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Just days before they retire, Helen Spath and Dave Weston learn their store, Tullivers, has been named...


The Better Retailing Awards are run in conjunction with the Health Food Institute to reward excellence in health food retailing. Every year, our Secret Shoppers visit around a dozen stores and mark them in five sections – first impressions, store layout, personal attention, check out and overall impression.


Tullivers, according to our secret shopper, is “a real gem of a find and I am impressed by the friendliness, helpfulness and knowledge of the staff”.

So carefully was the location disguised that Helen Spath and her team had no idea they had been visited and had been too busy to notice the glowing report that went online at betterretailingmagazine. at the end of last year. “We are all hugely excited to have won,” she said after hearing the news. “We reckon you can’t beat being judged on the shopper’s experience – the customers are after all why we’re here. It just shows that, as we’ve always said, we have wonderful staff.”

Tullivers was founded in 1983 by Helen and partner David Weston. “We were in small but attractive premises overlooking College Green and the huge East Window of York Minster,” says Helen. “We had many happy years there, but gradually it became clear that to grow any more we needed to move and eventually, in 2000, we found our new premises right in the centre of York on the lively Kings Square.

“All businesses depend on their brilliant staff and we have been exceptionally lucky. Apart from the two of us, our human dynamo Kath Preston joined us in 1986, and both Mandy Geary our manager and Gina Cole her assistant manager were with us from the old shop. Our other assistant manager Alan Malcolm came a year later.

“Over the years we have been helped by many fantastic people who have moved on in their lives. A major success was Sally Duffin, who won all the awards from the HFI and is now a Fellow as well as running a very busy nutritional therapy practice. Jackie Male also had great success in her HFI training.”

There has been romance, too. In 2003, Helen received a call from Dominic Holmes of Cress Ltd to say that “an exceptional member of staff” was leaving Baldwin’s down south and moving to York to live. “When Tracey left us four years later to pursue a therapy career, it was clear that she and Alan were the perfect match,” says Helen. “A marriage and their gorgeous daughter followed.”

Helen and David have run the shop for more than 33 years: “A joy and a privilege, and very hard work but we have loved it.

“We’ve survived tough times. The first day we opened I took £28 (I came from a business where our daily target was £400!). That was a shock, but you can eat the stock to survive.” The miners’ strikes followed, then two major recessions.

But Helen adds: “How many people remember the boom that was Gillian McKeith when aduki beans were top of everyone’s shopping list and the only retail skill required was to carry enough stock?”

Helen paid tribute to the suppliers who helped at every step to make the business successful: “We have been grateful for the support of suppliers who will go the extra mile to help, some of whom we’ve known for very many years now. We have benefited from thoughtful staff training and loved the trips to Switzerland, Australia and the States over the years, providing the chance to meet up with other retailers.

“Regular customers have come from far and wide, including Scotland, Liverpool, overseas and Yorkshire too of course. Luckily for us the summer holidays bring a new crop of visitors every year. Both our customers and our staff have been like friends and we will miss them all greatly as we embark on our planned retirement. We’ll be enjoying it from the other side of the counter!”

Looking after Helen and David as customers will be Alan and Tracey Malcolm, who found love at Tullivers and now their business future together. “They have known it for years,” adds Helen, “and will bring their new talents to enhance and refresh it.”

What our Secret Shopper said about Tullivers...

Highly Commended

The Aloe Tree, Ennistymon,
Co Clare

Score: 41/50

Our Secret Shopper said: “I am impressed with such a wide range of products in a seemingly small shop. I feel that I would be able to find help for anything I might need.”

Owner Tessa O’Connor: "As a relatively new shop we are delighted with this review. It's a good motivation to know that our friendly service doesn't go unnoticed!"

Chelsea Health Store, King’s Road,
London SW10

Score: 41/50

Our Secret Shopper said: “This is a beautiful little store, like a mini Harvey Nicholls. The shopping experience, the ambience and the delight in all those brands expertly presented is second to none.”

Manager Harshid Desai: “Everyone is so happy to have received this award and we have learned from the comments in the report.”

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