Georgetown Builds Healthy Customer Relationships

Single-store Georgetown Market in Indianapolis is going back to its roots as a health food store to distinguish it from the impending entry of both a Whole Foods and a Wal-Mart. The 10,000-square-foot store is made up of 40% grocery items, 30% vitamins and supplements and 30% other nonfood items, making the retailer's extensive supplement section at once the store's key component and the most vulnerable

Single-store Georgetown Market in Indianapolis is going back to its roots as a health food store to distinguish it from the impending entry of both a Whole Foods and a Wal-Mart.

The 10,000-square-foot store is made up of 40% grocery items, 30% vitamins and supplements and 30% other nonfood items, making the retailer's extensive supplement section at once the store's key component and the most vulnerable to both new competitors — which are set to open late this year and within a roughly 20-minute drive from Georgetown Market, according to owner Rick Montieth.

To maintain its customer base, the retailer — founded as a health food store in 1973 — is calling on an arsenal of services, including a staff of nine nutritional advisors, one of whom is in school to become a certified naturopath; on-site health and nutrition seminars; a health and wellness Healthnotes information kiosk; an external newsletter; and a newly launched customer loyalty program.

“The variety of products in our supplement section is advantageous to us but it is the service and knowledge that gives us an extra edge,” said Montieth.

Most of the store's nutrition counselors were once customers, he said. “We have an initial knowledge test in order to find employees that have a working knowledge of health and nutrition.”

Once the new employee is hired, he or she must complete in-store training, which includes mastering basic health and natural living knowledge as well as participating in ongoing training sessions with vendor representatives to keep up to date. “The nutrition counselors have the responsibility of acting as advisors to our customers. It separates us from other stores,” Montieth said. “Virtually no one is staffing their vitamin department with nine people.”

With word of the competition, however, Montieth knew more than just the human touch would be necessary. The retailer implemented a new customer loyalty plan, the loyalty genius rewards program from marketing and technology solutions provider Living Naturally, Venice, Fla.

“Much like Best Buy and other retailers, the customer is given a loyalty card that we scan to track purchases, and they earn points based on how much they spend.” The retailer decides on the program guidelines and which customers will be contacted. Living Naturally handles the administrative and technical end. “It takes the burden off us while still providing a fair amount of flexibility, which we like,” he said.

Coupons will be generated based on a fixed percentage of each customer's spending. Rewards will be automatically mailed or emailed to the customer for “about $10 to $15 for every $250 spent in the store,” Montieth estimated.

The retailer will be able to easily target customers with niche marketing. “Say someone comes in just to buy pet products; we can send them pet-specific coupons.” Montieth noted.

Staying In Touch

The most important component for Georgetown Market right now is keeping tabs on the customer base, he added. “With competition coming in, if a customer disappears for two months we can send them a $15 gift certificate for their next trip. It's a means of contact to get their attention again.”

This step is big for Montieth, who believes there should be a relationship between customers and their retail stores. “My motivation is to help customers educate themselves so they become more responsible for their own health. Plus well-informed, well-educated customers will support the retail store where they get their information.”

Georgetown Market also merchandises natural health books and CDs along with body care, sports nutrition and homeopathic products in its supplements area, under the Natural Living banner.

This designation separates the nonfood items from the store's grocery items, which include an organic food department and a deli featuring a menu of organic meats.

Both the food and nonfood items often complement in-store seminars such as holiday cooking classes with Jodi Smith one of the store's nutritional consultants.

Smith has over 25 years' experience in natural food consulting, and during the seminar she highlighted specific dietary needs with concentrations on wheat-free/gluten-free holiday cooking and yeast-free holiday cooking for classes of about 10 people.

“Customers appreciate learning from experts in the wellness field and it benefits us in that a knowledgeable customer has a better idea of what products they need to build and maintain good health. It is a part of building that relationship with our customer base,” Montieth said.

Starting this month the retailer will host a series of speakers for a five-week seminar called “Eat Healthy and Lose Weight.”