current owner of Campbell’s, told WholeFoods, “What we said in 1984 still holds true. Knowledgeable staff, our connection to the community, and Campbell’s membership in INFRA have indeed sustained us for what can be described as a very competitive last 8 years.” Kudos to the team at Campbell’s!

And a huge THANK YOU, all-caps required, to WholeFoods merchandising editor Jay Jacobowitz and creative director Christina Smith, who worked through a snowstorm, a water main break and plenty of late hours to make this year’s Annual Retailer Survey the most comprehensive yet. It’s so packed with information that we couldn’t fit it all in the print magazine. And join Jay and me on Wednesday, April 24 at 2:00 p.m. EST, as we discuss key findings from the survey during our webinar, plus take live questions regarding the survey.

One more heartfelt thank you goes out to all the independent retailers who responded to our survey. Your insights will be of great benefit to your peers and the industry at large, as this data can be shared with lenders and investors to help raise capital needed for a remodel or expansion, and to map out future plans. You made the difference!