Herbs / Supplements / Health and Beauty

Over the past five years, our co-op has gone through tremendous growth and has had to work hard to keep up. Like many other natural foods stores, Sevananda has had to restructure, re-evaluate, prioritize and plan how to accommodate an incredible rise in business. We have a dedicated staff that continually evolves to meet the challenges of the public, industry and the government.

It's quite clear to me that we are in an industry that can affect the well-being of a nation. It's a very open field, and the choices of product we have are countless, especially in the area of herbs, supplements, and body care. While we must create a uniqueness and a draw to the general population, part of our success is having a neighborhood base and a resourceful staff who know the people and know the products.

A major contribution we've made to our members is keeping up with the evolving technology of the industry. We are fortunate in being able to provide healthy choices. We have a responsibility to provide the highest quality and safest products. We also have to be able to provide education and knowledge that does not step on the toes of other professionals who may have a different view of health than we do.

Another part of Sevananda's growth has included being politically active around a state dieticians bill and the federal Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act. We've been on our toes trying to walk the fine line of providing information that the health care industry can safely provide. We've had to address the integrity of our products and the companies that are promoting these products. In addition, our customers are well informed on conservation and recycling and appreciate the fact that we do not carry certain products that we feel are a threat to our Earth.

Departmental diversity

At our cooperative (and I hope you can say the same at your store), we are honest with our customers, we promote the neighborhood and community, and we offer education on the product lines by bringing in professionals. We do what we can to keep people aware politically, provide a well done newsletter, and act as a team. Our consumers expect and demand this from us, and we have received some excellent ideas from them.

We once were a highly segmented store, with each department operating as almost a separate entity. Along with rapid growth, we've had to recognize each other's strengths and weaknesses and pull together. We've been crosstrained in many departments in order to become more unified and professional. We had to redefine roles, change job descriptions and meet growing work priorities. (Our merchandising manager Vince Hoffman has been instrumental in this, along with our systems and computer specialist Paul Kelly.) Changes have not been that easy, but we are seeing the results of dedication to staying on track with our goals.

We just completed a store reset and scrubdown, with plenty of help from staff, distributors, brokers and reps. We have a wonderful new look in the health and beauty (HAB) section. This area of the store has experienced terrific growth, in part because of our determination to have a large selection of diverse product.

The HAB department at Sevananda was about 18 to 20 percent of total store sales in 1990; now it is about 33 percent! Within this are these subcategories and their part of total sales:

Bulk herbs: 3-4%
Packaged herbs: 13-16%
Vitamins/supplements: 6-8%
Health & body care: 6-7%.

The body care section of the store used to outsell the vitamin section. More recently, with supplements in the limelight, the vitamins and minerals are outselling body care. The packaged herb section, with sales almost equal to body care and vitamins, is our most intensive floor/customer service area of the store.

Again, what consumers need are friendly service, quality products and education. Our job is to satisfy these to the best of our ability. We provide a notebook of health care professionals who practice alternative medicine, and we also get our customers involved in helping new shoppers.

Merchandising ideas

Keep bulk and unit herbs, teas, and supplements in close proximity for easier customer service. We jokingly refer to it as the herb/nerve center of the store.

We decide on monthly themes, and I try to plan an herb class and newsletter article with the theme in mind. We try to have as many active demos as we can in the health and beauty section. This also helps our reps, brokers and distributors know what our needs are.

We have found that we have to have more product on the shelves to meet customer needs. We don't backstock in our department unless it is bulk teas and herbs or gallons of aloe and soaps. The sales floor holds most of our inventory.

Some additional merchandising ideas in the HAB areas: This time of year, have a designated allergy section, cross merchandised with homeopathy, herbs, supplements and perhaps tea. Another area could be a beat the heat / bug repellant/sunscreen area with aloe vera juice and gel, suncreens and various bug sprays, aromatic oils and live plants: a great end cap theme.

What looks visually nice might instead need merchandising that ignores the usual professional guidelines. Sometimes we have to be creative with our products and cross merchandise with grocery or produce or general merchandise. For example, helpful hints to consumers in this section are provided by having product arranged around themes of body functions, such as brain formulas with herbs and supplements; heart / circulation / cholesterol related products; kidney / liver / bladder functions; a women's health section; etc.

Some currently hot items are echinacea, pycnogenol, and alpha hydroxy skin products. Antioxidants, aloe vera and colon care products are always in demand, as well as the immune boosters, cayenne, ginger, echinacea, goldenseal and ginseng products. In health and beauty, the bug repellants and essential oils and hair care products sell well. Homeopathy products are also on the rise. In moist climates the candida yeast/fungal problems are more prevalent, and so are worm/parasite activities.

Plan for growth

I spoke with Sam Giusa of Gentle Strength Co-op (Tempo, Arizona) and Kathy Kampa of People's Food Co-op (La Crosse, Wisconsin). We all agreed that beauty care is an area to expand due to consumer interest and industry growth. We can foster a rising interest in well being through greater selection and education and by maintaining high standards of quality and integrity. Each of our three stores plans to reset the HAB areas to make them easier to shop, to expand the selection available, and to promote more consumer education.

Staff training and bringing in professionals from the industry to speak with the consumers are very valuable. Having educated staff sets us apart from many other stores. Another important point is making sure that our products are following the industry standards of Tru Label and the Natural Products Quality Assurance Alliance (NPQAA) and of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA).

One thing that excites me and has been most valuable is visiting other stores and sharing concerns and experiences in converting difficult situations into delightful solutions. By listening to staff and customers, sharing newsletters with other cooperatives, and by helping to educate our state and national political representatives on health care issues, we can provide, professionally, a wonderful business opportunity.

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