Interview: “There’s a massive opportunity for indie health stores , and I want to help them seize it!”

Business coach Dave Christie is the founder of small business mentoring specialist Take on Goliath. Specialising in family-run and independent businesses, Dave also has a wide knowledge of the independent health food retail scene and experience with leading natural products brands and wholesalers. 

Now, Health Stores UK is partnering with Take On Goliath, in a move designed to help members grow their business and be able to compete more effectively with bigger high street rivals. 

Here, Dave talks about the practical support he will be offering Health Stores UK members as a valued Partner, and gives us his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges for the specialist health food retail trade. 

Health Stores UK: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you got to be working in the natural products sector? 

Dave Christie: I’ve had roles at Faith In Nature and worked over the years with CLF and most of the specialist health food wholesalers. I’ve also been involved with some of the specialist brands over this time. 

HSUK: What was it about that experience that set you on the path of working with independent health food retailers? 

DC: One of the things I noticed early on was that some of those brands and stores I was coming into contact with needed some additional support. And I think there’s lots of areas for potential collaboration between brands and retailers. Sometimes there are some obstacles to work around – for example, the frustrations that exists on both sides of the fence about where the power in the relationship lies, and so on. 

So, I started to look at how that collaboration might look, how these businesses can communicate more effectively with their customer base, and widen their reach into the community. That might involve looking at the language and wording that will really engage customers, and get that emotive response. 

HSUK What sorts of things could health stores be doing better, and are there opportunities that we’re missing? 

DC: Well, quite often stores get a little bit set in their ways. Owners will say to themselves, well, we have a set of customers – and all the people going to Holland & Barrett are not our type of customers! The fact is, there is a massive gap in the middle and that’s where there is a huge opportunity for independents. Also, I think there is now a more widely recognised need to grow outside of the traditional customer base, partly because of the economic climate and the cost of living crisis.

Of course, the reality is that retailers are really busy running their stores. And that means it’s difficult for them to step back and look at what they could be doing better, what opportunities there may be to grow their business and how they can be a leader in their community.  

HSUK Do you think health stores are doing enough to appeal to the next generation of eco-focussed, younger consumers? 

DC: I think there almost certainly are demographic groups out there that probably dismiss health stores because they don’t think they speak to them, or reflect their own priorities. There’s a real opportunity to be showing these consumers that health stores and natural food stores are actually eco and ethical trade trailblazers! 

Health stores also could do more to optimise and share the deep knowledge they have about health and wellbeing. It’s a big differentiator between them and their big name competitors.

I think there is also an opportunity for health stores to be going into local businesses, to advise staff on health and wellbeing. We know how much of a challenge it is for employers to incentivised staff to go back into the office – and these sorts of initiatives, for example, are already part of the mix. This is a great example of how retailers can be leaders in their community. 

HSUK: As part of being a Health Stores UK partner, you will be running a free monthly workshop for members. What are you hoping that retailers will get out of these sessions? 

DC: This regular online format means that lots of different stores will be able to get involved. I’ll be working closely with retailers to create a programme of topics they would like covered. But likely themes will include how Indies can maximise opportunities working with brands and how stores can attract new customers into store. We’ll also be covering some more generalised business advice, where we will draw on the experience and learnings of the whole group, utilising that knowledge and passing it on for the benefit of other members.

For me, the sessions are very much for the stores. It’s their time. Will will facilitate and mentor around the things that are of most value to them.

HSUK: Take on Goliath is also going to be offering 1-2-1 sessions* to Health Stores UK members. How do these work? 

DC: Generally, these sessions start by gaining a ‘state of the nation’ picture of the business, then work towards developing a tailored strategy of actions to improve performance across the whole business. Using a personal ‘accountability calendar’, store owners are then asked to chart actions they have implemented and measure improvements. So, we will measure through and mark how things have changed. We’ll look at what’s going well, and what isn’t. Then we’ll look for pinch points, where issues and errors are arising. And that enables us to identify solutions.

Showing measurable improvements is really important, because when we see tangible improvements we are prepared to invest the time to take our business to the next level.

HSUK: More generally, where do you see opportunities for growth in the independent health food trade?

DC: Getting to know who your real customers are and not wasting time on chasing people who will never be your customer, is a bit of advice I would give. But also, as specialist health retailers, making a display of your passion and knowledge really can make a difference. Surveys consistently show that this is the biggest point of difference independent health food retailers have over their high street competitors. 

A survey from earlier this year showed that just 5% of the people on a typical high street will ever cross the threshold of their local health store. Yet we regularly hear that 75-90% of people say their want to be healthier, or eat more healthily. So, one of the biggest opportunities of all is is to change the perceptions of those people walking past your shop. And that’s one of things Take on Goliath will be absolutely focused on when we’re working with Health Stores UK members. 

* Take on Goliath is offering a 60% discount to Health Stores UK members for the first set of three 1-2-1 session they undertake (£200 instead of £500)

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