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The new health store bible

Some of the participants in How to Open and Run a Successful Health Store.

Ostensibly written for those bold, adventurous types who are thinking of opening a health store, Health Stores UK have actually unleashed a 200-page book that every health food store owner should have on their desk, on the bedside table or on the phone/tablet or whatever way you choose to consume words of wisdom these days.

Sure, 'How to Open and Run a Successful Health Store' dives straight in with everything a would-be start-up owner needs to know about planning and launching such an exciting venture. But it's worth checking out even if you've been in this business for decades, simply because things change over time.

The fun stuff as well as the nitty gritty – such delights as margin, gross and net profit, location, stock and suppliers, staff, marketing, online sales and customer engagement, all superbly put across by author Cheryl Thallon together with a number of contributors from the industry's coal face.

Why bother?

It's bang up to date too. The health store's role is in alleviating the devastating effect of multiple pandemics that include the Big Four, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Take just one of these – each year in the UK alone, a staggering £8.8 billion is spent on treating cases of type 2 diabetes. By the year 2035, it is estimated that five million people in England will have the disease which can negatively impact on vision, kidney health, incidence of stroke and even result in foot, ankle, knee and leg amputation.

People are living longer, but they are living sicker. Nearly 12 million people – about one in four adults in England – are taking medicines for pain, depression or insomnia, which they can find hard to stop. Thallon's store in Daventry has noted that one in three people asking for nutrition and health advice are already taking anti-anxiety or anti-depressive medicines prescribed by their GP.

Plenty of people seeking improved health and happiness, each and every one of them a potential customer.

Meeting the need

Take one section of the health store's armoury, supplements. Estimated at £520 million in 2022, retail value sales of vitamins and supplements grew by 17% between 2017 and 2022. The Covid-19 pandemic certainly boosted usage of vitamins and supplements during this period along with a fresh focus on health and nutrition. Today, 67% of UK adults state that they now take vitamins, minerals or dietary supplements. That's a large chunk of the population, all potential customers.

What might have been boosted by the pandemic is subsequently threatened by inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. Which makes a section near the front of the book all the more intriguing. 'Embrace the Fear' by performance coach Jean-Pierre De Villiers is part of a chapter entitled 'How to get out of your own way'. It's all about taking the plunge and doing what you know you can do. Visualisation in other words, creating something in your mind then making it happen.

For some, of course, helping customers is easier than looking at the figures and commanding the bottom line to grow of its own accord. The section on finance – gross profit, net profit, margins – is essential if daunting reading. The next Health Check Survey (conducted by Natural Products News) is imminent and it will be interesting to see if average independent store revenue is up substantially from the £492,000 at the last survey, in 2016.

Case studies

A number of case studies give extra credibility to the book. Joanne Hill's Amaranth in Bramhall is particularly helpful for community engagement, while Len Glenville and Melanie Beard of Best Health Food Shops provide a large dose of reality for anyone with more than one store. Elsewhere, Melanie looks at the pros and cons of starting from scratch versus buying an existing store.

Amaranth has a strong connection with the local community across various networking groups and projects. Most notable is the work with other local shops and businesses such as 'Explore Bramhall' and also the 'Bramhall Together Trust' that puts on a summer festival and a Christmas Light Up Event.

"As much as it's lovely to have a health store and have those doors open for customers to come in, it takes a lot for them to know that you're there and gain their trust," writes Joanne Hill. "It's really changed now that we're competing so much more with online, but also the brands you stock are promoting their own products online as well. It's not easy but it's definitely worth it. Plan to work with your community, work on events and you'll find it's lots of fun."

Last word from Cheryl Thallon: "Opening and running a successful independent health food store takes passion, vision, community spirit and kindness. The natural health sector has something unique and very special to offer the public. Communicating our 'difference' is the challenge, one that can be achieved through smart buying, transparency, consistency and warmth."

Bring it on...

How to Open and Run a Successful Health Store (Suddenly Publishing, ISBN 978-1-7393424-0-1, £25), by Cheryl Thallon and Health Stores UK, foreword by Sir Charlie Mayfield.

Free to Health Stores UK members who can download a free digital edition from the Members' Area at (membership costs £21 per month).

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