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Best of the best

Our Secret Shopper series holds a mirror up to the UK and Ireland’s health food stores. Sometimes we find shops that leave something to be desired, most often we find some absolute gems. Here’s the latest winner...

The reigning champion in our Secret Shopper awards is a Tunbridge Wells store with a simple mission: to set new standards in customer experience.

When they opened their first Best Health Food Store in Shoreham-by-Sea, Len Glenville and Melanie Beard wanted to undo the elitist and over-priced reputation they had encountered in some health food stores outside London.

The newest winner of the Health Food Institute-sponsored award, top scoring in our mystery shopper series, is in fact their second store. And to cap a busy summer for the industrious pair, a third store was opened, also in Tunbridge Wells.

Breaking away from their expanding business, Len and Mel were Better Retailing Magazine’s guests at the HFI anniversary lecture, lunch and awards presentations at the Museum of Brands, London, in June.

“We are absolutely over the moon to have won and were very grateful to everyone who came up to us to congratulate us,” said Len. “It’s even more special to us to be recognised for exactly what we set out to do with our stores’ brand and ethos.

“Customer service and staff experience is at the heart of our core foundation and so for that to be coming through, and to even win an award ahead of other stores out there who have been going longer than we have, is just incredible. It confirms we are doing it right!”

Two other stores, Manchester’s Eighth Day and Nature’s Health Store in Penrith, Cumbria, were highly commended and also scored highly, narrowly pipped at the post in the final judging when the BRM team made online and social media enquiries.

Stepping up a gear

Clutching their award after the event, Len and Mel revealed they are now embarking on a programme to develop their online presence further.

“We are looking to rebuild our current website as the structure and information on it all needs updating,” said Len. “It also doesn’t lend itself too well for multiple stores so we will look to add a store finder and a better way to show more information about the staff, events and layout of the individual stores too. We plan to keep opening more shops too so need to have a site that can grow with us.

“We’re also looking into the e-commerce side of things, but integrating back office systems and fulfillment logistics is a whole different ballgame.”

Helping to look after the pair at the HFI event was BRM’s publisher Stuart Jackson who has vast experience in health food retailing. “We were really inspired by what Stuart has achieved and he gave us some great advice which we can use as we progress, especially on the e-commerce side, and we are very grateful to him for that,” Len added.

Secrets of success

The stores all focus on the importance of treating the customer right, as Mel explained: “What we’ve seen with our stores is that if you treat your customers well and with respect, then they will come back.

“There has to be fundamental difference between coming into a store and shopping online. If the customer just walks in, looks at the shelves, picks an item, pays for it and leaves with barely any interaction, then why would they choose to do that instead of ordering online?

“But if a customer comes in and they are greeted with a friendly hello and a smile, and there’s interaction without us being overbearing, they leave feeling understood and have maybe learnt something new. Perhaps they discovered something they didn’t even know existed, or even just enjoyed a nice conversation with someone – these customers will keep on coming back.

“That’s something you can’t get online even with live online chat/help windows, and something people will venture out for.”

Carving out a niche in the south east

Best Health Food Shop is served by trained nutritionists and has a training programme to ensure all staff members are knowledgeable about the business and its products.

The couple opened their first store in Shoreham-by-Sea in 2016 after buying it as a going concern. A store makeover maximised the space and new Emporio till systems streamlined ordering and the overall customer experience. Next day ordering for any product not in stock was immediately popular.

In October 2017, Len and Mel opened the doors of their second store in Tunbridge Wells, previously an antiques shop so carpenter Andy Greaves was in big demand making shelving from natural wood. The same Emporio till systems and further friendly and knowledgeable staff recruited to put the new store on the map. Len’s mother, Dr Marilyn Glenville, cut the ribbon.

Over the past year, they have increased the range of zero packaging products by putting in refill canisters for nuts, seeds, pasta, rice and oats etc., as well as washing liquids and toiletries refills.

The couple work with local producers for honey, eggs and toiletries, including a local 11-year-old girl who makes bath bombs and soaps. “We are part of the local community, often donating to local charities and holding educational events on health matters,” said Len.

Shop Number Three – also in Tunbridge Wells – opened earlier this year. “It was all very last minute and quite out of the blue as the existing owner gave us a call in February and asked us if we wanted to take over as he wanted to retire,” recalled Len. “So we said yes!

“We're now in the process of putting in our systems and re-arranging to maximise space so we can include more of our core products and zero waste packaging. The existing staff who came with the new store are very positive and excited about all the changes and future plans as well.”

The 2019 HFI winners

Congratulations to the following who were also rewarded by the HFI for their hard work and creativity:
Ian Martin Award: Suzanne Swallow, Wholesome Bee, Settle; HFMA/Roger Lane Scholarship Award: Sophie Redman, Wild Oats, Bristol; Teddie Marston Award: Alice Higgins, Down to Earth, Dorchester; Jimmy Lee Richardson Award: Amanda Davis, Evergreen, Galway; James Henry Cook Award: Lisa Gawthorne, Bravura Foods.

New Fellowships were awarded to John Fletcher, Viridian Nutrition; Carol Dunning, Diversified Communications; Emma Ellis, BioCare; Dale Pinnock, The Medicinal Chef; Phil Costigan, Irish Health Trade Association; Stephen Desborough, Food For Thought; Al Overton, Planet Organic and Rachel Symonds, Target Publishing.

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