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Education: the key to success

Staff training is a cornerstone in the success of Archie Browns health stores and cafés in Penzance and Truro.

It all began with a tiny café in Penzance and today is a thriving business employing 50 well educated staff.

The team members are as important to the business as the products we sell – this means we look after the staff in the best way we can.

Each of the staff is treated very well. We offer a free lunch and a great discount on products, sick pay should illness strike, and the opportunity to be paid to learn.

The selection of our staff members is very important to the business. But to be honest many staff members selected themselves as there is always a list of people wanting to work in Archie Browns.

The company employs more than 50 people across the shops and cafés – the number has steadily increased over the 16 years that the owner, Helen Swift, pictured below (centre) with Caroline Perkins (left) and Dawne Pryor (right), has had the business.


Enthusiasm for the products and customer care with a skill base in the field are the best qualifications. We also look for lively and committed people who have a passion about their own health too.

To this end we encourage all the staff to engage with Vitamin Mineral and Supplement (VMS) training. We take advantage of the training courses on offer and actively support staff to attend VMS training offered by our suppliers, paying for travel, accommodation and time.

When you consider we have to travel from Cornwall, this training is quite an expensive endeavour which we consider to be rewarded with the benefits our staff are able to impart to customers in regard to their product knowledge and confidence.


We don’t tend to take up offers of instore training during the working day as we are so busy all of the time, but we do arrange for training to take place after work, offering a meal and even inviting other health shops in the area in order that the customers of Cornwall have a better service.

Employees are also encouraged to undertake as much online training in their own time outside their working hours, and we pay for that, too. This helps our staff, even if they are fully trained, to keep up to date with the latest research and trends.

We have many members of the team who are fully qualified in their field. And we offer all staff the opportunity to keep up to date with the latest legislation through the Health Food Institute and encourage staff to take up their diplomas.

Many of our team hold degrees in a variety of disciplines. And most have a range of qualifications from the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM), the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION), and the Open University, to name a few.


We also have staff training in online sales, website and social media marketing. This training is undertaken on the job and is offered to those showing an interest and a propensity for this aspect of the business. We were lucky enough to have a graduate from a media course with us who has now gone on to work with Stella McCartney in her design team.

We incentivise our staff with a model of Professional Development which has them recording their own achievements in areas that they are invested in, and that support the business. We find that this process assists the team members in the cafés and shops to be able to recognise what a valuable contribution each team member makes to the business.

We use this process to reward innovation and hard work with financial incentives.

The trend in self-help and people wanting to take their health into their own hands has had a positive impact on our sales, and so we have expanded the business premises to include a specialised Supplement and Beauty room of which we are very proud.

Within that expansion, the staff have recently been given a much needed space for breaks and reading – here, we offer Better Retailing magazine to the staff to read over lunch and we all find it very helpful!

Archie Browns – Cornwall’s thriving health business

Helen Swift's first venture was a tiny vegetarian café in a tucked-away corner of Bread Street, Penzance.

Starting in 1991 with two staff, a potato peeler and bags of enthusiasm, Browns became Penzance's best-kept secret as word of mouth quickly turned a trickle of customers in to a steady flow. It soon became apparent that bigger premises were needed, and when John Richards offered Helen the opportunity to take over his family's health food store on the other side of Bread Street, she at once saw the potential. This was her chance to bring together her passions for great food, good health, and genuine hospitality under one roof.

A combination of hard work, single mindedness and a little luck saw the founding of Archie Browns. From humble beginnings, the venture continues to flourish, growing into an essential hub for the community, welcoming hundreds of happy customers every day to visit the thriving health food store or to make their way upstairs to the vibrant first floor café.

More recently, the Archie Browns family tree has grown another branch with a second bustling vegetarian café, health food shop and deli on Kenwyn Street in Truro.

From the start, ethical values have been at the very heart of everything the business does. “We want the delicious food we serve to be good for everyone and the planet, so our home-made dishes and juices use fresh fruit and vegetables, local whenever possible and with an emphasis on seasonality,” says Helen.

“We always use free-range eggs, local organic milk and spelt flour. We keep an eye on the salt and sugar levels and steer clear of any of the catering trade nasties we know our customers prefer to avoid. We recognise that there are many different dietary preferences and we always try to include something to please everyone.”

The shops offer a massive array of products dedicated to wellbeing, from the most traditional remedies to the latest innovations in food supplementation. But just as importantly, there is always someone on hand who has the insight and knowledge to help.

“Our team is as diverse as our customers, and just as dedicated to good health,” adds Helen.

“Many have received specialist training and are qualified in various natural sciences, including naturopathy, homeopathy, nutrition and herbal medicine, and some have a working knowledge of ayurvedic medicine. We always remember that everyone is an individual, and it is important to give support that is tailored to personal needs and preferences.

“We believe in protecting our beautiful planet so of course we recycle extensively, and aim to source products from companies that share our concerns and do not harm the environment. Like many of our customers, we want to encourage conscience shopping and so the ethical background of our suppliers is as important to us as the products they offer.

“We firmly believe that local solutions can help with global problems, so we make a point of trading with small companies that support the independent retail sector whenever possible, and we are always keen to form strong relationships with local organisations.”

It has been a long journey for Helen and her team, from the early days of baking countless scones and brownies in a kitchen that was hardly big enough to accommodate a cooker, let alone a cook, to the exhilarating enterprise of today.

An indispensable focal point for the flourishing Penzance cultural scene, Archie Browns is hardly a secret any more.

Pictured above: Lara and Lesley in the shop

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