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In March, The Vegetarian Resource Group exhibited at the Natural Products Expo West show held in Anaheim, California, There were over 2,300 booths and 28,000 attendees. We're excited to see all the new vegan products that will soon be on store shelves (see the back cover of this issue). We also attended the opening session of this event, which was titled "Competition 2001: Powerful Trends That Are Influencing the New Consumer Marketplace." George Whalin, President and CEO of Retail Management Consultants spoke about how natural foods retailers can build their business, sell more merchandise, and better serve today's savvy consumers.

We all know that it's quite difficult for the small business owner to succeed in today's marketplace. After all, how does a new store or restaurant with limited resources compete with the megachains and their huge national advertising budgets? Right now, the answer seems to be to offer your customers an experience they will never forget and one that they'll eagerly tell all their friends about. In other words, enable your customers to become your best advertisers.

So what do we mean by this? How many of you buy coffee in a Starbucks coffee shop even though you know you'll end up spending an awful lot of money for that cup of brew? Starbucks succeeds because everyone knows it's the place to be seen, to work on your next business plan, and to have a great time schmoozing. The same can be said about Whole Foods. Have you ever shopped in a Whole Foods supermarket on the weekend? You'll find a party atmosphere with customers sampling natural foods and socializing at the same time. In both establishments, shoppers are having fun and will certainly tell their friends about these stores.

The February 15, 2001 issue of Supermarket Business magazine states, "Restaurants are succeeding in attracting customers because they offer people an experience. If you look at a supermarket circular you'll find nothing but listings of sustenance." Mainstream supermarkets fail to market the sociability of food and the eating experience.

Now back to the small business owner. Have you ever walked into an independent natural foods store and wondered if anyone was actually working there? Right away your shopping experience is not pleasant. The same reaction often happens in natural foods restaurants. Service is often lacking. When we publish our Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the US and Canada, unfortunately some of our favorite restaurants don't receive reviewer's choice because of their inconsistent service.

Providing good service today can make all the difference in the minds of customers. Catering to the needs of a varied population can also have a huge impact. Is the type on signage and/or menus large enough for senior citizens to read, especially if the lighting is dim? Do restaurants offer activities for children? (Remember why McDonald's succeeds.) Are they catering to various ethnic groups? Spanish and Asian languages are a must in many parts of the US. Finally, what are natural foods businesses offering customers that they can't wait to go home and tell their friends all about?
COPYRIGHT 2001 Vegetarian Resource Group
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Stahler, Charles
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Next Article:letters.

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