There are not many people who can boast about being an integral part of a successful retail business for 40 years. However, Bill Gall – owner of Burlington Health Foods – has more than earned those bragging rights. This year, Burlington Health Food celebrates its 40th year anniversary. The store recently marked this monumental milestone with 40 free gifts to the first 40 customers, 40 per cent off selected products and cake and refreshments for everyone....There are not many people who can boast about being an integral part of a successful retail business for 40 years. However, Bill Gall – owner of Burlington Health Foods – has more than earned those bragging rights.
It was 40 years ago that Bill Gall's mother Marny recognized an opportunity and capitalized on it. She had developed an interest in natural health at a time when people were just starting to become aware of alternatives. At that time, the closest source for natural products was Hamilton, a 15 minute drive to the west. Marny realized Burlington needed it's own source and decided to open a store. It was not too long before Marny's son, Bill also became involved. Throughout his university years, Bill helped by working part-time in the store and then in 1988, he bought the business.
With 40 years under their belts, Bill and his staff have experienced many highs, lows, challenges and rewards, as well as witnessed many changes in the natural product industry. Recently, they took some time to reflect on what they have learned about retailing, as well as share some of their secrets to longevity.
One of the biggest challenges the team has faced over the years is juggling the fine balance of product selection. "It is difficult to know what to bring into the store with such an increased volume of products on the market," says manager Deborah White of 21 years. "We focus on health food brands as opposed to 'mass brands' and it's important to follow what is being reported in the media."
And while the media can be a good source of information, it can also present it's own set of challenges. Misinformation in the media can create fear in the public, says assistant manager Michael Stetson, who has been on staff for four years. "We overcome this by having more staff education and using resources such as books and scientific journals."
For Bill, the mass market's interest in natural health along with on-line ordering has presented a challenge as well. "Increased competition is a double-edged sword. It increases product awareness and acceptance, but we must work harder to attract and retain customers."
This increased competition and recognition in the mass market is probably the most noticeable change Bill has seen over the years. "Overall focus is still and will always be a healthy lifestyle. However, the general awareness of it and acceptance by society at large has been a major shift. We have seen the movement of products from 'the fringe' into the mainstream as reflected in mass-market participation in the industry."
In addition to this has been the increase in government regulation over the last several years. Bill says product quality is now a larger contributing buying decision for many consumers.
So – how has Bill and his staff kept customers coming back all these years even with these obstacles?
One way has been to change with the times instead of becoming stagnant. Technology has played a big role in how Burlington Health Foods has connected with it's customers. Michael explains how this new age of social marketing is helping them reach new customers. "To reach a larger audience, different and new methods of communication have been used such as our Facebook group which allows us to encourage open discussions and questions relating to natural health. This has been useful in reaching existing and potential customers."
Along with Facebook, store customers receive regular communication through an email newsletter. Not only is regular communication and interaction with customers important in a competitive industry, says Michael, it also helps keep their store on the minds of their customers.
While all of these factors have played a role in the longevity of Burlington Health Foods, Deborah offers some final advice for others who wish to achieve the same retail success and longevity. "Choose staff wisely, train them well and keep them as long as possible. Focus on great service, not the sale. The service and the relationship you build with your customer will create the sale and raise your bottom line." •
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