Safety in numbers

Ray Hill
Founder and Secretary of the Health Food Institute

It has not all been negative over the Covid months. That health food shops were allowed to stay open has been a real business-saver. I feel for those retailers who, through no fault of their own, have built up debt that will take months, maybe years, to pay off and return to normal, and especially sad for those forced to close down altogether.

Maintaining the influence of the high street will be a pressure on all retailers whose businesses and lives depend on its continuity. Amazon, online retailers, the fast and efficient delivery service now so easily available by smartphone from the supermarkets and savvy traders, will continue to win over not just the young but all ages.

Barbers and hairdressers, nail bars, caf├ęs and restaurants, post offices and banks will provide a motivation to bring the public into the high street but it is unlikely to hold their interest and attention without a rich variety of retail traders. And that is where health food retailers must play their part. But only if a professional, knowledgeable, courteous and welcoming service is offered.

That, inevitably, leads to training and having those who have given time and effort to being trained. It also needs inspired owners and managers to recognise its value to their business. Staff taught the basics of working in a health food store have proven to increase customer loyalty, spend and profit.

This came to my attention when I saw the number of registrations for the recent half-price offer for the Health Food Institute's Diploma Course. Sixty-four in all, but what was of more significance was the split between the UK and our nearest neighbour: ten from the UK and fifty-four from Ireland!

This requires an explanation. Simply put, the Irish Association of Health Stores has a rule that shop floor staff working in their member shops have to have a certain level of training. And Alan McGrath, who manages the organisation, arranged for this year's intake to take advantage of the HFI's half price offer.

You might ask, why would the UK not be taking the same opportunity, particularly when it has many more shops than Ireland has?

I expect it is because there is, this side of the Irish Sea, the same independent streak that brought about Brexit. So, despite the National Association of Health Stores' good work in supporting its members, there are too many retailers who are not members of the organisation for it to speak and work decisively on behalf of the retail arm of our industry.

Maybe this is an ideal time and opportunity for those who are not members to join, and not only enjoy the benefits membership confers, but give it the support any organisation needs to serve its membership.

Much is going to change as a result of Covid. One now knows just how vulnerable we are. It is said there is safety in numbers. Retailers need to be with an organisation large and bold enough to speak and act for the benefit of all of us serving the public with a healthy way of living.

An email to office@nahs.co.uk would get you an NAHS application form.

The HFI has a new address and phone number: P.O. Box 10978, Nottingham NG2 9XG
Tel: 0115 923 4534
Email: enquiries@healthfoodinstitute.org.uk

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