All good things are happening at Goodness Me's flagship store in Hamilton.
"Two things we are working on simultaneously: refreshing our brand to impact all three of our stores and expanding our largest store from approximately 17,000 to 19,000 square feet," says general manager Michael Jacks. ...
All good things come to those who wait. With an expansion and some re-branding in the works, the customers of the Goodness Me! flagship store in Hamilton, ON have all good things coming their way.
"Two things we are working on simultaneously: refreshing our brand to impact all three of our stores and expanding our largest store from approximately 17,000 to 19,000 square feet," says general manager Michael Jacks. "We have wanted to expand for several years. The opportunity came up when the tenant next to us moved."
This is the sixth expansion for the original location in its 29 year history and while Michael contends that six expansions may not seem efficient, each time customers have welcomed the changes.
"There is certainly some inefficiency in expanding six times but neither us nor the market was prepared for us to be 19,000 square feet 20, 10 or even five years ago."
While all three stores – two in Hamilton and one in nearby Burlington – are complete natural food markets with offerings in supplements, personal care, grocery, bread, dairy, meat, cheese, produce, books, baked goods, prepared foods and education programs, Michael explains that the flagship store is able to offer additional categories such as housewares, pet products and a water machine. "Our ability to merchandise and create an easy cart-shopping environment is much better in the large store format."
The extra 2,000 square feet Goodness Me! gains with this expansion means adding another aisle, more selection within every department, a better equipped kitchen with new equipment, a new self-serve option, more "to-go" hot meals and an expanded seating area for customers eating in.
The fresh meat department that consisted of a refrigerated section of packaged meat will be transformed by adding a butcher station that will increase the selection of local, naturally raised and organic meats. Buying larger cuts helps bring the consumer's cost down and also increases opportunities to work with local farmers.
After six expansions, the management team at Goodness Me! has become expert at completing a project of this magnitude. Still, says Michael, some outside help is still a necessity when dealing with different aspects.
"We hired an architect to do the required drawings for permits. The consultant who has been helping us refresh our brand also assisted with big picture decisions of look and feel. We have also used a design consultant to help us with more specific choices. Store layout, flow and function was decided by our management team."
And of course there is customer feedback. Michael says that has always been a key part of every decision they make. "Their verbal feedback as well as their purchasing behaviour dictated the decision to expand and more specifically which parts of the store will receive the most additional square footage."
Michael is also a big believer in learning from other stores and often gains his inspiration from such stores as Whole Foods, which he says are the best product merchandisers. Longo's and Sobey's urban stores have also caught his eye. Outside of food, Mountain Equipment Co-op is a model in which he would like Goodness Me! to follow – one that creates a clear feel and learning experience as you travel their store.
"Our ultimate objective is to create a learning experience when people come into our store," says Michael. "We are working on some educational signs that will be placed throughout the different departments so that even if a customer doesn't speak to a service person while in-store, they will still have good opportunities to learn."
Some of the new physical design features that will be included with the expansion are inspired from the Hamilton Locke St. location, located in a downtown historic brick building. Exposed brick walls and some wood beams will be incorporated into the new look of the flagship store on the Hamilton Mountain.
While the expansion only affects the one store, all three stores are getting a face lift of sorts through a refreshing of the Goodness Me! brand. "We looked at everything we send out in terms of communications to our customers and realized we weren't being consistent," says Michael. With the help of a branding consultant, a refreshed logo and new tag line were created. In the past, one of two different tag lines would be used. Now, just one tag line will be used in all future communications: Discover the power of food.
"Our flyer will now be distributed bi-weekly (instead of monthly) and we will produce a quarterly magazine. There are also plans to re-brand the website with a look and feel that is consistent with the print pieces and store."
It's too early to tell if all this work will pay off but Michael is confident it will be good for the store overall. "It will give potential customers more reasons to shop in our store. For those who already shop, we will be able to offer them more products, better pricing in some areas, and an overall experience that is more positive."
This type of confidence is a good trait for any entrepreneur but Michael realizes it's a fine balance and that is one of the challenges in taking on such an endeavour. "Determining the scope of the work and in turn the budget is always a challenge. Being entrepreneurial, you tend to think you can achieve a return on just about anything; while at the same time being aware of diminished returns on certain investments."
Michael made sure to involve a lot of his team in detailed discussions about what gets included and what doesn't and each decision made started from the customer's perspective.
For other retailers who may be looking to take on a similar project, Michael offers some more advice – in the form of questions, which he asked himself when contemplating each expansion over the years.
"I always try to start with the financials: Can we afford this? How will we survive if we don't get the return we are expecting? Will this change allow us to be more efficient in our operation? If the answers are all yes, then I move to the opportunities: What would we like to offer? What would customers like us to offer? Where will the additional customer visits or items purchased come from? And probably the most key question: how will this change further differentiate us from the competition?"Not done yet
So far, Goodness Me! has been differentiating themselves just fine. With three stores and a family business of close to 30 years, there is no question that they have made a name for themselves in their marketing region. But they aren't done yet. "We are expecting to open four new stores in the next three years," says Michael. "It's exciting and scary."
And if there is one final piece of advice Michael can offer on how to achieve a long and lasting retail business in natural health, it's this: "Actively seek out and eliminate the things you are doing that don't work. Then, innovate new things to replace them. When you are too tired to keep doing this, find someone or something that can help you do that – an employee, a consultant, a friend, a book, a vacation." •
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