Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

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Health Tree

“Over the 20 years I’ve owned my business, I’ve had a lot of teams and a lot of great people work for me and not to take anything away from any of them, but what we have right now is really something amazing,” says John. “They are self-motivated, they do their best and they treat the store as if it was their own.”

Health_Tree_Montreal“Over the 20 years I’ve owned my business, I’ve had a lot of teams and a lot of great people work for me and not to take anything away from any of them, but what we have right now is really something amazing,” says John.  “They are self-motivated, they do their best and they treat the store as if it was their own.”

Show inspires staff

Treating it as their own is exactly what they did when they proposed some very big changes to John on a train ride back from the 2009 CHFA Expo East in Toronto. Eight of his staff members accompanied him on this trip, including buyers from the supplements, grocery, body care and fresh departments.

The show had inspired them, and they wanted to take advantage of everything they had seen and heard, including selling and showcasing some of the great new products. After a lot of back and forth with each other, John’s staff came up with a plan. “They proposed we change the layout of the store, taking the existing aisles and turning them 90 degrees. By making this change, it shortened up the aisles, but it gave us more aisles (24 in total) and more high-profile end caps.”

At first, John was a little reluctant. After all, it would mean moving and changing refrigeration; new copper wiring would have to be installed and compressors on the roof would have to be moved. All of this is costly, and it means a lot of work.

“It’s not just as simple as unplugging the fridge and moving it over,” said John. “The produce fridges are hard-wired and there’s plumbing and refrigeration involved, so it’s expensive. In the process, we also realized that we had four old three-door freezers, one of which was dying. So, I looked at that and thought wow, I wasn’t really expecting this or thinking about it, but after some more thought, they convinced me.”

And so the transformation began, which included getting rid of those old individual freezer units and replacing them with one 12 door freezer.

Another major move, said John, was taking the produce from a back corner of the store to the front. “Now, you walk into the store, you turn to the left and – boom – you see the produce, whereas before, unless you walked into that back corner, you didn’t even know we had produce.”

In addition to the layout change and new equipment came a new colour scheme, logo and website launch. The shelves and walls went from yellow and green to more neutral tones of beige and brown.

At the same time, they were thinking of launching a website as well and the website designer looked at the logo and didn’t like it, thinking it was too old-fashioned and boxy.

“In our previous logo, the name Health Tree had a tree in the middle which people didn’t really understand because it was sort of this tree with this person in it. They didn’t realize it was suppose to be a T so they use to call us Heal 3 or Health 3.” But now, says John, the logo is very clear and makes sense.

And throughout every step in this process, each of John’s staff was involved in one way or another. One example was the prepping of old shelves. The easy thing would have been to trash all existing units. Instead, the team stayed true to their environmental commitment to recycle, choosing to scrape and sand the old shelves to prep them for a fresh coat of paint.

Staff further showed their commitment to the project by taking on extra hours to get the job done on time, sometimes working outside in the hot Montreal sun. “They were working insane hours until one or two in the morning and coming in bright and early the next day. It was a bonding moment for an already tight and amazing staff,” says John.

Now, with most of the major changes complete, John is thrilled with the results and says he noticed an increase in sales in the months following the makeover, which shows customers were just as thrilled. “Customer feedback has been phenomenal. They think it’s amazing, and much easier to shop. Because we have so many more aisles and end caps, the sections are smaller so it’s a lot easier for people to maneuver around. Some people even thought we had expanded.”

But customers aren’t the only ones who have recognized the hard work John and his staff have put in not only during this recent transformation but for the past 20 years as a natural health retailer. Recently, Health Tree took home the CHFA Brock Elliott Memorial Award for Excellence in Retailing, presented during CHFA Quebec in February. For John, it’s not only an honour to receive the industry recognition, but the name on the award is what makes it even more special. “Brock Elliott was someone I got to know near the end of his life. I ended up going on a trip to Japan with him. That was a year before he passed away and he said at the time, it was the trip of his lifetime. We were the only two Canadian retailers on the trip and he shared a lot of his history, his expertise and what he felt was important. Winning the award with his name on it is special.”

Like so many in the industry, Brock Elliott was motivated to make a difference in the lives of his customers and John says over the years he has learned that is the most important thing when it comes to natural health retailing, a piece of advice he wants to pass on to others.

“What motivates people to be in this industry in the beginning is that desire to help people and make a change. But a lot of people make the mistake of getting too big or opening up another location and that’s not for everyone. It’s great to grow and increase your space, but it’s more important to offer better services and maximize what you have. The reality is bigger isn’t necessarily better.” •


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