Brendan Davidson grew up in a health food store. That fact may have something to do with him currently owning two of his own.
Finlandia Pharmacy and Natural Health Centre was founded in 1974. The vision of pharmacist Harlan Lahti, Finlandia has stood the test of time. It was a unique business when it opened, and continues to be to this date, offering customers and clients a vast selection of products, the benefits of a compounding pharmacy and a multitude of professional services.
Goodness Me! Natural Food Market has been on a recent expansion program in southern Ontario, opening three stores in 2014, and two in 2015. The long-time Hamilton-based natural retailer, which was founded in 1981 by Janet Jacks, saw new stores pop up in Mississauga, Guelph and Barrie last year. A new location opened in Waterloo in February and another is slated for Paris, ON. this summer. This will bring the Goodness Me! store count to 10.
As a youngster, Nathalie Gélinas began laying the groundwork to someday take over her family health food store, although she didn’t realize it at the time. Working quietly in the back room of Panier Santé in Pointe-du-Lac, Quebec, in the Trois-Rivières area, the 11 year-old Nathalie diligently weighed and carefully packaged bulk food items before taking them to the sales floor and putting them out on display for sale to customers.
For most retail stores, an expansion means knocking down a wall or two, moving its entire operation, or buying the unit next door to expand into. For Jacques Amsellem and Jerome Duquette, owners of the Bank St. Herb & Spice in Ottawa, expansion meant something a little different. They took their existing supplement and HABA departments, completely separating them from the rest of the store and moved them across the street into their very own space.
“We were bursting at the seams,” says Ilona Jones, supplement buyer and manager of the new store, referred to as Herb & Spice Wellness Shop. “It had become quite apparent that we were not able to meet the needs of our customer base with the small supplement and HABA section that we had at 375 Bank St. An expansion of the existing space was not possible at the time, so when a location across the street became available, it was an opportunity we could not pass up.”
Following one’s passion may not always turn out for the best, but there are two potential scenarios that can prove satisfying for the individual when that path is followed.
In the first case, when pursuing the dream doesn’t end as originally hoped, many times the individual can say, “Well, at least I gave it my best effort,” or “I’m glad I tried it and got it out of my system,” or a similar sentiment. Yes, there is some level of disappointment, but there is also something gained from the experience.
In the second case, everything falls into place, the dream becomes a reality, and the pursuit of the passion can only be described in one way: mission accomplished.
The latter description most accurately describes Bruce Reid, the owner and founder of The Vitamin Shop in Victoria, B.C. The success of his store is recognized industry-wide, and The Vitamin Shop is considered by many as one of the top retail operations in our industry. (The store was the inaugural recipient of the CHFA Retailer of the Year West Award in 1998.)
Rachelle-Béry celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014. The iconic Montreal retailer is one of the city’s original health food stores, born at the quiet corner where Berri Street meets Rue Rachel in the city’s east end.
Some things have changed over the years. Founder Jacques Vangennoven is no longer the owner, having sold to grocery giant Sobeys in 2005. And it’s no longer a single store: today, there are 10 large format Rachelle-Béry grocery stores and 20 natural health “boutiques” positioned in IGA grocery stores across the province of Quebec.
And yet, according to Rachelle-Béry’s managing director Daniel Dubé, there is one thing that has not changed. “The heart and soul of the store has remained the same since the beginning. The staff may have changed, but the spirit of Rachelle-Béry lives on. They still keep in mind their number one priority: to serve our loyal customers. Through the years, we have implemented new systems, introduced a flyer program, added new categories, but we have always kept in mind our mission: to provide natural and organic products, and always maintain a focus on good customer service. ”
A big reason Rachelle-Béry has been able to continue to operate as an independent health food store has been Sobeys’ “hands-off” approach, says Daniel. “Since the beginning, Sobeys has always managed this specialized business apart from its traditional administration. It has been treated as a special, unique business model. This has enabled us to do our things and develop our own image, our own mission and our own personality.”
Shortly after the purchase, he says, there was a cultural impact. “But with time and good faith, employee and customers saw that we would keep the same mission, the same objectives, carrying the same goods, natural and organic only. And of course, we would still continue to build relationships between our staff and customers.”
The real growth of Rachelle-Béry, Daniel says, began in 2008 with the opening of the first concept store, which now measures 6,000 sq. ft. Previously, the Boulevard Saint-Laurent store in Montréal had 2,000 sq.ft. We were at our next stage: a larger concept store.
“We then tested our new offering, our new image. The majority of people liked it…and we noticed we were starting to attract new customers from the traditional grocery stores. The same year, we bought Aliments Santé Laurier, in Quebec city, another icon. We kept the same name, adding: member of the Rachelle-Béry’s group.
Today, the concept stores come in two sizes: 6,000 sq. ft. and 10,000 sq. ft. “Our past four stores have been just under 10,000 sq. ft. and our flagship in Boucherville is 11,000 sq. ft.” explains Daniel. “In the future, we will base all new stores on either the 6,000 sq. ft. model or the 10,000 sq. ft. version. It will depend which we use based on location and availability.”
The boutique stores – which carry only supplements and natural HABA and no food – measure 1,000 sq. ft.
The Rachelle-Béry in Boucherville on Montreal’s South Shore is the new flagship or concept store. It is 11,000 sq. ft., the larger of the two concept models being used. Daniel says a great deal of research went into the model. “We took our management team to western Canada and the US northwest and we studied the best of the best and implemented what we felt was right for us.”
