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How training raised my game

Well-trained staff: Jasmine, Russ, Janet, Steph and Sashka.

Health store customer adviser Sashka Bown is better equipped and has an award to her name after studying for her HFI diploma.

Sashka Bown wanted to gain more knowledge and confidence as well as make a bigger contribution to the success of Barnett’s Wholefoods in Liverpool.

She applied for the Health Food Institute Professional Diploma in Health Food Retailing (Level 1) with the blessing of the store’s owner, Janet Barnett.

A hectic home life and a busy store meant it was 15 months before she completed the five-module course – and promptly won the National Association of Health Stores ‘Student of the Year’ award.

“Apart from a long-term interest in the study of natural medicine, this is the first qualification I’ve gained in this area,” says Sashka. “I will be continuing my studies because, both personally and professionally, I want to be as well informed as possible.

“In reality, the shop provides an additional NHS – a ‘Natural Health Service’ – reflecting Janet’s values and intentions. The more knowledge we have, the better service we can provide. And my experienced colleagues at Barnett’s set the bar high!”

Those staff have in turn been inspired by Sashka’s success. “We’re all impressed at how the HFI course has helped and informed Sashka and improved her confidence,” says Janet.

Courses for better retailing

The HFI Professional Diploma Course provides core training in the key areas of working in a health store. The format is a two-part training system which builds a solid foundation in the key areas of knowledge required to work effectively.

Part One modules provide the basic principles of retailing, as well as providing a good grounding in the specialist knowledge and nutritional skills that are required in the retailing of natural health products.

Part Two is more advanced consisting of seven separate modules including the principles and ethos involved in selling for health, the basic facts about basic food commodities and non-food products, food supplements, vitamin and mineral supplements, homoeopathic medicine, herbal medicine and sports nutrition products, and integrated health care therapies (CAM).


Full course details from Alison Collingwood at the HFI: email [email protected], tel 0115 9767280 or visit Discounts are available for NAHS member stores.

“In fact, two more of our staff have now signed up for the same course, and Sashka is about to start the Level 2 course. I am delighted that they are keen to continue learning. Continuing to learn is an essential part of working in a health food shop. I’ve not done the course myself yet, but the syllabus looks very comprehensive, appropriate and useful.”

Sashka particularly enjoyed gaining detailed knowledge of body systems, and the way in which foods and supplements can support health.

“It has raised the level of confidence with which I’m able to advise customers,” she adds. “I am better informed, and therefore better able to assess and advise an individual as to what foods/supplements – or course of action – they might take to improve or maintain their health.

“I’ve worked at Barnett’s Wholefoods for four-and-a-half years. While there are many rewarding aspects to my work, I guess the most important is the sense of having served both the customers and the shop owners well.”

Barnett’s opened in 2004 “on a wing and a prayer” and has seven staff including Janet, her husband Russ and their eldest daughter. All are very well qualified, although not necessarily in the conventional sense.

“Sashka is the first to take the HFI course,” says Janet. “The rest of us have all had a long-term interest and involvement in complementary health and healing, often learning through sorting out our own health issues.

“We’ve all completed several industry related courses, for example from A.Vogel, Natures Aid and Quest. Just recently we’ve started to hold regular staff training evenings, including food, sharing our own knowledge and a presentation from various companies.

“Staff training and expertise is very important to us at Barnett’s – we’re proud of our reputation for helpful advice and knowledgeable recommendations.”

Naturally, Janet recommends the HFI course to everyone who works in health food retailing.

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