Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

6 minutes reading time (1104 words)

Competition is coming to town

  Do you remember those old Western movies where the settlers moving west would have to circle the wagons to better protect themselves from the arrows that seemed to be coming from all directions? Some stores may be feeling that way, as their once-safe marketplace now seems to field competition coming at them from all sides. 


Do you remember those old Western movies where the settlers moving west would have to circle the wagons to better protect themselves from the arrows that seemed to be coming from all directions? Some stores may be feeling that way, as their once-safe marketplace now seems to field competition coming at them from all sides.

So, what’s a store to do? Fret about the future? Run screaming into the night? Of course not! Roll up your sleeves and compete. First off, you usually have between a year and 18 months before any of these guys can open a store after they announce their intent. So keep your ear to the ground in your local marketplace and start preparing. Even if the horizon looks clear, prepare for the future anyway.

   A couple of years back, I  led a panel at the Eco-Farm Conference in California - a session titled, “Can small retailers compete with the big stores?” And the response was a resounding YES!

   All three stores on the panel were of different sizes and served different demographics. Each of them had at least one major competitor and in one case, all of the competitors mentioned were within a few miles of their store.

   Here’s what they had to say. First, do some detective work - know your enemy, so to speak. What do they do well? Take a field trip with your staff, look at all the things that they do, and compare that with your store. One competitor does a killer job in prepared foods, another has great prices, and still another combines an upscale shopping and organic experience with the opportunity to buy boxed inexpensive macaroni and cheese.

Then, take time to evaluate your store and define who you are and what you do really well. Decide where you can improve, or what may be an area worth letting go.

   Brand yourself. Do you shout about all the good things you do? Most of the big guys do. Unfortunately, many of the stores I work with don’t - and it’s becoming more and more important to let your customers know who you are.

   More and more customers are looking to buy products from companies whose values are like their  own. The truth is that most of you do a better job in the values area than your competition, so start shouting. All of the panelists said they had started to do a better job of telling the community who they are, with great results.

   Work with other local businesses. This was key for all three of the panel’s retailers. Join the local business group if you’re not already a part of it. Figure out ways to work together to promote each other.

   One store stocked a local homemade ice cream from a well-known shop in town and donated a percentage of the sales to a local school garden project. The same store worked with the local bike shop and started a program called “Buy, Buy, Bike.” They gave their customers a token every time the customer rode a bike to the store to shop. After collecting a certain amount of tokens, the customer could redeem the tokens for a $10 coupon at the bike shop.

   Develop your locally grown program as well. Make a big deal about how money spent locally stays local and doesn’t go to chains based in another province, or across the country.

   One store did events every weekend to keep the excitement buzzing. Customers looked forward to shopping Saturday just to be part of what was going on.

   Everyday values were another major aspect of success. These panelists’ stores, like many stores, are thought to be high priced. Right or wrong, you need to change that perception and let folks know the everyday value of your store.

   Do what they can’t or won’t. Switch to being only organic in your produce department or deli. Make hometown meals. One store offered a locally grown breakfast every Saturday morning.

   You may do store tours with kids, but so do the big guys - you need to get in the schools and become the local store that is educating the children about good food choices.

   Become a community shared agriculture (CSA) drop off spot. Many co-ops  in the U.S. do this already with great success. It’s a great way to work with local farmers and get new customers into your store. Set up a table at the farmers market.

   For many stores, bulk sales are increasing but not everyone is on board with the value bulk brings. Have classes on using bulk, or pre-bag your top sellers. One client of mine did just that and raised their bulk sales 200 per cent.

   Invest in your staff. Each of the stores mentioned that they took the time to get their staff the tools and training needed to do their jobs better. Have the staff help develop the plan to help your store compete better.

   Recognize and respect your competition, but don’t fear them. Come from a place of “can” as opposed to “can’t.” If the “good enough” attitude is prevalent in your store, GET RID OF IT! Because good enough isn’t enough anymore. Expect greatness, and set up a culture that nurtures and encourages it.

   Everything is merchandising. Walk your store; look at it with fresh eyes. Is there “Wow!” when you walk in (there will be at Whole Foods) or “Wow!” around every corner? Every end-cap? It’s okay to borrow ideas from other stores who do great merchandising and make them your own.

   Once the new store opens, prepare for a drop; everyone wants to go to and shop at the new game in town. Among the panelists discussing new competition, all of the stores prepared for a drop in sales, and it did happen. But because of the work they had done in advance, these stores not only got their sales back within a year, they all said they felt it made their business stronger. If these stores can do it, so can you.

   The future is now, and I can’t wait to see how we all make our stores and the marketplace better. •


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Your customers have spoken.  The numbers are convincing: Canada’s natural health retailers turn to CNHR for your new products.  A survey conducted in June 2020 shows retailers read the ads and Product Profiles, and react to them.  They order products they’ve seen in CNHR.  They look for your new products in CNHR.  Reach your customers via CNHR by print, video and/or podcast.  Various opportunities available to fit any budget. 

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