Rachelle-Béry positions itself as a natural grocery store: food accounts for 70 per cent of floor space (40 per cent grocery, 30 per cent fresh), while the other 30 per cent is primarily supplements and HABA. Half of the customers that come to Rachelle-Bery are new to the health food world. “We have to make them feel comfortable,” explains Daniel, “so we have a huge focus on food. It is something that is common and familiar to them.” The Boucherville store features half its floor space dedicated to fresh food in the form of produce, cheeses, dairy and the Bistro, where you can get everything from a light snack to a full meal. The store is certified organic. “It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of discipline, but it’s worth it. I think it gives us an edge.”
There are some outstanding natural health stores in the Montreal region and other parts of the province. Plus, there is now an abundance of mass, pharmacy and grocery stores selling natural health products. What is Rachelle-Béry doing to stay competitive and ahead of its competition? “We always try to differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” explains Daniel. “We are doing a lot of work in the category of fresh and ready-to-serve products. We are Certified Organic by Ecocert Canada to indicate to customers that all our products made at store level are in fact 100 per cent organic. We try new categories, like tea and spices, in bulk. And…we always maintain a focus on good customer service. We don’t want to be caught in a price war, so we need to differentiate ourselves.”
Two initiatives to further differentiate Rachelle-Béry from its competitors are its “Going Blue” commitment, and its Organics for Kids Club. “Going Blue – which is about continually improving the range of sustainably harvested fish products we offer – has been great,” offers Daniel. “Our customers are looking to find these types of commitments at store level, and tell us that it is the way to go. Our Organics for Kids Club has also been very well-received by our customers. They love it when we can influence their kids to eat better, and drink better. It then becomes a way of eating better for the entire family.”
Many natural health stores in Canada have had great success using flyers as a promotional vehicle. Rachelle-Béry is no different, says Daniel. In fact, flyers have been vitally important to the growth of the store. “Flyers are our best form of promotion. We send them every two weeks, mailed to homes in the neighbourhoods where we have stores.” The flyers alternate in size, either four pages (food only), or a six-pager, which carries both food and supplement products.
Rachelle-Béry has the entire training aspect in hand, says Daniel, thanks in a large part to Academy Rachelle-Béry, the in-house training program implemented in 2013. “All our people from all of our stores are invited to follow training courses on natural health,” offered Daniel. “Once a month, they have a full day of training on a medical system, given by one of our naturopaths. After a year, they receive a certification Rachelle-Béry. We currently have 35 people enrolled in the academy. It’s a place where someone currently working as a cashier can learn and prepare them for another role, perhaps as a supplement consultant or advisor. There are lots of promotion opportunities internally, thanks in large part to the course we offer, which is written by our staff naturopath. It gives people the chance to grow professionally.”
With 30 Rachelle-Béry stores now serving the people of Quebec, look for more to pop up in the near future, both boutiques and grocery stores. “We just opened our newest grocery store on Ste-Catherine Street in downtown Montreal,” said Daniel. “We are looking at opening another later this fall, also in Montreal. Next year, we should open three more stores. We are looking for opportunities in greater Montreal, greater Quebec City, and in the other major areas in the province.” Daniel says the goal is to open three Rachelle-Béry grocery stores and three boutiques each year for the next three years. And there is even talk about franchising the stores, starting later this year or in 2015.
With three store sizes to choose from and two distinct models, Daniel says ultimately it comes down to serving customers in the best way possible. “Being open-minded about what size store to use is all about getting as close to as many customers as possible,” says Daniel. “We would rather open good sized stores near customers, rather than build huge super-sized stores near highways and expect customers to come to us. We want to be as close to as many customers as possible.” • B.W. Cole
Carey and Robert Assaf, the owners of Kardish Health Food Centres in Ottawa, ON, have just opened their sixth store, this one in suburban Orleans, about 15 minutes east of the downtown core. The 2,500 sq. ft. store opened with little fanfare in a strip mall on a busy street in the New Year. Yet, reports Robert, it has been busy almost from the moment they opened the door. "There was just a buzz about the store coming into town. We didn't do any advertising...we just have a big sign out front. We're seeing between 80 and 90 customers a day. They're coming in, picking up a basket, and just filling it."
It’s been 20 years since Donna Yamamoto spent some very long hours renovating her new retail space. “I remember the hours - my knees and back were sore from scraping the glue off the floor to prepare for the new flooring.” Donna was 31 years old with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and a majoring in psychology when she found the empty 632 square foot retail space for her store, Good Nature Health Foods in North Vancouver.
Ave Maria Gifts and Specialties recently marked its 25th year in business. Proudly announcing itself as “the largest natural health food store in northern British Columbia” on its website, co-founder and co-owner Dave Fuller calls it, “a meeting place for people trying to clean up the air, feed the world, broker peace or get rid of fluoride in Prince George.”
New home in the works as Natural Harvest gets ready to start its next 25 years in west Kelowna
The future is looking bright for husband and wife team Randall and Michele Kovacs and their store Natural Harvest, which has been a fixture in the community for over 25 years.
Located in Westbank in the greater Kelowna, B.C. region, the 1,700 square foot store is set to move to a new 2,000 sq. ft. stand-alone building in 2014.
Community outreach, loyalty program contribute to growthNature's Fare in Penticton, B.C. is on a bit of a winning streak, according to store manager Bobbi Krien. "Our store recently won best of the south Okanagan for "Best Health Food/Vitamin store" for 2013. We also won this award in 2011 and 2012. This award is voted on by the public. Also, Nature's Fare Markets on the whole won the CHFA Canadian retailer of the year award this year and it is the first time any retailer has won it four times!
News, Views and Happenings in the world of Canadian Natural Health.