Suzie and John Wensley of the Good Health Mart in Collingwood, ON celebrated the 10th anniversary as owners of the store with what they described as “the best customer appreciation day ever.”
To coincide with their milestone celebration, they added some icing to their anniversary cake in the form of a new look for their store, by signing on as Ontario’s first Assured Quality Natural (AQN) store.
With the store now featuring AQN-themed posters, shelf-talkers, end caps and displays, Suzie and John have moved in a direction they feel will help solidify their position in the community, along with building on the strong foundation they’ve created in their 10 years of ownership. “ We believe that AQN is the direction all health food stores need to take,” explained Suzie. “We did this in order to not only sustain our future in this mass environment, but definitely to provide our customers clean, quality, distinguishable non-mass natural products, hence we have decided to join AQN, which is certified by ISURA.”
Suzie and John’s transition into owners of the Collingwood GHM in 2006 was fairly seamless. Their career backgrounds and upbringing made it fairly easy. “For 10 years, starting in 1999, we owned Nature's Horizon Limited, a natural pet food and herbal distribution company,” explained Suzie, “and from 2001 to 2009, we manufactured an all-natural food supplement, Grains, Greens & Herbs, for people, pets and equines, which was distributed in the US and across Canada. On the personal side, we’ve both had a long history and passion for natural health. John's grandfather sold Wampole vitamins and his aunt was an herbalist.”
Suzie attributes her Asian heritage and upbringing for her interest. “My grandmother's Asian natural health remedies filled a whole pantry from floor to ceiling and included natural herbs, fungus and plants. I supplemented from her remedies for my entire life, and started to buy natural vitamins in my mid-20s.”
The Wensleys faced some challenges in the early days, which included moving the store from a low-traffic mall to Collingwood’s high-profile busy main street and finding knowledgeable staff that shared their passion and integrity. “On top of that, we had to learn about all the different products,” recalled Suzie. “We took many health courses, and read lots of books and product pamphlets. We spent a lot of time listening, too, to company sales reps, colleagues and practitioners. And we even learned a lot asking questions and listening to our educated customers.”
This approach paid off, says Suzie, as they noticed a level of acceptance by the community developed rather quickly. “We saw it almost immediately, as we asked our customers what they needed and wanted and began working closely with colleagues, natural and allopathic practitioners.”
This close attention to the wants and needs of their customers has been the most crucial key to their success, she says. “It really has been three things that have been the keys – product knowledge and building relationships with our colleagues, natural and allopathic practitioners are the others – but it is our focus on customer service that has been the main difference maker.”
Looking back over the first 10 years, Suzie says the highlights are many. “Ranking first is the feedback and mutual respect we have received from our customers on how we have helped them and their families. We have developed many, many relationships and friendships over the years, with colleagues, natural and allopathic practitioners, and the supplier reps that call on us. We have been working alongside staff that has become family. And we’ve had fun with our customers and staff alike. It has been gratifying watching our business grow and we’re very grateful for the passion we have today and knowing it’s growing strength as we move forward.”
One thing Suzie and John look forward to is incorporating the AQN vision into their business. “The AQN concept is intriguing and it will be interesting to see how the industry accepts this. I'm hoping independent non-mass health stores embrace this and see it as more of a community of assured quality natural vitamins, supplements and health foods stores, exclusive only to the non-mass stores. We still maintain our own identities, enhanced by our AQN certification, offering knowledgeable information and exceptional customer service. This is something we always do with passion. We do this on a more personal level than the mass, who could never come close to this level of passion and service, due to who they are. We are excited to be very much involved with AQN and help build the AQN vision. We look forward to continue to grow our business, and to continue to provide valuable service to our customers and our community.” •
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