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Better Retailing Secret Shopper Awards 2015 – Winner

The Health Store, Liffey Valley, Dublin is the proud winner of this year’s Better Retailing Secret Shopper Award. We talk to manager Peter Horace about what makes this store so fantastic

Our secret shopper had a great experience when she visited The Health Store in Dublin, and in fact was impressed before she even entered the shop, commenting that it has ‘an inviting store front and windows.’ Manager Peter Horace tells us a bit about the history of the store. “The business was started in 1982 by Roger White. He had been travelling in India, where he developed a keen interest in herbal medicines and a vegetarian diet. The store was very simple in the early days, filling bags of grains and seeds for customers from big sacks, but Roger built the business from there, and now there are 10 stores in total, all around Dublin the outskirts of the city.”

Location, location, location

Our Secret Shopper was also impressed with the store’s location: ‘The Health Store is in the light bright and airy atmosphere of the Liffey Valley centre, a prime shopping centre outside Dublin.’ Peter agrees that it’s a good place for the store to be. “Liffey Valley is a destination shopping centre, and we have customers coming in from quite a distance. It’s the main route from the country into the city, and we get a cross-section of customers from the local area, and those just visiting from further afield. This means that, while we have lots of loyal customers who come back again and again, we also have to cater to those who may just be visiting as a one-off. We only have one chance with these customers to get it right, and we have to ensure we have the right products in stock for those who can’t come back to pick up an order. Having said that, we do have some regular customers who will repeatedly come from up to 100km away, because they feel that we give a better service and offer expertise.”

Great support

Peter says that they are very fortunate at The Health Store in the support they receive from local reps. “We have done several events in the store where we get a number of reps in, and do extra discounts and special offers. We had a great one on Black Friday, for example, which we hadn’t even heard of until two years ago, but it went really well and created a lot of interest. I think the key is not to just discount for the sake of it, but to focus it on an event so that it builds up a bit of a buzz around the store.”

Changing times

“Many Irish businesses have been affected by the terrible recession we’ve suffered, but I actually think that in some ways the health food industry here has benefitted from the economic downturn. We don’t have a national health service, and when times became hard, people started to realise they just couldn’t afford to be unhealthy. As a result they started to invest in wellness, in eating well and using supplements, to try and stay healthy and avoid expensive doctor’s visits or having to take time off work.”

Peter has also noticed a shift in the way that people are eating and cooking. “There are lots of cookbooks around now in Ireland that focus on raw foods or healthy eating. The Happy Pear guys, who run a health store in Greystones, have a couple of cookbooks out, and there are other celebrity chefs who focus on the health angle. We get customers coming in with recipes, looking for the ingredients to go in them. In the past two or three years the idea that diet and exercise are the right way to manage your health has become more and more understood by our customers, and healthy living is more fashionable than ever. We try really hard in the store to keep our finger on the pulse – there are lots of customers now asking for raw foods, supergreens and ingredients to add to smoothies and juices. We also have a chilled selection now, as there is an increased interest in vegan and vegetarian diets and lots of people want help in working out a healthy and balanced way to eat.”

The right staff

One thing that really impressed our Secret Shopper was the service she received from the staff at the Health Store: ‘The first thing I was aware of when entering the store were very friendly staff helping customers, listening and advising them. I was delighted with the personal attention I was given… I was helped by two members of staff with a number of issues and they were genuinely interested in giving me the best advice for my needs. They looked smart in uniforms and wearing name badges.’ Peter confirms that he has a great team at the store. “One of my members of staff is a qualified nutritionist, and two of the others have worked for the company for over 10 years. We also have a training and development manager Derek, who constantly gets around all the stores to deliver training in products and different ailments and advice one-to-one with our staff. In addition he sends bi-monthly training sheets for all of us to refresh our knowledge.

“Together we have a huge knowledge of health and nutrition, and of the products that we sell. We’re really pleased that the Better Retailing Secret Shopper was impressed with the service she received. I feel that if you just want to be a sales assistant, you could find another shop to work in. If you are working in a health store, you need to have an interest in the industry, and in providing good customer service and advice. You can’t sell just for the sake of selling; you have to genuinely get behind the products and believe in the benefits. All the staff in the store, including me, use the products that we sell and believe in living a healthy lifestyle. We also ensure that all our employees have regular customer service training. We are also particularly lucky in that our staff tend to stick around and work here for a long time. It’s a great place to work, and people don’t tend to leave!”

The Health Store can be found at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, Fonthill Rd, Clondalkin, Dublin 22.

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