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Don't let apathy win without a fight

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

During a recent catch-up call with my UK counterpart, we found ourselves mulling over the difficulties around stimulating engagement and beating back apathy.

Sometimes retailers are just plain busy. I once cold-called a retailer who apologised for the delay in answering as she was busy unblocking the staff toilet. Often store owners and managers are swamped with messages and emails from well-meaning brand managers, suppliers and service providers. Sometimes they are swamped with nothing more than nuisance merchants. I, too, occasionally reach out to some unfortunate confidants to make sure I'm not slipping into the latter category.

If apathy and uncertainty are fuelling a lack of engagement, then we stand no prospect of sustainability and success – either as an individual or a sector. Health food stores are famously enthusiastic when new products, brands and innovations come to the market. It's what we do.

Brands are tripping over themselves to showcase their "next big thing" to friendly and collaborative health food retailers. Good for us.

We need to maintain this role while not being fools or leg-up stools for brands fast-tracking to multiples.

Health food retailers need to take the generosity of spirit, enthusiasm and engagement for which we are rightfully famous, and apply it back to ourselves when it comes to training, recognition and self-respect. Congratulate yourself and your staff and do so publicly and shamelessly. You are a diamond of the high street. Amid soulless entities, you are a business with independence, vision and empathy. Brag about it.

Join the crew. Take time out to meet and socialise with fellow retailers. Whether it's a casual campfire Zoom, a local pod in a pub, a supplier open day or a wider sectoral gathering, make time to engage. Enter awards – lots of awards. Pick an aspect of your business of which you are especially proud. Be in to win.

Training is at the core of what sets us apart from others and if the chaos that often accompanies success in business distracts us from maintaining this pillar of our offering, then we are at risk of spinning unknowingly off a successful track. When the tide goes out, and it will go out, up-to-date training and specialist knowledge will be one piece of clothing we will want to be wearing to be ready for the next surf, however and wherever it happens.

Build a training plan. If you are big enough, rotate staff for it. If you are small enough, close your store for it. Bring the brand reps and ambassadors onto your shop floor and organise an in-store event around their training. They will come.

Write down your thoughts and blog them even, make funny reels and stories and post them. We recently brought a high-flying social media sensation to a training event to advise retailers on creating quality content. She delivered her talk in three words and then entertained us with trivia for the remainder.

As she said, "Just do it".

Health Stores Ireland is the professional trade association representing more than 110 independent health stores in Ireland. Visit, Facebook @HealthStoresIreland

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